Activity: Structure and Needs

This practice brings together people of different backgrounds around a project designed to protect the environment. The interfaith action can be organized by any of the following options: an individual, a NGO, a school, a religious community, or any level of government agency. Local organizers could use the structure and resources of a national umbrella organization to increase their leverage on national environmental policy issues and thus influence governmental policies. Autonomous initiatives could either collect money via fundraising or personal donations, or obtain and buy the required material by gaining access to the organizers’ and participants’ own resources. In some cases dialogues can also be organized to discuss ways to reduce environmental damages. If the activity includes cleaning the environment, such as beaches or rivers, it is recommended to take pictures in order to publicize the activity during or afterwards through social media. For larger initiatives such as the Eco Village, energy, resources and time are vital for a successful launching. Such a practice requires a piece of land, as well as sustainable building engineering and knowledge of environmentally friendly material.

These practices offer a space to foster a community spirit, through participants’ desire to create environmentally shared spaces, exchange ideas on climate change, and collaborate together on activities revolving around the preservation of the environment, and therefore they go beyond religious differences to create a sense of unity.


Objectives: Impact and Focus

This is a promising practice because it unites people of different backgrounds and perspectives around a common issue such as the protection of the environment, and initiates debates on energy consumption, daily habits or environmental practices. Since it is a cooperative initiative, it increases interfaith collaboration and mobilizes broader communities while being useful to the broader environment. It also diversifies the ways in which people practice their environmental habits and thus lets them reflect upon their day to day life. One diverse group taking care of the environment sends a message to the broader community and inspires them to undertake similar actions. Moreover, this practice promotes virtues of coexistence, and nurtures respect for nature and fellow people regardless of their differences.


Field Data: Examples and Sources (Activity – Organisation – Location)

1.) Interfaith School Trip to a clean Public Space – The Wash Alliance –  Rishikesh, North India

The Wash Alliance in India brings together each week thousands of students from school of all religions to clean together the sacred river Ganga in Rishikesh. The Ganga, though insalubrious, is still the source of life for millions of Indians. This teaches them to collaborate on matters of national interest while acknowledging their different religious beliefs. The pupils and teachers familiarize themselves with environmental care, which could be later included into their formal education. Finally, it raises awareness about both interfaith and environmental care within the broader community, sending the message of a united youth showing the example for environmental responsibility.


2.) Interfaith Forest – The Sadhana Forest – Rishikesh, India

In the Sadhana Forest, people of all faiths and convictions get together to plant trees and address food security. They analyse the soil and the environment before they start creating a whole ecosystem. Participants build houses, places for common life and a room for meditation/prayer exclusively with recycled material. They live together in this village they have built together in a spirit of sharing and collaboration, and rely on barter economy. They produce food with the natural resources of the forest they have planted and share it with the close-by communities who lack food security. More than 300.000 trees have been planted in the Sadhana Forest in the last 15 years; this region hosts people from more than 50 countries and of all faiths and convictions throughout the year. The project is completely autonomous and functions mostly without money. From this successful experience in India, the project quickly expanded to Kenya and Haiti as well.


3.) Environmental Impact Audits in Holy Places – The South African Faith Communities Environment Initiative – Pretoria, South Africa

The South African Faith Communities Environment Initiative does environmental impact audits in different holy places once a year. They meet and discuss the possible ways of reducing environmental damages. For example, they give advice on how to organize religious worship outside to avoid electricity costs or reuse the water of the ablutions for gardening. The project succeeded in changing the habits of many holy places after implementing the audit by cutting their expenses. The organizers regularly get together with Christian and Muslim leaders to discuss those issues.


4.) Music and Sermon Awards on Climate Change – Utah Interfaith Power & Light – Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

The regional Utah Interfaith Power & Light organization (U-IPL) offers a grant from its national umbrella organization, the IPL, to create a popular “Music and Sermon Awards.” The initiative invited people to preach a sermon or use music to convey their concerns about climate change. Winners were awarded $350, in honor of the 350.org campaign. The Music and Sermon Awards were so successful that the following year, U-IPL was able to raise the funds independently of the national organization.  The national IPL is also responsive to trends within states. If enough states express interest or concern in a certain topic—such as food justice and clean water, as is the case with Utah IPL—the national IPL will agree to shift their organizational focus to reflect these priorities. Despite the benefits and responsiveness of the national IPL, Utah IPL faces key challenges at a local level, including how to effectively foster relationships with local legislative leaders who may be averse to interfaith or environmental causes, and how to assess the impact of their programs within local religious communities after an initial training or energy audit.


5.) Our Voices – International (Internet)

Starting from the conviction that people of faith feel a personal and collective sense of responsibility for the wellbeing of all humans and nature, Our Voices seeks to concentrate interfaith efforts on environment protection. They have therefore created an interactive petition asking people to voice their concerns on the environment by signing their names via email and stating they want a future that is 100% clean and safe from climate change. After doing so, each signatory receives updates on actions concerning interfaith climate-related actions. Our Voices also proposes individual or group ''spiritual journeys'' that seek to raise awareness of environmental challenges. Anyone can create their own spiritual journey, which would be displayed on the website map and call for volunteers. 


6.) Interfaith Eco Village – CC URI – San Jose, Costa Rica

The Interfaith Eco Village is a community-based project that aims to create sustainable homes and include a diverse range of people. This initiative uses natural and sustainable materials that would not put anyone’s health at risk, and offers homes to people of the community. The Interfaith Eco Village is open to anyone willing to live a sustainable life that is more respectful and mindful of the environment in a spiritual and/or religious context. Hooma and Jaymie, a Jewish-muslim couple who immigrated to Costa Rica, have created the very first house of an eco-village. Jaymie studied building houses using natural materials and can now build houses on his own. He wishes to pass on his knowledge and teach others to do the same. As of today, Hooma and Jaymie are active members of United Religions Initiative cooperative circle in Costa Rica, which helps them promote their project through URI’s network, and were able to garner support from the wider interfaith community.


7.) Fast for Climate – Interreligious Council of Peru – Lima, Peru 

“Fast for Climate” is, on one hand, an initiative that uses religion as a way to promote environmental issues and inspire people to be environmentally friendly; on the other hand, it creates a space for people of different faiths to gather as they all agree to protect and respect Creation and the environment. The Interreligious Council of Peru, backed by Religions for Peace, launched the “Fast for Climate” Initiative as they were hosting the COP20 in 2014. Every night, they gathered along with international diplomats in various religious buildings (synagogue, mosque, churches, and Buddhist temple) to pray as one and fast for climate change.