Sustainability at the Community Level: The Role of Faith-Based Organizations

EPA Grant Number: F13B20255
Title: Sustainability at the Community Level: The Role of Faith-Based Organizations
Investigators: Shattuck, Cybelle Tenaya
Institution: University of Michigan
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: September 2, 2014 through September 2, 2016
Project Amount: $84,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2013) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Behavioral/Social Sciences


Climate change—which affects traditional faith-based efforts to improve human health, mitigate poverty and redress social inequity—is inspiring religious organizations to advocate for clean air and water, restore ecosystems and conserve resources. This project seeks to understand the empirical experiences of faith-based environmental efforts within communities. Through what motivations and processes do congregation level sustainability initiatives emerge? What factors facilitate and/or hinder implementation of these initiatives? What environmental and community outcomes are perceived to have been achieved through these initiatives? The results will provide insights into the role of religion and faith communities in motivating environmental behavior.


In-depth case analyses will be conducted detailing the history, motivations, conservation strategies, enabling factors, challenges and outcomes achieved by 17 congregations that have notable sustainability initiatives. Criteria for case study site selection required that congregations be engaged in sustainability initiatives with multiple activities (energy and resource conservation, promotion of conservation behavior for the faith organization and members, environmental advocacy) and duration of at least 4 years. Individual case study reports will be developed for each site using data from semistructured interviews, historical documents and onsite observations. The case studies will be coded and compared to identify common themes, key similarities and significant characteristics.

Expected Results:

Currently, no systematic studies examine why particular activities arise in specific faith communities, what factors contribute to the durability and efficacy of some faith-based sustainability initiatives, or what outcomes emerge from those initiatives. Comparing these 17 cases in which faith communities have implemented and maintained sustainability initiatives will provide a better understanding of the motivations and processes through which such initiatives emerge. Preliminary analysis suggests that successful initiatives follow similar processes of organizational innovation that integrate sustainability into faith-community social norms, thereby creating expectations for collective and individual behavior. The congregations undertaking these initiatives are reducing resource consumption and improving local environmental conditions while also increasing their organizational membership. The data and analytical framework developed for this project are adaptable for future research into environmental behavior by members of faith-based organizations.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection

More Americans belong to religious groups than any other type of voluntary association and faith communities play an important role in facilitating the kind of social transitions that are necessary as the nation responds to climate change. This research has potential to provide models of practice that may help faith communities seeking pathways to respond to climate change, as well as informing policies and programs intended to promote more environmentally sustainable behaviors. The data also will be used to develop workshops to assist faith leaders in implementing sustainability initiatives within their congregations.

Supplemental Keywords:

climate change, environmental justice, faith communities

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2015
  • Final