Throughout the past year, three Baltimore County congregations have been exploring particular challenges in mitigating polluted runoff emanating from their properties and developing plans to address these challenges. Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake brought key players together to talk – like you would around a kitchen table – about the problems that need solutions and various ways to solve them. In additions to representatives from the congregations themselves, these key players included technical advisors Blue Water Baltimore and Maryland Sea Grant, and regulatory advisors from Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability. This “kitchen table” approach, called Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR), relies on open dialogue and sharing of information in order for the entire group of decision-makers to identify the plan of action for pollution control. Contrary to Social Marketing Techniques where the desired outcome is already decided upon and is “marketed” to the audience (example: a group wants congregations to install rain barrels and markets that approach to them in hopes that they choose to install rain barrels), CBPR connects the congregations with resources and advisors so that the congregations can identify for themselves the problem they wish to solve and how they want to go about solving it. And, when everyone is in the game from day one, everyone owns the outcome.
Key Partners and the Process
Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake initiated this project in 2012 with grant funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust. The congregations that participated were:
- Salem Lutheran Church, Catonsville
- Chizuk Amuno Congregation, Pikesville
- Woodbrook Baptist Church, Towson
The CBPR process was facilitated by researcher Meg Tucker of Insight Policy Research of Washington DC. Ms. Tucker surveyed the congregations individually to identify the issues and solutions that resonated with them the most. Once the issues of concern were identified through the nominal process, local technical advisors were brought in to evaluate the congregations’ sites. Blue Water Baltimore and Baltimore County DEPS completed assessments for each congregation that identified opportunities for improvement. The assessments and potential solutions were explained to the congregations who then decided which approaches they were interested in pursuing. Each congregation developed a plan of action based on what they learned about their own situation and what they decided were feasible remediation strategies. This process of nominal group decision-making took place over several meetings throughout the year.
Just as no two congregations are the same, none of the outcomes were the same either. One congregation discovered that in fact they had already taken the major steps necessary to prevent runoff from their property, but became aware of other measures they could consider to develop a “greener” facility. Another congregation with extensive property developed plans for very sophisticated stormwater management including rain gardens and downspout disconnection. The third, on a more constricted site, developed plans for tree planting and installing "downspout planters" at the outfalls of downspouts to filtrate roof runoff before being discharged to the parking lot. Three very different solutions for three very different sites. But, all arrived at through a common process where all decision-makers and advisors worked together to find mutually beneficial solutions.
The next step for all three of these congregations will be to translate these plans into reality. This will involve funding and organizing the needed construction or planting. Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake was instrumental in connecting the congregations with potential funders and grant-writing support. One congregation is seeking funding from Chesapeake Bay Trust for a major stormwater retrofit project, while another is working with Maryland Sea Grant to identify potential funders for the downspout planters. And, all three congregations were recruited to participate in IPC’s 10,000 Trees Program that provides free tree planting resources and educational workshops.
Is Your Congregation Next?
This model of working together to find solutions that yield tangible benefits for the environment can be replicated over and over. There are a myriad of environmental organizations ready to work with faith communities to provide guidance and resources for tangible outcomes. And Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake can connect you to them. In Maryland alone, there are over 5,000 places of worship…imagine the impact on the Chesapeake Bay if every one of these implemented restorative actions on their grounds! If your congregation would be interested in opportunities like this to implement pollution controls on your grounds, contact Jodi Rose at email@example.com.