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On April 13 the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation (JRC) dedicated an environmentally friendly synagogue, constructed on the site of their old building, 303 Dodge Ave. The new building is expected to receive LEED Platinum Certification in the coming months, based, among other things, on water efficiency, air quality and the use of sustainable materials. LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a designation of the U.S. Green Building Council; platinum is the highest rating.

Plans for the new space began six years ago as part of an environmental taskforce within the congregation but were part of their own religious imperative as well, says Rabbi Brant Rosen. Mr. Rosen says from the beginning they planned to build as green as they could, “in a mindful way, not just with the cheapest materials.”

Ninety-six percent of the old building was reclaimed for the construction of the new. The large ceremonial entrance door on the south side of the building is made from maple trees cut down to make way for the construction. Concrete and brick rubble from the old building were used to fill the basement, bringing the site to grade, and all metal was removed for scrap.

“We wanted as much natural light as possible,” says Mr. Rosen. T5 fluorescent bulbs, which turn on only when needed, are used throughout the building. Large windows along the stairwell and in the sanctuary and chapel are meant to save energy by reducing the need for heat and electrical lighting.

Much of the wood used in the sanctuary is cyprus reclaimed locally as well as from New York and black walnut from the Chicago Park District. Another green feature of the building is the use of dual-flush toilets, which reduce water usage. A washer and dryer have been installed to cut down on single-use kitchen products such as paper towels.

Other highlights of the JRC’s green building are the polished concrete floors on all three levels, which eliminate the need for adhesives that keep carpeting in place. In the few places where carpet is used, it is made with non-volatile organic compounds (VOC) and non-formaldehyde fibers and includes recycled content and rapidly renewable materials.

Another energy-saving feature of the building is its displacement ventilation system. This system circulates air so only the lower six feet of a room is heated or cooled.

Mr. Rosen says with all these features combined, the new JRC synagogue is calculated to use 45 percent less energy than a conventional building of its size.

Other Churches, More Green

Other churches in Evanston have also been practicing green initiatives. Hemenway United Methodist Church, 933 Chicago Ave., built an accessible addition that includes an energy-efficient elevator. The non-hydraulic elevator uses no oil and 60 percent less energy. The Unitarian Church of Evanston, 1330 Ridge Ave., has eliminated the use of paper plates and begun consuming fair-trade coffee. “”We have worked hard to be as eco-friendly as we can,”” says Judith Ramey, communications director for the church.

Alex Sproul, a church member who is also involved in Evanston’s Interreligious Sustainability Circle, says they promote the use of cloth shopping bags and compact fluorescent bulbs in households through a “”friendly competition”” with Lake Street Church, 607 Lake St. They also began promoting a “”fragrance-free zone”” within the church to avoid products with a toxic nature.