Guardians of Creation

A project to develop a generalisable framework for sustainability transition in the Catholic Church, for use in the Catholic Church of England and Wales and beyond, commenced in December 2020. This project is supported by the Bishops Conference of England and Wales, with Bishop John Arnold the project sponsor.

The strategic goal of the project is to help the Catholic community in the UK make transformational change towards carbon neutrality and a more sustainable future.   The project will develop a generalisable framework for sustainability transition in the Catholic Church and will be implementable at the Diocesan level.  The project team, which includes researchers from St Mary’s University, The Laudato Research Institute, Campion Hall, University of Oxford, and The Tyndall Centre, The University of Manchester are developing this framework over a two-year pilot case study in the Diocese of Salford.  The project team are also collaborating with dioceses across England and Wales.

The project will build on existing good practice and environmental activities and will concentrate on how to conceptualise and measure Diocesan sustainability (e.g., carbon footprint), how to practically implement and create change towards sustainability in a Diocese (e.g., carbon reduction and environmental management), and how to communicate the implications of sustainability in a Diocese to a wider audience.  It will also engage with issues relating to the social and theological aspects of sustainability in the Catholic Church and will look at integrating primary and secondary education into Diocesan sustainability transition.   The lessons from Salford will be translated into a toolkit that any other Diocese and religious order can use.

Further information:

Project Updates to April 2021

What is in scope?

In a nutshell, the Guardians of Creation research project looks to understand how a Catholic diocese might go about decarbonising itself. The Catholic Church in England and Wales is divided into 22 of these dioceses, with a Bishop at the head of each. Every diocese has a complex estate of church buildings, schools, religious orders and other land or community buildings in a variety of ages and conditions. Creating a generalisable framework for decarbonisation is not going to be simple!

Some of the fundamental questions we have been asking over the last few months include:

  • “What do we measure”
  • “How do we measure that”
  • “what will that information allow us to do”
  • “what solutions will best drive down emissions in our context”
  • and perhaps most difficult, “how will a diocese finance this?”

One of the most interesting puzzles is determining how far an organisation is responsible for different emissions and which data to prioritise. The standard way of understanding this is to divide emissions into scopes 1, 2 and 3. Scope 1 are emissions you directly generate (burning or release of fossil fuel, like oil fired heating systems), scope 2 are indirect emissions from purchased energy and scope 3 are other indirect emissions (emissions that are a consequence of your activity but occur at sources under someone else’s control, so any outsourced activities or transport in vehicles that are not owned by you). Scopes 1 and 2 are reasonably straightforward to capture, but scope 3 can be tricky (The Greenhouse Gas Protocol is the official word on these definitions).

Diagram explaining the three scopes (as outlined in the paragraph above)

If we take the often raised example of parishioners driving to church, then this is scope 3 for a diocese. Parishioners are obviously encouraged to be physically present in church (in normal times), so the diocese has some responsibility for their travel. The parishioner however has to make their own choices as to how they travel, and if they come by car then those emissions are not necessarily the responsibility of the diocese, despite being the reason for the travel. Equally, the parishioner might walk or take public transport, and churches should encourage this behaviour where it is possible. Determining how much emphasis to place on scope 3 is a complex question then. Initially it is likely the focus will be on putting systems in place to make sure scope 1 and 2 data are reliably recorded and used to drive down emissions, but we also need to be looking at putting systems in place to capture scope 3 where possible.

Fortunately the vast majority of churches in England and Wales buy their energy centrally through a body called Interdiocesan Fuel Management (even better news is that the contract is for green energy and gas, so already the Church has made a significant dent in its impact), and it should be possible to use this data to give a rough idea of our scope 1 and 2 footprint. The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at Manchester University are helping us understand what data we will be able to capture, and we hope that over the next few months we will begin putting in place steps for Salford diocese to start measuring its carbon footprint.

More importantly, we can then use this data to measure year on year whether we are making an impact!

This is the first in a series of short updates detailing some of the discussions we are having as part of the Guardians of Creation project. We would always welcome your thoughts, just get in touch at