Walking the Walk and the Moral Imperative to Lead

Rabbi Warren Stone has helped his congregation become a national leader in climate change. By encouraging members to elevate their leadership and using the tools and resources provided by the Energy Star for Congregations program, Rabbi Stone has successfully engaged and inspired hundreds of Jewish congregations to become powerful, positive examples of sustainability.


  • Create a creation care team: If you are just getting started, Rabbi Stone suggests launching a “green team” to lead in garnering support for new initiatives.
  • Join Energy Star for congregations: The EPAEnergy Star for Congregations programprovided a framework for Temple Emanuel to improve their building.
  • Empower the members to lead: Rabbi Stone encouraged his members to initiate projects such as including readings on faith and the environment at services.
  • Connect climate to other issues: An effective way to engage members is to relate climate to issues they already care about, like food and wellness.
  • Bring sustainability into the classroom: The relationship between stewardship and their faith is an important part of what is taught within their religious education program.

Leading by Example

Rabbi Warren Stone of Temple Emanuel in Kensington, Maryland has taken it upon himself to turn his temple into an example of how religious communities can incorporate sustainability into all elements of their programs and practices. It’s only through leading by example, Rabbi Stone says, that he’ll be able to effect meaningful change among his members and the larger community. If anyone understands the power of example, it’s Rabbi Stone.

I don’t believe in a lot of guilt. I believe in positive examples.

Rabbi Warren Stone
Rabbi, Temple Emanuel

It all started back in 1989, when Rabbi Stone and colleagues, inspired by the 20th anniversary of Earth Day, decided to launch the Green Shalom Committee. The Committee’s first step was organizing one of the first-ever Jewish Earth Day services on the Capitol lawn in Washington, D.C. Next, the committee convinced the board to pass a comprehensive environmental policy for the congregation. Eventually, Temple Emanuel took it a step further and joined the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Energy Star for Congregations program, which was the impetus for a range of green building projects around the synagogue.

Temple Emanuel has recycling containers, started a composting program, added bike racks, installed a solar-powered “ner tamid” (Eternal Light), promoted sustainable food, and purchased carbon offsets to go completely carbon-neutral. Additionally, the temple made a commitment to the environmental health of the Chesapeake Bay as part of an ongoing advocacy project.

Developing New Leaders

While Stone and his team took the lead on many of the temple’s sustainability initiatives, he has also engaged his members to take ownership over their own projects. For example, the staff and volunteers at the temple’s Early Childhood Center took the lead on creating a composting program. And every week at services, a different member reads an inspiring piece on the environment, which creates peer-to-peer engagement and helps cement the links between faith and environmental issues. “It has become a grassroots program,” Rabbi Stone says.

Rabbi Stone also believes in the importance of getting the congregation’s youth on board with sustainability in order to build a new generation of leaders. A key strategy for the congregation has been integrating sustainability into the religious school curriculum. “We teach our students that caring for the earth is a religious mandate,” explains Rabbi Stone. “When I get letters and notes from college and graduate students who are now in the field of the environment, they speak about how being part of a religious community that cared about the earth impacted them. And that’s really exciting.”

Walking the Walk

Walking the walk by infusing sustainability into the temple’s facilities and programs is certainly important. But Stone also takes care to connect the temple’s actions back to its larger spiritual goals and incorporates sustainability themes into sermons and religious education. “Climate change has become the most significant moral and spiritual issue facing humanity,” contends Rabbi Warren Stone. The challenge, however, lies in communicating this fact to leaders and those around him. Rabbi Stone has found success by connecting climate to other issues people care about, like food, health, and wellness.

Perhaps most importantly, Rabbi Stone takes care to consistently stay positive about climate change. The reason? “I don’t believe in a lot of guilt,” he says. “I believe in positive examples.”