This post is in honor of World Environment Day. For a devotion for the day, consider our Prayer for World Environment Day.

At the Mariandale Retreat and Conference Center in Ossining, sustainability starts at the reception desk. The front office features low-emission, recycled or recyclable, and low petroleum-based paint, carpeting, ceiling tiles, and lighting that reflect the new sustainability standards of the Dominican Sisters of Hope, who are headquartered there.

For the sisters, sustainability isn’t just a worthy cause; it’s a matter of spirituality. According to Sister Nancy Erts, the Program Specialist at Mariandale, the Bible asks people to be good to the Earth, as did Jesus.

“Climate change is, to me, fundamental,” Sister Nancy explained. “We are called to be co-creators and co-redeemers of God’s work.”

The sisters have made this responsibility a priority at Mariandale where they utilize natural and environmentally-friendly materials. Two hundred solar panels line the roof to help generate the building’s power. Inside, the compact, fluorescent lights have been swapped out for LED lights that are more energy efficient. The hot water tanks have been changed to energy-efficient models.

And, in the kitchen, recyclable, biodegradable materials take the cake.

“Pretty much everything we use for serving is recyclable,” said John Markiewicz, the Administrator for the Dominican Sisters of Hope.

“We are called to be co-creators and co-redeemers of God’s work.”

The dining room features linen tablecloths, china and glass instead of paper products, and napkins that are made with synthetic, recycled materials instead of natural products. Cakes, pastries, bagels, and breads are sourced locally. For an upcoming employee appreciation luncheon, fish has been ordered from a fish monger in Port Chester.

Still, more changes are in the works. The staff is currently experimenting with sugarcane paper that helps to prevent environmental damage, and also uses an available resource instead of harvesting trees.

The Dominican Sisters of Hope’s concern for climate change is far-reaching. The sisters belong to various local committees; Sister Nancy, for instance, is a member of Religious Organizations along the River (ROAR), which is a network of religious Congregations and organizations that work together on water issues, nuclear issues, and preserving landaround the Hudson River.

The labyrinth at Mariandale

The sisters also attend City Council meetings to confer about environmental sustainability in Ossining; their latest feat has been changing the ordinance from no bee-keeping to allow the residents of the Village of Ossining to keep bees

“We Dominican Sisters of Hope and our co-creators are grateful to have been a part of this growing sense of community, which now includes the bees,” Sister Bette Ann Jaster, a Dominican Sister of Hope and bee-advocate, wrote in a statement. “We plan to tend our own bees as part of creating a sustainable and hospitable environment.”

The sisters anticipate that the presence of honeybees will help with plant life, pollination, and organic gardening in the local community. (Gardening is already a priority for the congregation; Mariandale currently hosts a program that gives people from the Greater Ossining community a small plot of land on which to tend a garden.)

The changes that the Dominican Sisters of Hope have instated are already numerous, but this is just the beginning of what could be a widespread commitment to supporting Earth’s wondrous ways.

“We as religious can bring the ethical and moral pieces to the conversation about promoting sustainable, decent, modest living,” Sister Nancy admitted. “But it’s not all our decision. We’re allowing God to work in all things, and in us. We’re trying to bring new life and new creativity [in the way of] ecological justice.”

The Mariandale Retreat and Conference Center is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit ecumenical retreat center and a sponsored ministry of the Dominican Sisters of Hope located in Ossining, New York on the Hudson River. For more information about the Center, facilities, and programs, visit www.mariandale.org or call 914-941-4455.

Photo credit: Flickr: Intel Free Press