By Marianne Comfort, member of the Mercy Justice Team 

One of the most enjoyable aspects of adopting a more sustainable lifestyle is eating locally grown produce as much as possible. For my husband and me, that can be most of the year, with ample freezer space for storing foods prepared during the height of the season. 

This is a good time for planning how to source local food. Will you tend to your own garden, participate in a community garden, purchase a share from a community supported agriculture farm or commit to visiting farmers’ markets regularly? 

If you have a suitable yard or patio or deck you might want to consider growing your own produce. The Almanac offers a simple guide to starting a vegetable garden from choosing the right location to the types of vegetables and the best time to plant. Farmers’ markets usually sell starter plants early in the season or you can visit a local nursery. Our townhouse sits on a hill, with some woods at the bottom, so it is not ideal for gardening. 

Those itching to get their hands in the dirt but who don’t have suitable space might want to research  community gardens nearby. These are shared gardening spaces divided into small individual plots. A water source is usually provided and sometimes tools and even gardening expertise. You can always learn some tips from other gardeners you’ll be working alongside. The American Community Garden Association has a map that identifies many community gardens; you may also call your county cooperative extension office for information or search online . Our neighborhood doesn’t have a community garden. Since we choose not to own a car, it isn’t convenient to travel back and forth from a plot a mile or so away. In our area, community gardens seem to be more prevalent on park land, on the fringes of apartment parking lots and on vacant urban lots. 

Community supported agriculture (CSA) is quite popular in many parts of the U.S. as a way to have a relationship with and support a particular farm or group of farms. Typically, participants sign up early in the year and pay upfront for all the produce they will receive throughout the designated season. This ensures that farmers and consumers share the benefits and risk of food production. Pickup is usually both on the farm and at sites centrally located to participants.   You can choose the most convenient one that matches with your preferences. Another thing to pay attention to in choosing a CSA is whether you can select what you want at each pickup, or if you get a pre-set mix of whatever is in season. I personally enjoyed the weekly surprise over many previous years as a CSA member; I’d then get home and plan meals based on whatever I received.  

Currently, my favorite way of accessing local produce is by regularly visiting a year-round farmers’ market. It’s set up in a downtown square filled with all kinds of vendors, sellers of a newspaper produced by people who are homeless, and often some musical entertainment. I know from their signs where the farms are located, and I can ask about their growing practices. My husband and I also enjoy finding farmers’ markets when we’re traveling, since they’re places to soak up local culture as well as buy produce. A simple online search is the best way to locate them. 

No matter how you choose to source food locally, you’ll find satisfaction in developing a relationship with the land or local farmers and eating with the seasons. You’ll also be reducing your carbon footprint by avoiding purchases of food transported from great distances. 

These are some of the ways in which the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas will more fully live Laudato Si’ in 2024. To see the second year action plan click here.

Responding to the Cry of the Earth

  • The climate sustainability director will:
    • Collect utility usage data for smaller residences (i.e., apartments and houses) located throughout the United States. 
    • Expand community solar subscriptions to many of our houses and apartments for which such programs are available. 
    • Continue the electric vehicle (EV) pilot project at Merion, PA, with the purchase of an additional vehicle and the installation of additional EV chargers.  One other location will be selected to house an EV. Official guidance regarding the use, maintenance, and charging of EVs, along with concerns regarding metal mining, will be developed and implemented. 
    • Finalize guidance regarding the use of various sustainable and compostable alternatives to single-use plastic products.  A pilot location will be selected to test the overall process for implementing various parts of the guidance and determining what is needed (in addition to the installation of water-filling stations) in order to make the elimination of certain plastic products practical.  Complete the pilot solar project on the Belmont, NC, campus by the end of 2024.
  • Mercy Focus on Haiti aims to support the construction of 10 cisterns per month in the Gros Marne region, for the collection of rain water, using locally available materials. Cistern beneficiaries will receive training in the fundamentals of vegetable gardening, tree planting and reforestation, supporting both food production and the opportunity to sell surplus at market.

Responding to the Cry of the Poor

  • The Justice Team will deepen education and advocacy about the harms of extractivism to communities and the environment through: 
    • Mapping of extractivism near locations where the Institute has a significant presence; 
    • Educating the wider Mercy community about the experiences of communities most harmed by extractivism; 
    • Sharing more widely the statement on extractivism distributed among Chapter participants; 
    • Expanding our knowledge of extractivism to include practices such as agribusiness extracting nutrients from the land and the tourism industry dredging ports for cruise ships; and  
    • Solidarity and accompaniment of communities most harmed by extractivism
  • Sisters will continue participating in ecclesial networks (ie, in Meso-America and the regions of El Gran Chaco y el Acuífero Guaraní in South America) and will educate the rest of the congregation about how the Church is accompanying communities in these critical eco-systems.   
  • The Justice Team will participate in the “we are going to change the history of the climate and the planet!” campaign with the peoples of the Amazon in advance of international climate talks (COP30) in Belem, Brazil, in 2025.
  • Mercy Volunteer Corps has placed a volunteer yet again at Sanctuary Farm in Philadelphia and will offer short-term volunteer experiences at Mercy Ecological Center in Vermont.
  • Mercy Investment Services will expand and deepen the integration of environmental, social and governance investment strategies by:
    • Actively allocating capital to address diversity gaps amongst decision-makers and financial access within the Inclusive Opportunities Fund;  
    • Expanding the emerging managers program supporting firms owned or products managed by people with diverse or underrepresented backgrounds;  
    • Deepening Mercy Partnership Fund’s continued dedication to racial and gender equity as well as those that emphasize international opportunities; and  
    • Using our shareholder voice to explicitly call on companies to mitigate their impacts on people of color and to increase equity for disadvantaged communities.
  • Mercy Focus on Haiti will complete the fourth cohort of its poverty eradication program for women, and raise funds and set the stage for the fifth cohort. Participants from the first cohort will be able to create Village Savings and Loan Associations, which was offered to later cohorts as safe places to save money and access small loans. The first cohort participants also will be offered a tablet-based training program to develop the basics of finance and business skills.   Mercy Focus on Haiti will arrange for a physician member from the U.S. to make virtual visits with residents and walk-throughs of Bon Maison Samaritain, a house for persons who are elderly and infirm or mentally ill. Deteriorating conditions in Haiti have prevented in-person visits from the U.S.

Ecological Economics

  • Mercy Investment Services will:
    • Participate in learning opportunities to deepen our understanding of Catholic investing through documents such as Mensuram Bonam and Laudate Deum; 
    • Increase funding of mission-based environmental, social and governance investment managers and thematic managers in the equity fund;  
    • Originate additional commitments to impact managers in the Environmental Solutions Fund, which invests in renewable energy, energy and water efficiency, materials recycling, green buildings and sustainable agriculture;  
    • Commit additional investments to projects whose primary thematic area is environmental sustainability, impacts from the extractive sector or migration, or that address a just transition to a low‐carbon future in the Mercy Partnership Fund;  
    • Partner with other investors to engage corporations on water stewardship, greenhouse gas emissions, plastics use, biodiversity and other important issues; and  engage with other like-minded impact investors through the Catholic Impact Investing Collaborative, which is led by Francesco Collaborative, and through continued leadership within the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. 

Sustainable Lifestyles

  • The Justice Team and Climate and Sustainability Director will start exploring possibilities for working with other congregations of women religious to influence practices of dining service companies who serve our convents, retirement centers and other facilities. 
  • The Justice Team and Climate and Sustainability Director will continue the  Mercy Tips to Care for Earth as a monthly feature on the website. 

Ecological Education

  • Mercy Education has planned several activities for 2024:
    • “Generation Mercy,” an online meeting for students who are involved in Earth initiatives/clubs at their school, in the first half of the year; 
    • A commitment to highlight Earth in their newsletter at least 1 issue per month; 
    • Promote Mercy Meatless Mondays for the Lenten season; and 
    • Share some suggestions for Earth challenges for schools (i.e. zero waste meetings) to try to implement before Earth Day in April, then share about these in the newsletter/social media.
  • The Justice Team will organize an immersion trip to a region of western Pennsylvania experiencing an expansion of fracking and petrochemical facilities. 
  • The Justice Team will organize three immersion experiences at the U.S.-Mexico border to expand the number of sisters, associates, companions and co-workers who are educated about immigration policy and the reality at the border. One of these experiences will be solely for staff and board members of Mercy Investment Services.  
  • A Mercy associate in Guyana will develop a guidebook and set of advocacy tools for communities to understand the risks of the growing oil and gas industry in her country, and that will become a template for similar education elsewhere.  

Ecological Spirituality

  • The Justice Team will promote Laudato Si animators’ trainings and create a network of Mercy animators to work together and support one another. 
  • The Institute will participate in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious’ exploration and implementation of transformative justice work. 

Community Participation and Empowerment

  • The Justice Team will educate our network on the issues and the importance of voting our values in advance of the 2024 elections in the United States. 
  • The Justice Team will participate in a newly forming collaborative of Catholic organizations engaged in environmental and climate justice education, advocacy and practices.  

By Jason Giovannettone, Climate and Sustainability Director 

An air filter prevents air-borne contaminants (dust, pollen, bacteria and various other allergens) from entering your heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) system and your indoor air supply. Removing these particles from the air helps improve health and reduces the chances of particles clogging up the HVAC system, thereby increasing its efficiency and lifespan and reducing the chance of a breakdown. An air filter’s efficiency is measured by a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV), which ranges from 1 to 16; higher numbers mean that the filter is more efficient at catching smaller particles.   

Types and Materials 

There are three major types of air filters that are typically used in an HVAC system: fiberglass, pleated and washable/reusable. 

  1. Fiberglass filters are made from glass-fiber reinforced plastic and encased in a cardboard frame.  These filters tend to be relatively inexpensive but need to be replaced every 30 days.  MERV ratings for fiberglass filters are generally lower, making them less capable of removing smaller particles.   
  1. Pleated filters are made from either polyester, paper or cotton and folded into an accordion style to create more surface area on which air-borne particles can be captured.  Pleated filters are generally more expensive than fiberglass but last longer. It is generally recommended that they be replaced every three months. These filters have MERV ratings ranging from 5 to 13, with the higher-rated filters able to effectively capture dirt, fine dust, pollen and even the smallest bacteria.  Many pleated filters are also electrostatically charged, which enables them to attract and capture an even greater number of small particles.  
  1. Washable/reusable filters are made from either synthetic fiber, aluminum mesh or both.  Though reusable filters tend to cost the most ($25 to $75 per filter), they can last up to 10 years.  MERV ratings for reusable filters typically do not exceed 8; therefore, they are not as good at removing smaller particles as a pleated filter.  These filters do require additional labor for cleaning; it is generally recommended that be cleaned every three months, a process that consists of shaking off or vacuuming loose debris and rinsing with water.    

All filter types are available in a wide range of sizes, although reusable filters cannot be customized to unique sizes based on a particular location’s needs.   

From an environmental standpoint, reusable filters are the best option.  Fiberglass and pleated filters must be disposed of after being replaced; as such, reusable filters reduce your overall carbon footprint as well as the amount of material (including plastic) being disposed.  The main drawbacks are the increased amount of labor that is needed to clean the filters and limitations on the range of sizes; this is especially an issue at larger properties that require more filters.   


If you are responsible for changing the air filters at your residence, consider getting a reusable filter. These can be easily purchased online.  If you are not responsible for changing your air filters, consult with your maintenance manager to see if it would be possible to switch to reusable filters given your location’s particular size limitations and labor requirements. 

By Mike Poulin, Justice Resource Manager

When I was a kid, I loved to check the mailbox even though it was rare that I received something like a letter, a postcard or even a magazine. My parents never seemed very excited about checking the mail. As an adult I understand why: bills, statements, ads. Exciting mail is still a rarity. If the mail carrier still delivers business correspondence to your mailbox regularly, there are ways to reduce the amount of mail you receive. There are environmental benefits to doing so. 

Bills and statements 

Credit card bills, utility bills, statements from financial institutions and even some medical bills can be received electronically rather than in the mail. Companies may even be inviting you to switch to electronic billing and statements by printing the sign-up link right on the envelopes you are receiving in the mail. Some companies offer an incentive to switch to electronic billing and statements, while others have implemented fees for customers who continue to receive paper correspondence. In addition to the environmental advantages of electronic bills , paying bills and receiving correspondence online is more secure and can be more convenient than paying by mail. 


I can’t think of a time when I received an advertisement in the mail that resulted in my purchasing a product or a service, but the continued presence of junk mail makes me think it must be an effective business strategy. The Federal Trade Commission recommends two tools for opting out of junk mail: 

  1. DMAchoice is a nonprofit organization that helps reduce promotional mail offers from companies or organizations with which you do not have a business relationship. Signing up for the service requires a $5 fee and lasts for 10 years. It won’t affect mail sent from companies you have purchased from in the past.  
  1. Credit card and insurance offers are regulated separately by the major credit bureaus. You can opt out of these ads for five years or permanently at This service is free. 

I experienced a significant decrease in the amount of mail I received after taking these steps. There are still advertisements that arrive in my mailbox, but most of it comes from companies I have purchased from in the past. Stopping those mailings requires contacting the individual companies and asking to be removed from their lists. 

The junk mail that does make it through ends up in the recycling bin. I used to think that was a good solution for all of the mail I didn’t want, but even though paper recycling is prevalent (up to 68% of paper is recycled annually in the US) and easy (94% of Americans have access to paper recycling programs), reducing the amount of paper we receive via mail can have a variety of positive impacts. 

Environmental benefits 

While a significant percentage of trees used in the paper industry are grown for that purpose and replanted, the harvesting and production of paper have impacts on the environment. The use of fossil fuels for harvesting and transporting wood and the water and chemicals used for paper production have a carbon footprint and result in air and water pollution. Even as responsible paper producers take steps to achieve more sustainable production, our steps to reduce the demand for paper are beneficial. 

The production and delivery of the mail that comes to your home has an environmental impact as well. Consumables such as ink and toner, the operation of durable goods like printers and copy machines, and the fuel and maintenance requirements of delivery vehicles all contribute to the environmental impact of the postal deliveries we receive. 

While getting mail was exciting when I was a kid, now I’m grateful for days when I don’t receive anything in the mail. 

By Marianne Comfort, Mercy Justice Team  

If you live someplace that gets lots of ice and snow each winter, you’re used to seeing trucks spreading salt on roads and highways to reduce hazardous conditions for cars. You might even have a bucket of salt for your sidewalks and driveway. 

While salt (technically, sodium chloride) is the most effective and least costly method for de-icing outdoor surfaces, it comes with an environmental cost. An estimated 20 million tons of salt is scattered on U.S. roads annually—about 123 pounds for every American. All that salt eventually makes its way into streams, lakes and groundwater, causing harm to plants, fish and other aquatic life. Animals such as moose and deer like to lick salt, and when they wander close to salty roads, that increases the chances for accidents and roadkill.  

Staff at the University of Minnesota Extension know about both ice and the effects of using salt to minimize walking and driving hazards. Their recommendations to eliminate or reduce salt use include: 

  • Shovel, scrape and sweep snow often to remove as much as possible. This prevents ice buildup and reveals more of the dark surfaces that absorb the sun’s radiation and promote melting.  
  • Avoid dumping your shoveled snow onto nearby shrubs as it may contain salt or break branches. 
  • If it’s a warm day, just let the sun melt any remaining ice and snow. 
  • Read product labels and apply salt sparingly to critical areas only. A coffee mug of salt (about 12 oz.) is all that is needed for about 1,000 sq. ft., approximately the area of a 20-ft driveway or 10 sidewalk squares. 
  • Spread salt evenly leaving about 3 inches between salt grains. Avoid spilling piles of salt. 
  • Sweep up any salt grains you see on dry surfaces to prevent it from washing or blowing into plantings and waterways. Save it to reapply later in the season. 

By Jason Giovannettone, Climate and Sustainability Director 

There was a new addition at the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP28, which took place from November 30 to December 12 in Dubai.  Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayeb, inaugurated the first Faith Pavilion to offer a place where anyone from any faith could go for meditation, prayer and hope. Because Pope Francis was unable to attend the event, he sent the following video to introduce this new concept.

The importance of the Faith Pavilion as part of international talks on climate change did not go unnoticed by national media outlets.

Establishing a venue through which individuals of different faiths can come together and focus on their similarities (e.g., caring for the Earth) rather than their differences represents an important step toward effectively addressing concerns related to climate change and sustainability.   

Mercy Tip:  During this time of year when Christians of various denominations come together to celebrate Christmas, try to also engage your non-Christian neighbors by learning how their own faith traditions view and act upon concerns for the Earth related to climate change and sustainability. 

By Jason Giovannettone, Climate and Sustainability Director 

Last week Sister Rose Marie Tresp discussed how the surge in online ordering and home deliveries has led to increased traffic congestion, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and packaging waste.  This trend also contributes to plastic pollution due to packaging and due to the delivery vehicle itself.   

One of the major contributors to plastic pollution in our water is secondary microplastic, or plastic that breaks off larger pieces of plastic. As one example, the tires of an automobile represent a significant source of microplastics due to the enormous number of vehicles on the roads today. A large portion of tires is made from synthetic materials. When pieces of a tire break off or tire dust is created from normal wear and tear, these synthetic materials are released in the form of microplastics (NOAA Marine Debris Program Office of Response and Restoration). Once released into the environment, these particles can easily enter a nearby river or stream when it rains.  Microplastics are small enough to elude most water filtration systems and can eventually enter our drinking water.   

Mercy Tip:  As research is still being done on suitable and more environmentally friendly options for tires, try to reduce your driving, particularly if you are driving alone. Eliminate unnecessary trips or carpool as much as possible. 

By Sister Rose Marie Tresp 

In the last decade, particularly during and since the pandemic, online shopping and home deliveries have surged. The main environmental problem of these deliveries comes from the last mile, the last step in the journey of a package to the customer’s home.  

The surge in online ordering has led to more traffic congestion, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and increased packaging waste. The World Economic Forum predicts that in the world’s largest cities emissions from delivery traffic and traffic congestion will continue to increase. Urbanization, increased middle class purchasing power, the ease of online ordering and increased expectations of consumers for rapid delivery have caused damage to Earth and a decreased quality of life with increased traffic, congestion and air pollution.   

Solving this problem will require significant regulatory and infrastructure changes on the societal level. Individuals and families, however, can begin to examine their own complicity in this damage to the environment. While home delivery has been a boon to those persons who are shut-ins, live in rural areas, or do not have easy access to cars or public transportation, everyone can analyze their own ability to decrease their use of home delivery.  

Here are some suggestions to decrease your reliance on home deliveries: 

  • Combine purchases to order less frequently.  
  • Order items online but have the store hold them for pickup. 
  • Examine your own consumerism and impulse purchasing.  

In “Laudato Deum” Pope Francis states: “If we consider that emissions per individual in the United States are about two times greater than those of individuals living in China, and about seven times greater than the average of the poorest countries, we can state that a broad change in the irresponsible lifestyle connected with the Western model would have a significant long-term impact. As a result, along with indispensable political decisions, we would be making progress along the way to genuine care for one another.”  Laudato Deum, #72 

By Kira Hagan, Justice Intern 

As winter approaches it is time to explore different ways to conserve energy in our homes. Whether you use a fireplace, wood stove or furnace, these two tips will help your home be more sustainable during the colder months.  

Tip 1 – Heat your home with the sun. 

Open your shades, especially on your south-facing windows, and allow the sun to shine into your home. Then at night close them to keep the heat in. 

Tip 2 – Seal leaks around openings to the outside.  

Doors and windows are the most common places to have a broken seal. This allows the heat that is inside your home to escape outside, making your heating system work harder and use more energy. Take a few minutes to examine your windows and doors to see if the seals are all secure. If there is a leak, caulk or weather strip those areas, or if you are a renter, contact your maintenance manager to do it for you. Clear plastic sheeting taped firmly to the inside will help as well.  

Here are some more ideas: Fall and Winter Energy-Saving Tips | Department of Energy 

By Mike Poulin, Justice Resource Manager

Advent is nearly upon us, and with it all the preparations for celebrating Christmas with loved ones. As you make your Christmas preparations, I invite you to revisit resources that we published the past two years: 

A More Sustainable Christmas and Wishing You a Sustainable Christmas. 

May the ideas in these articles give you inspiration for balancing celebration and sustainability. 

Advent blessings!