Is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the threshold of a big push into environmental sustainability?

The message in a Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium panel discussion Friday morning at the Sheraton Hotel seems to concur.

"You see the rumblings already started," said Mark D. Thomas, a panelist for "Forty Days and Forty Nights: The Growing Role of Religions in the Urgent Fight for Environmental Sustainability."

He believes LDS theology is ideally suited for helping the environment and said construction of the City Creek Center project in downtown Salt Lake City is a prime example. City Creek Center is a private development project of an LDS Church-owned company.

The 20 acres of residential, retail and office space under construction was highlighted last month in "Faith in Action: Communities of Faith Bring Hope for the Planet," a national report of the Sierra Club.

The report featured the LDS Church's efforts to revitalize downtown "in a green manner" through City Creek Center. The project is taking part in a pilot program of the U.S. Green Building Council that promotes environmentally responsible and sustainable development.

Thomas, a business consultant and a Latter-day Saint, believes enormous things are about to happen in church concern for the environment.

"I have a notion in the next few years you will see some surprises," he said, advising people to stop and look around, talk to their bishops and others about ways to save energy and help the environment. He believes creativity is the key to solving environmental issues.

"With a small effort, we may save ourselves," he said. "Once the LDS Church is involved, it will change the (Utah) market."

Steve Ritchey, a computer consultant, panel moderator and board member of Utah Interfaith Power & Light, which sponsored the session, agrees.

Utah Interfaith Power & Light has made a commitment to do its part to save energy and help fight human-induced climate change. It seeks to mobilize a religious response to climate change. It has nine Utah churches as members, but Ritchey said that's small in comparison to the 2,000 or more congregations in the state.

Elaine Emmi, environmental representative from the Salt Lake City Quakers, said, "I found every religion has an environmental component."

She's excited about the "green" prospects for the City Creek Center but said she was told the LDS Church "can't be political" as why it hasn't directly joined the interfaith group.

Joan Gregory, coordinator of environmental ministry from Salt Lake's First Unitarian Church, said her church believes in "the power of one" and is working to add an addition to its vintage building that will be environmentally friendly.

"One change leads to another," she said.

One problem with environmental efforts can be a lack of large community interest. This environmental session at Sunstone appeared to be one of the symposium's least attended sessions, with just eight people there, plus the panel.

"The fact that we have a small group here is indicative," Thomas said.

Indeed, the other Friday environmental Sunstone session — "A Mormon Environmental Ethic for and From the Rising Generation" — was canceled.

However, a new Web site, "LDS Earth Stewardship," is available at:

The Utah Interfaith Power & Light has its own Web site too, The group also will conduct an energy audit to help churches save energy.

Sunstone has no official ties to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

• The Sunstone Symposium continues through Saturday at the Sheraton Hotel. For a complete schedule, go to:

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