Tips from the Green Knight
September 14, 2009: A compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) uses a fourth as much energy as a conventional incandescent light bulb of the same brightness. In Kentucky, where electricity comes primarily from coal, switching to CFL bulbs is a real earth-saver. “Burning the midnight oil” under a CFL desk lamp uses up only ¼ as much fossil fuel, and causes only ¼ as much air pollution. CFL bulbs are more expensive, but last years longer than conventional bulbs. With typical use, a CFL pays for itself in saved electricity costs in about six months. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that if every household in America replaced one incandescent bulb with a CFL, the energy saved would be enough to light more than 3 million homes and we would prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the exhaust from 800,000 cars!
CFL and Mercury Bulbs
September 21, 2009:Mercury is a metallic element used to make some kinds of electrical switches, batteries, thermometers, and even compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. Mercury is also an environmental toxin. Its most damaging form, called methyl mercury, can accumulate in the human body and affect the nervous system. Developing embryos are five to ten times as sensitive to this toxin as adults, so pregnant women need to be especially careful to avoid mercury exposure.
Coal contains traces of mercury, which can be released into the atmosphere when it is burned in a coal-fired power plant. Precipitation brings this mercury pollution back to earth, where it can enter the food chain and accumulate in the bodies of animals. As a result of pollution from coal fired plants and other sources, fish from most Kentucky waterways have measurable levels of mercury in their tissues. Though fish is otherwise a healthy protein source, the Kentucky Department of Public Health recommends limiting consumption of fish caught from several popular lakes in our state because of low-level, but widespread, mercury contamination. (See http://chfs.ky.gov/news/Fish+Consumption.htm
So what about those compact fluorescent bulbs? Are they really a “green” choice after all? Yes, they are, both for conserving energy and for reducing mercury pollution. A CFL bulb contains about 4 milligrams of mercury, which remains inside the fluorescent tube during its use. But burning the additional coal needed to power an energy-hungry incandescent light bulb typically releases even more mercury, so the fluorescent bulb actually puts less mercury into the environment. To keep the mercury in your CFL lights out of the landfill, don’t throw spent fluorescent bulbs in the trash. For tips on safe recycling of CFL bulbs when they finally go out, read future Tips from the Green Knight.
September 28, 2009:A full moon in late September is called the harvest moon, and a trip to your local farmers market will demonstrate the reason. Locally grown apples, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, bell peppers, sweet corn, green beans, onions, potatoes, kale and a cornucopia of other fruits and vegetables are piled high on our local market stands these days. If you are looking for a dash of fall color, you can find locally grown chrysanthemums, gourds, pumpkins, and sunflowers there too.
Sound interesting? Here are a few suggestions:
- Pick a market nearby, and combine your visit with
other errands. To find a farmers market near you, click here.
- Find out when the market opens, and go early in the
day. Growers typically pick their produce the night before market day,
and early shoppers get the best selection and the freshest foods.
- Take your time. Enjoy meeting neighbors. Stop to
talk with the people running the stands. Ask them where the produce
came from, and which varieties are sweetest, freshest, spiciest, or
best for your favorite recipe.
- Be adventurous. Try cooking one vegetable variety
you have never eaten before. National grocery chains tend to
concentrate on a few standard breeds that are easily shipped and that
have a long shelf life, but you will be surprised at the diversity of
produce our local farmers have to offer. “Heirloom” plants, grown from
seeds passed down from one generation of gardeners to the next, are a
Farmers market advocates say they like knowing where
their food comes from. They also like knowing the dollars they give
directly to local growers are “plowed back” into the local economy.
Environmentalists promote local foods as a way to reduce energy
consumption, avoiding the extra fuel needed to haul produce or
flowers in refrigerated trucks from half a world away. For me, the
taste of a Kentucky heirloom tomato is reason enough to celebrate the
harvest moon at my neighborhood farmers market.
October 5, 2009: Even if you didn’t get a chance to trade in your “clunker” for a more fuel efficient car last summer, there are inexpensive ways to give any vehicle, old or new, much better fuel economy. That means less money out of your pocket, less pollution in the air, slower climate change, and reduced national dependence on foreign oil.
According to Edmunds.com’s online advice for drivers, the best thing we could do to save gas in city driving is to mellow out a bit when we take the wheel. Most of us waste fuel by stomping the accelerator when the light turns green, only to hit the brakes again at the next stoplight. Repeatedly revving the engine to push a heavy vehicle to top speed doesn’t get you across town much sooner, but it really guzzles the gas. Smooth starts and stops can save up to 31% of the typical driver’s in-town gasoline consumption.
On the highway, turning on the cruise control improves a typical driver’s fuel economy by 7%. It pays to leave a few minutes earlier, too, so you don’t have to rush. Observing speed limits would save the average driver an additional 12%, since fuel economy plummets at speeds over 60 mph.
Routine maintenance is another frequently neglected key to good gas mileage. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a tuneup can improve mileage by 4% for the average driver, and replacing a faulty oxygen sensor can save up to 40%.
The energy department also calculates that keeping tires at the recommended pressure would save 3% of our typical gasoline bill, or about 8 cents per gallon. Check the recommended tire pressure printed on the inside of the driver’s door panel, or in the owner’s manual. Fully inflated tires roll down the road with less resistance, improving your MPG.
So whether you drive a brand new hybrid or a beloved old clunker, you can take it easy, tune it up, and check those tires to save cash and help keep Louisville green!
October 19, 2009: Louisville, Kentucky has received national recognition for an important environmental achievement. According to the SustainLane US City
Rankings national survey of water quality, Louisville placed in the
top three American cities, tied for second place just behind Kansas
City, for purity of its tap water. Louisville’s tap water is well
regarded for taste as well. In a contest sponsored by The American
Water Works Association in Atlanta, Georgia last year, a panel of
judges named Louisville’s water “the best tasting water in America.”
(For more details, click here.)
The superior purity and taste of our city’s water brings
several questions to mind: Is it really necessary to buy drinking
water that is bottled in plastic containers and trucked long distances
from other cities? Could we re-fill water bottles with superior local
drinking water, and avoid sending tons of plastic drinking bottles to
the landfill? Could we find a better use for the money we spend on
bottled drinking water? Perhaps a donation to a favorite environmental
Congratulations to the Louisville Water Company for a job
well done. If water is life, as they say, then life in our fair city
is very good indeed!
November 2, 2009: Want to double the fuel economy of your car in one easy,
low-tech step? Take a passenger with you! The relevant measure of
fuel economy is not miles per gallon, but PASSENGER-miles per gallon. A
car carry two people gets nearly twice the passenger miles per gallon
as a car carrying one. Whenever a driver shares a ride, it takes
another car off the road and cuts the fuel used for transporting those
two people in half.
You might think about this as the holiday season
approaches. If you plan to drive to another city for Thanksgiving or
Christmas break, is there someone here at Bellarmine who lives near
your destination who could share a ride, reduce your carbon footprint,
and chip in for gas money? Ask around, and contact The Green Knight
if we can help.
November 30, 2009: If you’re still raking the last of the autumn leaves,
this would be a great time to begin composting. A compost pile turns
yard waste and kitchen scraps into nutrient-rich fertilizer for your
vegetable garden or flower beds through the decomposing activity of
microscopic soil organisms. These beneficial critters are the organic
gardener’s “FBI”—fungi, bacteria and insects. All they need to begin
working for you is a moist and well-aerated pile of leaves, grass
clippings, or kitchen scraps.
For best results, a compost pile should measure at least 4
feet wide by 4 feet deep by 4 feet high. That’s large enough to
retain moisture and to promote growth of soil organisms. You can build
fencing around your pile if you wish, but no structure is necessary. To
hasten decomposition, you will need to mix air with the compost.
Aerating compost drums are sold to make this job easier, but turning
the pile over with a shovel or a pitchfork every couple of months works
perfectly well. Add green material (such as fresh grass clippings)
along with dry leaves to provide sufficient nitrogen for the “FBI” to
To minimize odors and to avoid attracting animal
scavengers, it’s best not to add materials of animal origin such as
chicken bones or eggshells. Also avoid adding leaves from walnut
trees if you plan to use the compost in a garden—black walnut leaves
contain natural herbicides that kill other plants.
Over a period of six months or so, warm weather will
accelerate microbial action. Sprinkle on a little water in hot dry
weather, and your compost pile will shrink considerably as carbon
compounds are eaten away by the “FBI.” What’s left is dark, crumbly,
nutrient-rich, sweet-smelling compost, made just in time to fertilize
your summer garden. What’s more, you have the satisfaction of keeping
all those fall leaves out of the landfill!
Our New Orchard
December 7, 2009: The Green Knight thanks David Robinson, Jim Welp,
Elaine Lonnemann, and Hunt Helm for their volunteer work in planting 32
fruit trees on the Bellarmine Farm last week. Special thanks to
student farm manager Sam Kemper for preparing all the holes for our
tree-planting. Bellarmine now has an orchard, with six varieties of
fall apple trees and two varieties of pears. In a few years, we hope to
start providing Bellarmine-grown fruit for our campus food service.
We will dedicate our orchard trees at an Earth-day celebration on the
Bellarmine Farm next April.
Though Earth Day is a fine time to dedicate new trees, fall is the best
time for planting, because water is lost through a tree’s leaves, and
replaced through its roots. Trees planted in spring already have
leaves, so they tend to lose water faster than newly transplanted roots
can draw replacement water from the earth. Spring-planted trees can
survive their first hot summer, but only through weekly watering. If
planted in fall, a tree’s roots get a “head start,” taking advantage of
the winter months to grow into the soil and establish a good water
“pipeline” before their leaves emerge in the spring.
Help Your Furnace
January 11, 2009: As the cold weather continues, a little attention to
our home heating systems can make a significant difference in energy
use. If you have a forced air heating/cooling system at home, now
might be the time to change the air filter on your furnace. Furnace
air filters are inexpensive and easy to change, but are also easy to
As the filter gets clogged with dust, your furnace has to
work harder to maintain the same indoor temperature, so energy is
wasted and heating bills climb. For top efficiency, furnace filters
should be checked every month, and changed whenever they appear dirty.
Don’t quit when spring finally arrives—a clean filter also improves
efficiency of central air conditioning in the summer.
As you open up your 2010 calendar, why not add a note at
the beginning of each month to remind yourself to check the filter? A
little attention to your faithful furnace will give you a smaller
carbon footprint in 2010!
Paper of Plastic? Neither, Thanks.
February 1, 2010: The old checkout counter question, “Paper or plastic?”
challenged environmentalists to choose the lesser of two evils. Paper
bags kill trees, and become bulkier components of urban trash, but the
typical plastic shopping bag uses up non-renewable hydrocarbons, is
even slower to degrade, blows around everywhere, clogs sewers, and
threatens aquatic life. Though they can be recycled or reused, most
are not, and they create so much litter in America that some cities
have banned plastic shopping bags altogether.
The best option is to bring your own reusable bag when
you shop, and that choice is becoming easier all the time. Most
Louisville groceries and discount stores sell reusable bags for about a
dollar, and then credit you with a nickel or so off your purchases
every time you bring the bag back to the store. In a few months,
your bag is paid for, and you’re actually making money on the deal.
Reusable bags hold more, stand up better in the trunk of
your car, and are kinder to your fingers when you carry a heavy load of
groceries into the house. Some are made with a reflective lining to
keep frozen items cold in the summer. It’s a win-win situation-- if
you can only remember to bring your reusable bags with you when you run
over to the market.
If you would rather make your own reusable shopping bag
than to buy one, Campus Ministry Director Melanie Prejean Sullivan can
show you how to make a permanent bag out of several disposable ones.
Thanks, Melanie, for your inventive solutions and environmental
Using Recycled Paper
February 22, 2010: Bellarmine is getting better at recycling waste paper. Most
copy rooms on campus now have a recycling bin, and our faculty,
students and staff are “pitching in” to avoid needless landfill waste.
However, sending out used paper for recycling is only half of our
environmental responsibility. Unless institutions like Bellarmine
also buy recycled paper for our printing and photocopy needs,
there will be a limited market for recycled wood fiber, and trees will
continue to fall to satisfy our voracious appetite for paper.
Paper consumption in a typical American office averages
20 reams per person per year. Unless we buy recycled paper stock,
this rate of consumption amounts to a good-sized evergreen tree
sacrificed every year for every person. According to the Worldwatch
Institute, choosing recycled paper not only slows demand for wood and
for landfill space, but also reduces air pollution from paper
manufacture by 74% and lowers water pollution by 35% (http://www.worldwatch.org/node/1497
Paper labeled “100% post-consumer waste” is made entirely
from paper scrap returned for recycling by other users. Although
paper with lower recycled fiber content is also available for special
purposes, the quality of 100% recycled paper has improved dramatically
over the last few years, and the price has become much more comparable
to non-recycled paper stock.
Recycled paper for notebooks, printing, and copying is
available through our bookstore, and from most office supply outlets.
Why not literally save a tree (and clean air and water as well) by
stocking your printer or copy machine with recycled paper?
Environmental Education Week
April 19, 2010: Last week, the Environmental Committee of BU’s Student
Government celebrated National Environmental Education Week with several
service learning opportunities for Bellarmine students.
Cleanup efforts for our neighborhood and for
Beargrass Creek not only helped improve local environmental quality, but also
raised consciousness about the environmental consequences of the high consumption
rate and thoughtless waste inherent in our throwaway culture.
Kudos also to the freshman seminar class who published in last
Friday’s Courier Journal a well-researched and thoughtfully- written op-ed
piece on the environmental costs of coal extraction. Read their editorial here.
Finally, a truckload of thanks to Anais Jimenez, Margaret
Hamilton, Cullen Kuntz, Robert Paul Bauer, Maria Schmitt, Amy Marikowski,
Katrina Dust, Nicole Waldo, Cassandra Novajovsky, and Chelsie Rose Taylor for
spending Friday afternoon composting and cultivating our vegetable garden at
the Bellarmine Farm.
“Tips from the Green Knight” is sponsored by the
Bellarmine University School of Environmental Studies. To
ask questions or suggest future tips, contact Dr. Robert Kingsolver at firstname.lastname@example.org,
or call G R E E N – B U.