Tips from the Green Knight

“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, or call G R E E N – B U. 

Special Interest Articles

"Intelligent Growth" by Tabitha T. Thopmson, Q&A with Dr. Rob Kingsolver in Bellarmine Magazine, Fall 2009

"How to Reduce Your Food Footprint" by Dr. Martha Carlson Mazur in Bellarmine Magazine, Winter 2014

"Was Our Severe Winter Related to Climate Change" by Dr. Kate Bulinski in Bellarmine Magazine, Winter 2014

"Bellarmine Launches Field School in Peru" by Jim Welp in Bellarmine Magazine, Winter 2014

Earth Day!

April 22, 2015 (Dr. Rob Kingsolver): Today is Earth Day and a good time to reflect on the current city-wide initiative to restore Louisville’s tree canopy. Did you know it takes the combined photosynthetic effort of six or seven full-grown trees to produce the 740 kg of oxygen needed to keep you alive from one year to the next? So every one of us needs to plant and take care of seven trees, just to pay back the planet for the oxygen we use up by breathing. If you haven’t hugged a tree today, maybe you ought to think about it!

Summer Water Saving

April 17, 2015 (Kiersten Morgan): As we head in to the warmer months, be conscientious of your indoor and, especially, your outdoor water use. Outdoor water use spikes two to four times as much during the summer when home owners are enjoying outdoor activities or maintaining their lawn. According to the EPA, “Depending on the region, homeowners use between 30 and 70 percent of their water outdoors.” Even those with timed watering systems forget to monitor the weather, which also leads to overwatering. Experts say that due to overwatering, 50 percent of the water used outside goes to waste by either runoff or evaporation.

How can you save water? Know when to water your lawn. It is best to water your lawn in the early morning or during the evening because considerable amounts of water can be lost by evaporation during the heat of the day. If you use a clock timer on your watering system, you may consider switching to a WaterSense labeled program, this can save up to 8,800 gallons of water annually. Go with a pro. Contractors who are certified in installing WaterSense labeled programs can make sure water is not wasted. Also, ask for credentials. Make sure to have your system inspected for leaks and broken or clogged sprinkler heads annually. Leave your grass a little longer. This allows the root to grow deeper, resulting in a more drought-resistant lawn. Sweep your steps, sidewalk, and porch with a broom instead of hosing them down. If you are not sure whether or not your lawn needs a drink, step on it. If it bounces back up, it has enough water. Finally, when you are planting, assign different hydrozones to contrasting parts of your landscape to ensure more efficient watering. For ways to limit indoor water waste, see this EPA website.

Organic Waste to Energy

December 21, 2014 (Kiersten Morgan): Biomass is fuel that is developed from organic materials, anything that has once been considered living, and is a renewable and sustainable source of energy used to create electricity or other forms of power. Rather than having our organic waste products sit in landfills breaking down and releasing greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, why not make them into a reusable form of energy? According to the EPA, “In 2010, over 29 million tons of materials, or 11.7 percent, were combusted for energy recovery.” Using biomass for energy cuts back on waste and greenhouse gas emissions, but waste biomass remains underutilized as a fuel source.

Researchers are trying to develop ways to burn more biomass and fewer fossil fuels. In fact, two companies, ReEnergy Holdings LLC and Evergreen Clean Energy LLC, are already taking part in developing fuel from organic materials. They are finding a way to reuse municipal waste instead of letting it build up and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Biomass offers other significant environmental and consumer benefits, including improving forest health, protecting air quality, and offering the most dependable renewable energy source. In New York City schools officials are collecting waste from 200 schools and are using that to heat almost 5,000 homes. According to the New York Daily News, “The city hopes to expand the program to about 400 schools by the spring and eventually start collecting organic waste from some 100,000 homes in the city, said Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty.” If we started this type of recycling all throughout the United States, we would ultimately decrease our waste and the use of fossil fuels and increase our amount of reusable green energy.   For more information on biomass and how it works click on this CNN clip!

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.

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% ( ).  

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? 

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 leadership.

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 neglect. 

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! 

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.


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 thrive. 

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!

Ride Sharing

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.

Louisville Water

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 cause?

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!

Saving Gasoline

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’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!

Farmer's Markets

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 special find.   

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.

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 ).

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.

CFL Bulbs

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!