The value of living in tune with our natural environment — or living "green" as we've grown to call it — has become an underlying tenet of our contemporary culture. Just look at a few of the winners of the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection's 2011 Environmental Excellence Awards, presented last month at the Governor's Conference on Energy and the Environment:
■ Ursuline Sisters of Mount St. Joseph in Owensboro, for recycling 16,000 pounds of refuse in a year.
■ A team from Smithfield Foods in Middlesboro, which picked up debris in Yellow Creek to provide a safe, clean place for kids to fish during the city's Fourth of July Fish Fest.
■ "Tree Man" Charles Williams of Munfordville in Hart County, who has planted trees on his heritage family farmland since he was a teen and now maintains an approximately 1,000-acre tree farm, leading more than 4,000 forest tours to date.
Recipients of the group's Environmental Pacesetter award included:
■ The Life Adventure Center of the Bluegrass, which created the first LEED-certified building in Woodford County, while offering environmental educational programs. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
Closer to home, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government recently honored 18 people and businesses with Environmental Commission awards. Among the winners were Locust Trace AgriScience Farm off Leestown Road as a "net- zero" energy-use facility; Town Branch Trail Inc., for its documentary about the historic watershed, and Donut Days Bakery on Southland Drive for its food-waste pilot program. A complete list is at Lexingtonky.gov/index.aspx?page= 24&recordid=2885.
Want to get aboard the green bandwagon? Opportunities are available through many regional organizations. Here are a few; most are non-profits or government agencies.
■ The Fayette Alliance (Fayettealliance.com). Saturday's Bike for the Bluegrass gives riders a chance to bike through Central Kentucky. Proceeds — from registration fees and corporate sponsorships — are used to advocate for sustainable local growth.
The Alliance focuses on farmland preservation and responsible growth. "We're trying to achieve a world-class city in a world-class Bluegrass landscape," executive director Knox van Nagell says.
■ Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission (Naturepreserves.ky.gov). In its 35th year, this state agency monitors biological diversity, and maintains wildlife census listings, maps of preserve areas and access to natural landscapes. Hiking and attending programs in these areas afford rare views of unspoiled habitats. Find a list of upcoming hikes in the online Naturally Kentucky newsletter and calendar, or join the group on Facebook.com. A walk at Floracliff Nature Sanctuary in Fayette County (make a reservation at Floracliff.org) is scheduled for 10 a.m. Nov. 12.
■ LFUCG Recycling Center, 360 Thompson Road (Lexingtonky.gov/index.aspx?page=1720). That's where your Rosie recyclables are taken and processed. Resources Recovery Systems manager Rebecca Weems says that since May 2010, the amount of recycled materials has increased from 80 tons to 120 tons a day. "Our busiest day was about 175 tons," Weems says. "The changeover to having items the city will collect all together in the Rosie bin has made it much easier for people to recycle, and therefore increased participation and tonnage."
You can find updates and a guide to what you can put in the Rosie at Lexingtonky.gov/index.aspx?page=696.
At the former landfill, 1631 Old Frankfort Pike, county residents may join an attempt to break the world record for paper shredding by bringing as many as 10 boxes of residential documents from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 12. And if you want to recycle Thanksgiving turkey frying grease instead of clogging pipes with it, check out the Grease Gobble Toss from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 26.
■ Bluegrass PRIDE (Bgpride.org). PRIDE is an acronym for "personal responsibility in a desired environment," a mission this group has espoused for 10 years. Now encompassing an 18-county area, it continues to organize educational programs geared at reducing household waste and energy consumption, and outfitting rain barrels at special clinics; offer rain-garden seminars, coordinate grants, and manage the Live Green Lexington Partner program.
With winter approaching, you might want to attend its free Residential Energy Efficiency Workshop, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Fayette County Cooperative Extension Service, 1140 Red Mile Place. Experts will provide information about monitoring and reducing your utility bills. Call Bluegrass PRIDE at (859) 266-1572 for registration.
■ Sierra Club Cumberland Chapter (Kentucky.sierra club.org). Want to help protect and explore our natural resources? The club's Web site maintains fact sheets; current-issue listserv forums, including one about mountaintop removal; and links to other conservation groups, including the Kentucky Waterways Alliance (KWalliance.org.) The club's annual meeting at Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park, Nov. 11 to 13, will include a night hike, a birding foray and a Duncan Lake eagle-viewing trip.
■ Bluegrass Conservancy (Bluegrassconservancy.org). Conservation easements encouraged by this group have helped preserve more than 11,000 acres of inner Bluegrass land. Federal tax incentives will expire at the end of 2011 unless Congress acts on them again. A newsletter, a list of easements and a location map are on the Web site, which also carries some inspirational donor profile stories.
■ Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability and the Environment (TFCE.uky.edu). This University of Kentucky organization promotes trans-disciplinary research on subjects related to the environment. At 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the UK Student Center's grand ballroom, the second annual research showcase and seminar series features Peter Gleick, co-founder and president of the Pacific Institute, with a free lecture, "New Thinking for Water in the 21st Century." UK's Kentucky Water Resources Research Institute was designated a Center of Excellence for Watershed Management by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this year. Want to learn more about our watersheds? Go to the EPA site, Water.epa.gov/type/watersheds/index.cfm.
■ Bluegrass GreenWorks (Bluegrassgreenworks.org). Founded on Earth Day 2008, this organization has an online calendar and a GreenGuide directory, making it "communications central" for green goings-on in the Lexington area. A link to kyGREENtv (Kygreen.tv) leads to profiles of leaders in the green movement, plus green-topic videos including conservation efforts at Mammoth Cave National Park.
■ SeedLeaf (Seedleaf.org). This sprouting group supports community activities that grow healthy food in the Lexington area. Helping establish community gardens, composting in conjunction with restaurant partners, and cooking classes are among the healthy and helpful activities it promotes, especially with those at risk of going hungry. Reading SeedLeaf's history since it began in 2009 is encouraging. Volunteering to help in the garden will benefit the community and your "green thumb" credentials.