A number of accredited zoos and aquariums recently made news with their sustainability programs – proving that it’s possible to reduce their impact on the environment, without increasing their operating costs.
In 2010, Happy Hollow Park and Zoo in San Jose, Calif., was the first zoo to earn the gold standard in LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification is a third-party designation, which verifies that the institution employs green building and operating standards while aiming to improve performance and decrease impact on the environment.
“Not just one building was certified. The certification is for all the new areas of the facility,” says Suzanne Wolf, general manager. “We are proud to be a green model for the nation and the zoo and aquarium industry.”
The $72 million renovation project includes seven living roofs constructed with plant species native to the Zoo’s wildlife; uses recycled water throughout the facility for non-potable purposes; uses Forest Stewardship Council certified wood framing and recycled plastic lumber in construction projects; utilizes hay bales as insulation for their Education Building; and set up a sustainable storm water management system designed to keep all rainfall on site.
Another Green pioneer, Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown, Pa., joined the movement back in October after completing construction on the first phase of their Canopy Gardens Pavilion, which features a vegetated roof – one of the first in its area. Rooted in a special soil four inches thick are over 5,000 plants which will grow to envelop the entire roof in a living carpet of green, which aims to trap rainfall and help reduce storm water runoff into neighboring areas.
“We are proud of its innovative design and hope that the vegetated roof will inspire our guests to reflect upon how environmentally-friendly practices can be incorporated into daily life,” said Bill Konstant, Elmwood Park Zoo executive director/CEO.
In November of last year, The Toledo Zoo unveiled their Solar Walk, a uniquely designed set of 1,400 solar panels to offset the Zoo’s carbon footprint by producing up to 104,000 kilowatt hours per year. To put that number into perspective: it’s enough energy to power ten typical homes in Ohio per year.
“For us, it’s not just about any one issue. It’s about green buildings, advanced energy, energy efficiency, storm water management – all of it,” explains Mark Fisher, the Zoo’s director of facilities.
Aside from the Solar Walk, the Zoo also implemented “Green” construction practices; installed geothermal walls in their children’s zoo and near their aquarium; set up a wind turbine and solar panels to power the Zoo’s ticket booths; and use salvaged materials in their construction projects.
Even more recently, this spring the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens began generating energy from the sun through their four acres of solar panels above their parking lot. As the largest publicly accessible urban solar array in the U.S., the solar panel has produced, to date, enough energy to “meet the demands of 74 households in a year,” according to its website. In fact, the Zoo has plenty of astounding facts and figures on its website, where you can monitor the facility’s solar energy production in real time.
It’s great to see accredited zoos initiating sustainability programs that reduce their own environmental footprint as well as educate people on how their choices can impact wildlife and the environment.