The Cincinnati Zoo is striving to be the “greenest” zoo in America, and they’re proving that going green can also save a lot of green along the way. Last night, at the annual Cincinnati Sustainability awards, the keynote speaker was Mark Fisher, the senior director of facilities at the zoo. Mark is not a flashy speaker, nor would I call him a “tree-hugger”, but he does have a solid background in not only facilities management but also construction, which makes his message about the efforts the zoo have gone through to become more sustainable even more convincing. For about a half an hour Mark spoke passionately about the improvements that have been undertaken over the past few years at the second oldest zoo in the country.
The first, and possibly most remarkable improvement Mark spoke about was the reduction of the zoo’s annual potable water use from over 220 million gallons of water to under 100 million gallons. That’s an over 50% reduction in water use by doing simple things like searching for and fixing leaks and make operational changes such as requiring zoo staff to use shovels, rather than water hoses, to clean animal areas! The money saved by using less water has paid for any improvements several times over. The zoo also began targeting energy use reduction. With many buildings that were over 100 years old and very specific climatic requirements for many of the animals, there was quite a bit of room for improvement. Over the past 6 years, through addressing small changes in mechanical systems, lighting, and operations, the zoo was able to lower their energy consumption by 15% while increasing their square footage of facilities by over 25%. Like the water conservation measures, these energy efficiency improvements have already paid for themselves in decreased energy costs. Mark was very clear about indicating how easy it is now to get funding from the board for future sustainability measures now that they have a proven track record of great returns.
The zoo is not stopping their sustainable design projects any time soon, either. Since 2003, the zoo has opened four LEED certified projects, including one LEED Platinum project. The also have construction under way for a 17 acre African Savannah project that will help manage the stormwater from large portions of the zoo, effectively allowing a portion of the zoo to not contribute any stormwater runoff to Cincinnati’s overtaxed stormwater sewer system. Guess what? The zoo also got the Metropolitan Sewer District of Cincinnati to cover the $1.4 million price tag of the stormwater system. Why wouldn’t you keep an eye on sustainability if it’s not costing you anything?! Other exciting projects they have in the works include:
- A 1.5 megawatt solar array that would shade all of the parking spaces in the main zoo parking lot and would provide enough power to take the zoo off the grid on a cool, sunny fall day.
- A bio-fuel conversion that will allow the zoo train to run off of discarded frying grease from the zoo concession operations
- A system that is currently under development that would allow the zoo to use all of the zoo’s animal waste (elephant poop and all) as a bio-fuel.
As you can see, the Cincinnati Zoo’s sustainability initiatives are diverse and far reaching. Aside from sustainability being a hot-button issue for an organization that focuses on wildlife preservation, the zoo has been proving the wisdom of their initiatives every step of the way with dramatically reduced utility costs, making the zoo an ideal model of sensible sustainability.