Call it a massive reduction in carbon hoof print.
A prestigious group of its peers recently named the Denver Zoo the greenest zoo in the country.
While the zoo’s name is on the plaque, sustainability coordinator Jennifer Hale sees many winners. If you visit the zoo, consider yourself among them.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums, a Silver Spring, Md.-based organization, recognized Denver’s zoo with its first yearly Green award for its outstanding sustainability practices.
At 225 members, primarily in the United States, the AZA is already a selective organization, said spokesman Steve Feldman. While part of its mission is member support, conservation also ranks high.
Two of its current causes illustrate the point. The AZA backs fundraising benefitting zoo animals in war-ravaged Tripoli. It also supports research on climate change and the plight of the polar bear.
“Zoos are in the forefront of the going green movement,” said Feldman. “We’re all about connecting people to conservation and nature. This award was a natural fit.”
Denver distinguished itself by its sheer volume of green projects.
In its latest, it plans to convert 90 percent of its total waste stream into energy through a biomass gasification system. The system goes by the nickname “Poop to Power.” The zoo hopes to keep reduce its landfill contributions by 1.5 million tons annually.
Also, the zoo:
- Hosted public events to collect e-waste and gathered more than 31,000 pounds of recyclable electronics.
- Reduced its overall annual water usage by 60 percent between 1999 and 2010, saving 227 million gallons of water.
- Joined with Real Food Colorado to use local produce and materials to feed animals in its collection.
- Was recognized recently for innovative use of reuse water by the Water Reuse Association.
Hale includes zoo visitors in the organization’s success. “Just by coming here, our visitors help to sustain animals and provide habitat,” she said.
Zoo guests may find their visit entertaining, but the zoo mission doesn’t stop there.
It has outreach programs that bring the animals to the elderly in nursing homes and children in classrooms. Its conservation biology department works on the behalf of animals in 25 countries.
“Our visitors learn about animals here, and they’ll bring home ideas on how they can reduce, recycle and reuse,” said Hale.
Just like the zoo, its guests are part of something bigger.