89.1 WEMU

Issues Of The Environment: Sustainability And Leadership At The Detroit Zoo

Sep 25, 2019

Detroit Zoo Water Tower
Credit Maia C. / flickr.com

The Detroit Zoo says it will running 100% on renewable energy in 2020.  The effort adds to other sustainability efforts that have made the zoo a leader in environmental stewardship.  In this 'Issues of the Environment' conversation with 89.1 WEMU's David Fair, Detroit Zoological Society CEO Ronald Kagen covers what environmentally-friendly features exist, what is to come, and how the zoo is spreading its message to all who will listen. 


Overview

  • The Detroit Zoo is a leader in renewable energy. The zoo recently announced their commitment to run on 100% Michigan-made renewable energy by next year. This will be accomplished through DTE Energy’s MIGreenPower program, a voluntary renewable energy program that helps DTE electric customers reduce their carbon footprint and support the development of additional wind and solar energy projects The move will offset 7,425 metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to the carbon sequestered by 8,740 acres of U.S. forests in one year. The Detroit Zoo is also the first zoo in the country to install a Smartflower, an all-in-one ground-mounted solar panel system that generates more than 4,000 kilowatts of electricity annually. The DZS has also worked with DTE to complete energy efficiency upgrades in more than 50 of the Zoo’s buildings and to install Zoo-wide LED lighting.

  • The DZS has won four green awards for its sustainability initiatives and achievements and is a nationally recognized leader in environmental education. Sustainable design features at the Detroit Zoo include: 

    • permeable pavement that diverts rainwater from storm water drains

    • rain barrels and rain gardens

    • an anaerobic digester (the first zoo-based system of its kind) that converts herbivore animal waste and food scraps into compost and energy

    • the use of solar/electric hybrid golf carts and bicycles for on-site transportation. 

  • Waste reduction is also a key aspect of the DZS’s “Green Journey.” The Zoo has eliminated the sale of single-use plastic water bottles as well as the use of plastic bags, straws and lids. Water refilling stations are located throughout the zoo.

  • The Detroit Zoo is also a leader in conservation work. (Too much to cover in this interview, frankly.) This includes the conservation of local wildlife, captive breeding programs that enrich the genetic diversity of endangered species, rehabilitation and reintroduction programs. A few examples:

    • the Detroit Zoological Society’s (DZS’s) involvement with the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Center in the Democratic Republic of Congo to provide rescue, rehabilitative care and reintroduction of the highly endangered Grauer’s gorilla.

    • Piping Plover - the DZS-led recovery program for the endangered Great Lakes piping plover. 

    • The DZS’s is also doing conservation work to restore wild populations of the critically endangered Panamanian golden frog and the Partula nodosa, a Tahitian land snail. For more information, visit https://detroitzoo.org/animals/wildlife-conservation/

 

Detroit Zoo will run on 100% Renewable Energy by 2020

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) took a major step forward on its “Green Journey” today, announcing that the Detroit Zoo will be powered by 100% Michigan-made renewable energy through DTE Energy’s MIGreenPower program. The move will offset 7,425 metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to the carbon sequestered by 8,740 acres of U.S. forests in one year, and is part of the DZS’s “Greenprint” strategic plan to continuously decrease the environmental impact of its operations. DTE will source the renewable energy from three new wind parks that will come online in late 2020.

MIGreenPower is a voluntary renewable energy program that helps DTE electric customers reduce their carbon footprint and support the development of additional wind and solar energy projects in Michigan. Enrolled customers can customize their participation and attribute up to 100% of their energy use to local wind farms and solar parks.

“Our commitment to sustainability is integrated into everything we do, from our environmentally responsible operations to our community-wide education programs,” said Ron Kagan, DZS executive director and CEO. “Joining MIGreenPower is a major step forward for us, as our power needs significantly exceed what we can produce on-site. This program helps reduce our carbon footprint while also supporting local, Michigan-made renewable energy.”

The DZS has won four green awards for its sustainability initiatives and achievements and is a nationally recognized leader in environmental education. Sustainable design features at the Detroit Zoo include permeable pavement that diverts rainwater from storm water drains, an anaerobic digester (the first zoo-based system of its kind) that converts herbivore animal waste and food scraps into compost and energy, and the use of solar/electric hybrid golf carts and bicycles for on-site transportation. The Detroit Zoo is also the first zoo in the country to install a Smartflower, an all-in-one ground-mounted solar panel system that generates more than 4,000 kilowatts of electricity annually.

Waste reduction is also a key aspect of the DZS’s “Green Journey.” The Zoo has eliminated the sale of single-use plastic water bottles as well as the use of plastic bags, straws and lids. The DZS has also worked with DTE to complete energy efficiency upgrades in more than 50 of the Zoo’s buildings and to install Zoo-wide LED lighting. (Source: *directly quoted* https://detroitzoo.org/press-release/detroit-zoo-to-meet-100-renewable-energy-goal/)

 

Detroit Zoo Greenprint Program

The Detroit Zoological Society has developed a unique, green roadmap called the Greenprint. This comprehensive strategic plan guides our operations and is the plan by which we refine and improve our facilities and daily practices, develop new policies and programs and improve green literacy in our community. (Source: *directly quoted*  https://detroitzoo.org/about/greenprint-sustainability/)

 

Awareness and Innovation

Reusable Bottles and Bags

As part of our award-winning Greenprint initiative, the Detroit Zoo no longer sells bottled water, a decision that is keeping 60,000 plastic bottles out of the waste stream annually. Visitors may bring their own water bottles or purchase inexpensive reusable bottles at Zoo concessions, which can be refilled for free at one of 20 filtered-water stations throughout the grounds. Additionally, the Zoo no longer provides plastic bags for gift shop purchases; visitors are encouraged to bring their own bags or purchase wildlife-themed reusable bags at Zoofari Market, Arctic Outpost, Drake Passage Gifts or any of the souvenir stands. (Source: *directly quoted* https://detroitzoo.org/visit/today-at-the-zoo/)

 

Holiday Light Recycling

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) offers free holiday light recycling during Wild Lights. Guests are encouraged to bring in broken holiday lights and the DZS will properly recycle them. 

Anaerobic Digester

We have built an anaerobic digester, which converts almost all of the animal waste into compost and captures the methane byproduct, to be used as an alternative energy source at the Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex. We then use the compost material on grounds for our public gardens and landscaping. 

Green Certified Restaurant

In 2014, the Arctic Café was recognized as a Three Star Green-Certified Restaurant by the Green Restaurant Association. The Café is the first of only four restaurants in Michigan and one of only eight zoo concessions in the country to be certified green.

Solar Energy

The smartflower, an all-in-one ground-mounted solar-panel system, is blooming in the garden just east of the wildlife Carousel at the Detroit Zoo and is estimated to generate more than 4,000 kilowatts of electricity annually. Based on the concept of how a sunflower follows the sun, the 16-by-16-foot system features 12 solar “petals” that trail the sun across the sky throughout the day via a GPS-based dual-axis tracker.

Energy Efficiency Upgrades

In 2012, we completed a $2 million energy efficiency project for upgrades including lighting, mechanical, controls and water conservation. This project promises to save the Zoo nearly $275,000 in annual utility costs with a payback of 6.5 years and a savings of more than 1,500 tons of carbon dioxide. The energy efficiency upgrades span more than 50 Detroit Zoo buildings and include installation of additional utility meters and low-flow toilets as well as rooftop unit upgrades and boiler control upgrades.

Lighting Upgrades

As part of our energy efficiency improvement project, the Zoo continues to install lighting upgrades throughout our grounds. LED lights are replacing other lighting where possible.

Solar Powered Carts

During our peak season, 38 solar/electric vehicles are used by staff to carry equipment, tools and the occasional guest throughout the Zoo. The panels on top of these vehicles collect solar energy and provide supplemental power. However, we have reduced golf cart usage by 25% using bicycles and walking; more than 60 bicycles are in use by our staff.

Combustion Engine FuelsThe two propane mowers used on Zoo grounds are more efficient than traditional gas-powered mowers. Other mowers use biodiesel.

Water Upgrades

Water Bottle Phase-Out Program

We have successfully weaned Detroit Zoo visitors off the bottle! In August 2013, the Detroit Zoological Society launched a three-year initiative to discontinue the sale of bottled water as part of our green journey. Inexpensive reusable bottles are sold at concession stands, which can be refilled for free at one of 21 filtered-water stations throughout the grounds.

Rain BarrelsWater is collected from these containers is used on surrounding landscape by our staff and volunteer gardeners. Keeping rainwater out of our sewage system and in our watershed is an environmental benefit and a cost savings.

Rain Garden and permeable pavementThis rain garden and permeable pavement clean and divert stormwater.

Waste ManagementTrash and Recycling Containers

More than 140 recycling and trash containers throughout the Zoo. The circular openings on the recycling container allow for better sorting of recyclable materials. Waste and recycling containers are also paired, so that guests will always have the option to recycle, rather than put their items in a landfill.

Boardwalk Recycled Materials

The boardwalk at the Cotton Family Wetlands is constructed with a material made of 50% plastic bags, 45% recycled hardwood and 5% polymers. Products like these keep materials out of landfills and turn them into a valuable building material.

Electronic Waste Recycling

We continue annual electronic waste collection events. The inaugural event in 2011 diverted more than 103,000 pounds of computers, monitors, printers, televisions and miscellaneous electronics from the landfill.

Zoo Map Recycling

This container is located at the exit of the Zoo so that guest may recycle their maps. The maps are refolded by volunteers and reused whenever possible. If they cannot be reused, they are recycled. (Source: *directly quoted*  https://detroitzoo.org/about/greenprint-sustainability/)

 

Detroit Zoo Conservation 

 

The Detroit Zoological Society helps save wildlife locally, nationally and internationally through a comprehensive program that includes:

  • The care and rescue of animals that ultimately live at the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center. Their stories help to enhance conservation knowledge and action by the more than 1.6 million people who visit these facilities each year. Many animals under our care are also part of critical assurance populations to guard against extinction

  • Numerous field research and conservation projects with amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and butterflies to study and conserve wild populations

  • Support of other conservation organizations in the field as well as related Detroit Zoological Society education initiatives

  • Response to environmental emergencies where our specially trained staff rescue and rehabilitate wildlife affected by disasters such as oil spills (Source: *directly quoted* https://detroitzoo.org/animals/wildlife-conservation/)

Ronald Kagan

Ron Kagan is CEO of the Detroit Zoological Society and an advocate and activist for compassionate conservation, animal welfare, and humane education. He has worked at and consulted for numerous zoos and aquaria, and he lectures at universities and conferences around the world. Ron Kagan has authored many papers in scientific journals, encyclopedic entries and book chapters.

 

Ron Kagan created ten internationally award-winning wildlife conservation and welfare documentaries and established both the Berman Academy for Humane Education and the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare. He has led the development of unique and award-winning facilities including a Gorilla Conservation Research Center, the "Wildlife Interpretive Gallery" (a museum exploring the relationship between humans and animals over time and in different cultures), the National Amphibian Conservation Center, the “Arctic Ring of Life” (largest Polar Bear facility in the world), the Ford Education Center, the Wild Adventure Simulator (a motion-based cabin simulator that builds empathy for other species as people experience life through animals' eyes) and the Polk Penguin Conservation Center (largest penguin facility in the world). (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.humansandnature.org/ron-kagan)

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu