Green Design in Zoos

Back in October 2010, I was honored to be a part of the AZFA (American Zoo Facilities Association) National Conference in St. Louis, MO.  In the shadow of my green genius partner, Mariusz Bleszynski (AIA, LEED AP), we presented a talk about the real nuts and bolts of green design in a zoo exhibit.

Hypothetical exhibit utilizing a maximum of recycled or recyclable materials.

Because so much green design talk is generalized, we decided to tackle the issue head-on.  What are the practical applications of green construction in a zoo?  Most zoos utilize green methods somewhere on site, but usually it’s applied in what I call the “easy places”: nutrition centers, gift shops, special events pavilions.  Places that are typical construction in a non-traditional setting.  But the question always comes up…how do we make a green EXHIBIT?

Mariusz and I put our heads together and came up with a list of specific things that can, in some cases, be easily incorporated into an exhibit.  In other cases, its more difficult–generally because it costs more up front.

I’ve included a link to the AZFA 2010_If I Were A Green Exhibit powerpoint presentation, but for those who just want the highlights, here’s a list of our top tips:

1.   Maximize Recycled Content: Reuse existing structures, spec materials that are recycled or can easily be recycled; Minimize non-recycled or hard to recycle materials like concrete!

2.  Use Geothermal Heating / Cooling: In thermally balanced environments, you can utilize this energy to heat / cool buildings and even small pools.  Wells can be placed almost anywhere, including beneath the exhibit or building.

Clever Lowry Park Zoo uses elephant shade structures as mounts for solar panels.

3.  Use Solar Panels Strategically: Solar panels cost A LOT so use sparingly if at all UNLESS you have extra dollars to spend on green technology, want to create an educational exhibit, or can use to power specific items such as signage, interactives, lighting, gates, etc.

4.  Water Recycling: Can be any scale from rain barrels from roofs to zoo wide programs collecting run-off and wash down.  Can be used for exhibit wash down, irrigation, and toilet flushing.

5. Use Native Plants: Eliminates irrigation and fertilization needs and can be selected to mimic just about any environment.

6. Use Water Based Chillers instead of Traditional Air Based: More efficient, less noisy, longer lasting.  25% more expensive.  A bargain!

Within the presentation, we outlined initial costs, return on investment, and developed imagery to help everyone understand how these green technologies affect the visitor experience.

What is your zoo doing to become more green?

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