Random Thought: The Cincinnati Zoo, an Example of How to Go Green.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

I just got home from an afternoon of attending apartment meetings and discussing politics with the other grad students in my department.  I'm not sure how it happened but a conversation about who's going to go to Philly in December to be a part of a hiring committee turned into a debate regarding the Big Bang approach to the Middle-East that neo-conservatives have endorsed.

Anyhow, that's all besides the point, when I got home I was reading the news and I came across an article about the pumpkin hunt for the gorillas at the Cincinnati Zoo.  This gave me an idea for a post, which has nothing to do with pumpkins or gorillas but has a lot to do with the Cincinnati Zoo.  

It seems to me that one thing that a lot of Cincinnatians might not be aware of is that our zoo is on the forefront for sustainable development.  While zoos in general have a mandate, or is it mission (I never get those two right), to further wildlife conservation efforts, the Cincinnati Zoo has gone several steps further and has made huge efforts to be as green as possible.

For example, our zoo is one of the few places in the world that actually has, what I like to refer to as, a poo-reactor.  That is they have a reactor (which may or may not be operational yet) that can use organic material to generate electricity.  This might sound more like a gimick than anything but in an area where solar and wind power isn't feasible, the use of a reactor that can take any organic waste and use it to generate electricity is a great way to generate emissions free electricity in a manner that also helps reduce material that's destined to end up in a landfill.

Further, the zoo has made a commitment to build Leed certified buildings using locally sourced and recycled materials, install green roofs, and develop rain water recycling systems that will result in it being one of the greenest institutions in this city.  More importantly, the zoo is working with other business to potentially sell offsets for companies like Google, which will result in their sustainability projects being economically sustainable as well.  

One of the primary barriers to improving environmental sustainability that prevents a lot of people from improving their infrastructure and practices is cost.  The Cincinnati Zoo has managed to overcome this in a number of ingenious ways.  They've worked deals with energy producers such as Duke Energy (who are quite happy to reduce loads at peak times) to lower the cost of projects.  They're working on selling offsets, which will act to improve income.  And, they've manage to develop in a manner that will result in them seeing, even with conservative projections, their investment paid back in the form of savings in less than 10 years.  

All-in-all I think a lot can be learned from the sustainability model that's been adopted by the zoo here.  It seems that a lot of public institutions that tend to be resource hogs, in particular institutions such as universities, could learn a lot from the model employed by the Cincinnati Zoo.  


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