A Little Goes a Long Way: Adapting to Minimalist Living

With the growing popularity of shows such as “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” or “Tiny House Hunters,” it has become evident that minimalist living is now mainstream. This lifestyle is centered on living with less. Minimalism is about changing the way you think about the things you own and surrounding yourself only with items that have purpose.

Experience Over Things

Minimalists stress the value of experiences over things; “things” waste time and money and may invoke joy for only a brief period. While trying new things, you have time to soak in the moment and really enjoy life. After all, as cheesy as it may sound, a memory is a souvenir that will last forever. Some take this principle of minimalism to mean that they should take as many vacations as possible, but that isn’t necessarily the case. While vacations are great opportunities to try new things, new experiences can be found right around the corner – such as a trip to the Detroit Zoo, which has been proven to reduce stress.

The Decluttering Process

To be able to shift our focus to the more important items in our lives, we must first get rid of the stuff that clutters them. Successfully decluttering requires you to go through every room in your house reexamining the things you own, from your clothes to your furniture and everything in between. This can seem like a daunting task at first, but there are a couple of great methods to help you declutter:

  • KonMari Method: Growing in popularity thanks to her popular Netflix show Marie Kondo’s “KonMari Method” involves sorting through your belongings and asking yourself if the items spark joy. For all the items that do not spark joy, Kondo suggests letting them go.
  • The 90/90 Rule: For those household items that don’t necessarily invoke happiness but still feel difficult to give up – we’re looking at you cleaning supplies – try the 90/90 rule: If you haven’t used the item in the past 90 days and can’t see yourself using it in the upcoming 90, then it is okay to get rid of.

When it comes to saying goodbye to all the clutter, try to donate and recycle as much as you can. The Salvation Army will take everything from clothes to furniture and will even pick it up right from your house!

Changing the Way You Shop

To avoid falling down the rabbit hole of “stuff” again, minimalism requires us to challenge the consumerist habits we’ve developed. To change the way you shop in-store, first take stock of what you have at home. Currently more than 30 percent of the U.S. food supply is wasted, so when grocery shopping, try to empty your fridge before buying more. Make your food last by purchasing food items that pair well with your leftovers or even find ways to reinvent them by using the left over ingredients to create a brand new dish, like baking over-ripe fruit into a delicious bread or making a sweet jam. This will save you time and money. Most importantly, create a grocery list and stick to it to avoid any impulse buys and make sure you leave the store with only what you need.

While many of us love to shop for new clothes, the fashion industry has largely become unsustainable; it takes more than 700 gallons of water just to produce one cotton T-shirt. Not only does the clothing industry use a tremendous amount of water, but it is also responsible for 20 percent of industrial water pollution. Instead of filling your closet with trendy “fast fashion” pieces that go out of style as fast as they are produced, minimalism calls for a smaller wardrobe of better-constructed, classic pieces that will last longer and won’t go out of style. In fact, many minimalists’ wardrobes consist of less than 30 items. Having a minimal wardrobe will save you money and eliminate extra time spent debating outfit choices.

The Bare Necessities

As the name suggests, minimalists only possess the bare minimum with regard to the entire household, not just the kitchen and closet. Minimalism décor is as simple as possible – bright colors, ornate patterns and art-covered walls all lead to distractions and oftentimes require frequent changes as trends evolve. Minimalists opt for more neutral color choices and fewer knick-knacks. Furniture should also be simplified; an entire minimalist bedroom can be complete with merely a bed, a nightstand and a lamp.

Many of us today have multiple niche appliances, but most of these can be pared down. For example, instead of owning a microwave, a toaster oven, and an air fryer, a minimalist home will only include a traditional oven. The same goes with electronics; instead of a TV in every room, keep only one or ditch it all together and use your laptop to watch TV, saving money and space.

When we only own the household items that are truly necessary, the amount of space in your home will significantly increase. This is why many minimalists have taken up “tiny living” by moving into homes that are often smaller than 500 square feet. Tiny homes are great for the environment because they take up less land, require less energy and can even be built inside old shipping containers.

Good for the Environment and Good for You, Too

The minimalist lifestyle can not only save you time and money, but it can benefit your health as well. Clutter has been proven to increase stress levels and lead to procrastination. By committing to a minimalist lifestyle, you can reduce unwanted stress from your life.

Consumerism has contributed to more than 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, a leading cause of climate change. As minimalism aims to stop consumerism, it is a great lifestyle for reducing your impact on the environment. Additionally, by only owning and purchasing what you need, you will considerably reduce your waste output.

Through our award-winning Greenprint initiative, the Detroit Zoological Society is working to create a more sustainable future for wildlife and wild places. Choosing a minimalist lifestyle is one way you can join us on our Green Journey.

Join us in the Plastic-Free EcoChallenge this July

Imagine the weight of one billion elephants; that’s a hefty load, right? Well, humans have produced nearly that amount of plastic since 1950 – and almost 80 percent of this plastic has ended up in landfills or the environment. Join the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) and many others across the globe this July by participating in the 31-Day Plastic-Free EcoChallenge to help eliminate plastic waste.

The challenge features more than 65 actions participants can take to reduce their use of plastic while earning “points” and building more eco-friendly habits along the way. Don’t be discouraged by the thought of having to go completely plastic free   participants can start small by choosing to complete one simple action each day.  Many of these actions require you to “choose to refuse” different plastic items. In honor of the challenge, here are six things we can easily go without on the road to becoming plastic free:

Plastic Straws. Ask your server to leave the straw out of your drink at a restaurant or bar – or bring a reusable straw with you. There are many options made from sustainable materials such as stainless steel or bamboo. A great place to bring a reusable straw with you is the Detroit Zoo! We choose to refuse plastic straws and lids for beverages at all Zoo concessions – and disposable cups are made from recycled materials.

Plastic Water Bottles. You can easily reduce single-use plastic waste by drinking beverages from a reusable bottle. During your next trip to the Zoo, bring your own bottle or purchase an inexpensive one from any of our concession stands and fill up at one of our 21 free filtered-water stations. We are keeping 60,000 plastic bottles out of the waste stream annually by no longer selling plastic single-use water bottles.

Plastic Shopping Bags. BYOB the next time you hit the market or grocery store – bring your own bag! Most stores today sell their own reusable bags at reasonable prices or you could use a tote bag you have laying around the house. Leave them in your car and have them ready to go on all your shopping trips or even when you go to the Zoo. The DZS 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.

Take-Away Coffee Cups. Save plastic by bringing your own reusable mug from home. Choose one made out of metal and it will keep your drinks hot or cold for longer than the plastic cups from the coffee shops.

To-Go Boxes. The next time you go out to eat and wish to bring leftovers home, refuse the Styrofoam boxes they typically provide by bringing a few reusable containers with you.

Plastic Packaging. Many foods are pre-packaged in plastic; seek out items that are free from this wrapping. For meat and seafood, find a butcher that sells unpackaged meat and bring it home in your own reusable containers. While in the produce section, refuse to use the plastic bags available for fruits and vegetables and opt instead for a reusable mesh bag.

For more information on the Plastic-Free EcoChallenge, visit https://plasticfree.ecochallenge.org/. Join the challenge today and make your start toward a #PlasticFreeLife.

Everything we do is guided by our award-winning Greenprint initiative, a sustainable roadmap we developed to continuously refine and improve our facilities and daily practices, develop new policies and programs, and improve green literacy and action in the community. To learn more about our work, visit https://detroitzoo.org/about/greenprint-sustainability/.

Sustainability is All in a Day’s Work

We all want that work/life balance, but when it comes to being green, let’s let the scale fall to the wayside. Incorporating sustainable practices into your daily life doesn’t just have to be at home – you can take these behaviors with you to the office. There are many ways to be green while on the job; here are some tips on how to reduce waste and use less energy from 9 to 5:

Green machines. Think of all the buzzing and beeping around you. It takes a lot of energy to power machines such as computers, printers and phones. Like you, computers need rest too – by powering down your devices when you leave for the night, you can save thousands of watts of energy per year. The machines inside the building aren’t the only ones that can go green. Carpooling to work helps reduce the amount of exhaust in the air. Doing so will not only benefit the environment, but it will promote team-building and reduce the amount of money spent on gas.

Paper-less is more. Going digital in the workplace has many benefits, such as saving time, money and space. Having information stored in databases rather than paper files can make it easier to search for that specific document you’re looking for. You will save money on storage space and also save time rummaging for that document you need.  If you do need to print, setting printers to copy double-sided by default will not only reduce your paper use by 50 percent, but it will also save the company money by not having to purchase paper as frequently.

Be bright about the light. Illuminating an entire office building takes a lot of energy and money. If your office uses fluorescent lights, consider replacing them with energy-efficient lights such as LEDs. And when it comes time to leave for the day, make sure to turn off the lights in your area. Motion-sensor lights can cut down the use of power if someone forgets to turn off the lights, so they don’t remain on all night when no one’s there. If you have a window in your office, consider working with just the natural light. During the warm months, instead of running the air conditioner, crack the window to let the fresh air in. Many office buildings have high levels of CO2, which contributes to high stress levels – by cracking the window you can improve air quality, as well as cut the cost of air conditioning.

Ditch the disposables. Styrofoam cups and plates are often used in staff kitchens, along with plastic silverware and other disposable utensils. Styrofoam can take 500 years to break down, and it takes up 25-30 percent of landfills. Throw out the disposables once and for all and replace them with reusable plates, silverware and mugs. You could also request that the powers-that-be invest in a water cooler for the office to fill reusable cups throughout the day instead of buying an endless supply of plastic bottles of water. It may seem expensive at first to buy reusable items, but you will see the cost difference in no time. By eliminating the need to repurchase these disposable items, you – and the company – will save your green by going green.

Energize organically. Many of us need that extra boost from coffee or tea in the morning to get our day started. Try getting that boost from fair trade and organic coffee and tea. Fair trade farms employ strategies for environmental sustainability by protecting the land and wildlife. Some of these farmers use the shade-grown method, which means coffee is grown under a canopy layer of trees, which not only preserves native trees, but also protects habitats for many endangered animals.  If workers prefer to go out for their coffee, suggest they bring a reusable mug – many places offer discounts if you do this. What better way to beat that 3 o’clock feeling than with coffee or tea that also saves you money.

Green Team. Implementing a green team in the workplace is a great way to raise awareness and brainstorm new ways to bring sustainability into the office. Work together to create a recycling program, help educate other staff members or organizational leadership and research information about energy-efficient appliances and green cleaning supplies. The Detroit Zoological Society’s (DZS’s) Green Team was founded in 2002 to help minimize our ecological footprint and to educate staff and visitors about choices that enable us to live a more Earth-friendly lifestyle. Being a part of our Green Team is voluntary; it is comprised of representatives from every DZS department who share their commitment, expertise and time to make our facilities greener places for staff, visitors, animals and the planet. The Green Team was a strong advocate for the development of our Greenprint goals and objectives and has been instrumental in carrying out these award-winning policies and procedures.

As a team, you can work together to find the best solutions for your office to lessen your impact on the environment. By being more conscientious, we can reduce the amount of waste we produce and energy we use, reuse what we can to keep unnecessary items out of landfills and recycle the items we don’t need the proper way. Doing so will help save wildlife and wild places for generations to come.

Toss Out Your Old Spring-Cleaning Routine and Bring in the Green

The grass may always be greener, but you can be too! As you begin your annual spring-cleaning routine, consider making some changes that will impact the environment in a positive way. Some simple modifications will help keep your home fresh and clutter-free while also creating a sustainable future for people and animals. From choosing the right cleaning products to watching your water usage, here are some helpful tips you can adopt to clean the green way:

Purchase environmentally friendly cleaning products. Popular cleaning products often contain chemicals that are harmful to you and the environment. Next time you purchase your spring-cleaning necessities, double check the ingredients for harsh chemicals, including phthalates or triclosan, which can poison our bodies and our aquatic ecosystems. Phthalates can cause disruptions in our endocrine system while triclosan is an antibacterial that kills algae in more than half of the streams in the U.S. Instead, look for eco-friendly, plant-based products. They offer the same cleaning benefits with less risk to our health and the Earth’s water.

Make your own cleaning products. Save money and the environment by creating homemade soaps and disinfectants – it’s easier than you might think. There are many simple recipes you can follow to clean your bathrooms, floors, counters and cabinets. Try substituting chemical-filled cleansers with white vinegar or baking soda and water. Adding a couple drops of essential oil to your natural concoctions produces a great scent and has cleaning benefits of its own. Tea tree oil is a natural disinfectant; peppermint and lemon also have natural and powerful cleaning agents and they will leave your home smelling fresh.

Declutter clothing and household items the right way. Channel your inner Marie Kondo while sorting through old clothes and instead of throwing these items away, toss them into the hands of someone who might find your trash as their treasure! You can gather your items and have a garage sale or donate them to charity. This eliminates waste in our landfills and you could earn some extra cash. But if you do decide to toss some items, there are environmentally friendly ways to do so. Recycle or reuse what you can to try to eliminate as much waste as possible.

Watch your water usage. We can accidentally waste a lot of water by leaving the faucet on longer than is necessary. By being conscious of this, we can help preserve this important resource. When cleaning areas of your house, a bucket full of water works to rinse out the mop or rag and uses far less water than taking it to the tub. These few changes can help you not only save water, but also your hard-earned dollars!

Purify the air with houseplants. Not only are plants beautiful décor, they can also purify the air and provide health benefits to those who reside in the home. Houseplants reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in our homes while also keeping air temperatures down. They even eliminate dust levels, making spring-cleaning a little easier! Having plants around us creates a sense of comfort and lowers stress levels, too.

Together, we can make small changes to our yearly spring-cleaning routine that can make a huge difference in our lives and the lives of Earth’s wonderful creatures. By incorporating these few tips and tricks, we can take another step forward on our Green Journey and help create eco-friendly communities. Spring is in the air, but harmful chemicals don’t have to be.

Greenprint: Ghosts, Goblins and Going ‘Green’ this Halloween

Halloween is right around the corner, and we’ve found a way to make it both spooky and sustainable. Take a look at what we’re doing to “green” our Halloween and see what you can do at home.

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is preparing for Zoo Boo, our annual Halloween hoopla at the Detroit Zoo during three weekends in October. The events will feature acrobats, story tellers, magic acts, jugglers, live music, extreme pumpkin carving demonstrations and of course, Halloween displays along the “unlucky” 13-station trick-or-treat trail. As part of our Green Journey, trick-or-treat bags will not be provided at the events; guests are asked to bring their own reusable bags. In addition, many of the displays will be made with reusable and repurposed materials such as plastic milk jugs and old tires. We also will have a surplus of pumpkins from Zoo Boo that will be provided to the animals during our annual Smashing Pumpkins event – this year planned for October 10 and 20. Any leftover straw will be donated to local animal shelters to help keep the animals warm in the winter.

You can have a sustainable Halloween at home, too! Here’s how:

  • Support Local Farmers. When it comes to picking that perfect pumpkin to carve, go local. Choosing to buy from nearby farmers not only generates income for the local economy, but it also reduces the amount of carbon dioxide polluting the air. When you purchase from a grocery store, your produce has been shipped from hundreds —sometimes thousands — of miles away, creating more greenhouse gases than your trip to the farmers market. Detroit’s Eastern Market is a great place to start looking for homegrown produce; many communities host farmers markets as well.
  • DIY Your Costume. Packaged Halloween costumes from the store are expensive and are often only worn once. Grab a friend and spend a day going through each others’ closets to see if there’s anything that can make a good DIY costume. Or visit a thrift store to find affordable costume items that can be used again and again.
  • Preserve Your Pumpkin. Before you scoop out the inside of your jack-o-lantern and throw it away, think of all the different things that could be done with it. Pumpkin spice recipes are all the rage right now, and there are so many ways you can try it yourself at home. You could roast the pumpkin seeds for a salty snack, or bake some delicious pumpkin muffins or a pumpkin pie.

    During our Smashing Pumpkins events, we use the leftover pumpkins from Zoo Boo to provide animals with a festive snack and make sure their habitats are engaging. In addition to pumpkins, the animals receive gourds, cornstalks and other seasonal treats from local Michigan producers. While we are appreciative of those who inquire about donating their own leftover pumpkins, we aren’t able to accept them. Instead, we recommend composting leftover pumpkins. We compost any leftover pumpkins using our anaerobic digester, which converts animal manure and other organic waste into methane-rich gas to help power the Zoo’s animal hospital. Learn more about how to compost at home here. Guests can come and watch the chimpanzees, polar bears, giraffes and many other animals eat, play with, roll around in and smash their pumpkins during Smashing Pumpkins.

Doing your part toward making the Earth a better place doesn’t have to be scary. Every effort counts when making sure that all of us – humans and animals – have a place to call home for years to come.

Reading, Writing and Recycling: Go Green Back to School

Back-to-school season is in full swing as an estimated 58 million students are preparing to hit the books this fall. Parents and kids all across the nation are shopping for clothes, shoes and supplies, looking for the best bang for their buck. However, one aspect shoppers may want to consider is how their shopping affects the environment. Buying environmentally friendly school supplies and packing eco-friendly lunches can go a long way toward conserving and protecting our planet’s resources.

Here are some tips to help guide you toward a more “green” back to school experience:

  • Buy 100 percent recycled paper and notebooks – be sure kids use both sides of the sheets whenever possible
  • Write with recycled pencils
  • Recycle while at school – Consider which trash can be saved from a landfill
  • Use refillable pens – each pen can last up to a decade

Small efforts can have big impacts. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), each school lunch generates 67 pounds of waste per school year. That means just one average-sized middle school creates more than 40,000 pounds of waste each year. Packing a waste-free lunch also saves an average student $250.

Here are some ways you can pack a more sustainable lunch this fall:

  • Adopt reusable bag practices – send lunch in a reusable bag instead of a paper or plastic one.
  • Purchase a refillable water bottle – it takes three times the amount of water that’s in a plastic water bottle to create the bottle in the first place.
  • Reach for reusable sandwich bags and containers – consider perhaps a waxed fabric sandwich bag.
  • Compost peels and pits – some students have compost programs at their schools, but for those that don’t, encourage them to bring their apple cores and cherry pits home.

There are many other ways students – with the help of their teachers – can help reach environmental goals. If 133,000 schools switched to recycled paper, they could save about 6 million trees per year, according to The Green School Initiative. America’s schools spend more than $7.5 billion annually on energy – more than they spend on textbooks and computers, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. If school districts worked to conserve 25 percent of that energy, they could save $1.5 billion per year.

Students can also make change themselves by contributing toward green goals through programs such as Michigan Green Schools, which inspires schools to adopt more sustainable practices such as recycling, installing rain gardens and planting edible or native Michigan gardens. Applying to become a Michigan Green School can be pivotal in teaching the next generation essential green practices.

Our future depends on protecting the health and well-being of our children. Educating this generation with the skills to solve the global environmental problems we face is just as important as educating them about math and history. It’s a substantial task to put on such young people, but each small step is one taken toward a more sustainable future.

Trim Your “Waste” at Home

Americans produce a staggering 258 million tons of garbage every year, with each individual throwing out nearly 4.5 pounds per day, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2017 Infrastructure Report Card. What’s even more mind-blowing is the fact that Michiganders are among the biggest culprits – our recycling rate is just 15.3 percent, according to the Michigan Department of Quality. We can do so much better than that.

Solid waste has contributed greatly to the rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions, which is having catastrophic impacts on wildlife and wild places around the world. Moreover, many creatures mistake unnatural waste as food and can end up swallowing or becoming trapped in it, which often leads to serious injuries or deadly consequences.

If we all did our part to be more mindful in the choices we make in our daily lives – including reducing the amount of waste we produce – we could lighten our impact on Earth. Consider the following actions:

  • Switching from single-use items (disposable water bottles, cutlery, plates, etc.) to reusable items such as wood, metal or glass.
  • Recycling items properly to prevent them from sitting in a landfill.
  • Only purchasing foods you know you will eat.
  • Choosing a reusable fabric bag for grocery or leisurely shopping.
  • Opting out of receiving magazines you no longer read, or junk mail.
  • Composting food waste to naturally fertilize your soil.
  • Reusing items you already have. For example, save that old pickle jar to store loose change!

An important aspect of the Detroit Zoological Society’s mission is to lessen our impact on the environment and create a more sustainable future. To do this, we have made it a priority to reduce the waste we generate at the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center. As a part of our award-winning Greenprint initiative, we are keeping 60,000 plastic bottles out of the waste stream annually by no longer selling bottled water on Zoo grounds. We are also selling reusable animal-themed bags in lieu of providing plastic bags at Zoo concessions. We do not provide plastic straws with fountain beverages, and we have made the conscious effort to use eco-friendly cutlery at the Arctic Café, which is one of only four restaurants in Michigan that is “green-certified”. In an effort to turn waste into energy, we were the first zoo to construct an anaerobic digester, which converts more than 500 tons of animal manure and food scraps annually into renewable energy to help power the Zoo’s Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex. The byproduct from the digester is used to create compost called Detroit Zoo Poo, which is available for purchase at Zoo concessions.

Our annual 21-and-older fundraising event, Sunset at the Zoo, is part of this zero-waste journey. The VIP Party and champagne welcome have been waste-free for the past two years. We also have volunteers stationed at various locations throughout the Zoo during the event to help guests learn what items that might otherwise go in the trash can be recycled or composted.

Becoming a waste-free organization is a journey, and these are just a few steps we’ve undertaken, with many more to come.

Be Green by Eating Clean

There are many simple ways you can turn your lifestyle into a more environmentally friendly one, right down to the food you eat. But eating clean is about more than just buying and consuming fruits and vegetables. It’s about finding the food that is beneficial to both our bodies and the environment.

Take a look at some clean-eating tips:

  • Eat Local. Be the “locavore” that you know you are, by consuming food grown within a few miles of where you live. Locavores make frequent trips to farmers’ markets and purchase fresh produce within a local range. A great place for locavores in Michigan is Detroit’s Eastern Market, which is just 13 miles away from the Detroit Zoo. Other farmers markets are popping up all over the metro Detroit area including in Royal Oak, Birmingham, Clawson, Farmington, Grosse Pointe Park, Northville and Plymouth. Check your local websites for farmers’ markets near you. This simple change can not only lighten your carbon footprint because there are fewer miles for the food to travel and less gas being used to get there, creating less pollution on its way to your table. There’s also a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions during the production, packaging and transportation of your food, and it helps local farmers stay in business. There’s also something special about meeting the people who grow the food you put on your table.
    • Tips from a locavore:
      • BYOB (Bring your own bag). When visiting a farmers’ market or grocery store, bring your own reusable bags to cut down on the amount of plastic being used
      • Recycle any packaging that was on the foods you bought
      • Save gas by taking public transportation, a bike or carpool with family or friends
      • Make a genuine connection with the farmers whose produce you purchase
      • The produce at farmers’ markets are what is in season
      • If you’re buying non-organic, make sure to thoroughly wash your produce

  • Eat less meat: Try choosing veggies over meat; it’s healthier and you can help the planet. Perhaps try eating meat twice a week instead of four times, or even just once a week. Varying studies indicate the animal agriculture industry causes anywhere between nine and 51 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. This means that by eating less meat, you can lower the amount of greenhouse gas emissions – and you can save water! Did you know that by skipping one burger, you can save enough water to shower with for three weeks? There are also health benefits to eating less meat, such as a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, among others.

The Detroit Zoological Society is a leader in environmentally sustainability, with all operations guided by our award-winning Greenprint initiative. As part of our Green Journey, we are working to create a healthier environment for all animals, visitors and the planet. Offering options for visitors to eat clean at Zoo concessions is just one of the ways we’re working to create a more sustainable future.

The Detroit Zoo’s Pure Greens Café has a 100 percent vegan menu, offering items such as the “impossible burger”, made from simple ingredients in nature such as wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein and heme. Visitors can also try our Mexican burrito bowl or vegan tofurky sausage. All of the vegetables come from Michigan farms, solidifying Pure Greens’ “locavore” status. Vegetarian and vegan options are also available at the Artic Café and American Coney Island, including a vegan burger basket, soups and salads.

Roses are Red, Smartflower is Green

A 16-foot, metallic flower is now blossoming among the plants at the Detroit Zoo. This innovative ground-mounted solar panel system is called smartflower.

This high-tech addition is just another step on the Detroit Zoological Society’s (DZS) Green Journey to create a more sustainable future by using innovative practices that minimize our ecological footprint. It is the first of its kind to be installed not only in Michigan but in any zoo in the country.

Sunflowers turn their blossoms to face the sun to make optimum use of the light, increasing its growth rate. Since mother (nature) knows best, the creators of smartflower based the technology of this revolutionary system to function similarly to an actual sunflower, through the use of a GPS-based dual-axis tracker. The system features 12 solar panels – shaped to mimic petals – that follow the sun across the sky throughout the day. When the sun rises in the morning, the smartflower unfolds and aims its panels to the sky to begin producing energy. The petals will automatically close again when the sun goes down, storing the excess energy.

Since the smartflower is always at an optimal angle to the sun, it can generate 40 percent more energy than a traditional solar-panel system. The smartflower converts enough energy in one day to run an electric car for 62 miles, wash 17 loads of laundry or run three air conditioning units. The system at the Detroit Zoo is expected to generate more than 4,000 kilowatts of electricity annually, enough to power the Carousel and other areas of the Zoo.

The smartflower will be in full view during the DZS’s annual pre-Earth Day celebration called GreenFest at the Detroit Zoo on April 14, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The first 1,000 guests to visit the anaerobic digester educational display will receive a token for a 5-gallon bucket, courtesy of The Home Depot Foundation, to be filled with free Detroit Zoo Poo – an herbivore compost processed in the DZS’s anaerobic digester and produced in partnership with Detroit Dirt. The digester – the first in Michigan and the only zoo-based system of its kind – annually converts 400 tons of animal manure and other organic waste into a methane-rich gas that helps power the Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex.

The event will also include a sustainability tour as they learn about the DZS’s many green initiatives. Guests can learn about permeable pavement, composting, recycling, preventing bird strikes, making a home more energy efficient and building backyard wildlife habitats. They can also explore farm-to-table food options at Pure Greens Café, widen their science knowledge during chemistry demonstrations, and take a green pledge, committing to joining us on our Green Journey.

Humane Education: Ethical Consumerism

Every day we make consumer choices. We decide what to wear, what to eat and which products to use. These actions can collectively benefit the Earth and its inhabitants when we pause for a moment to reflect on their potential impacts.

A number of years ago, I read the book “Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things” as part of my graduate studies at the Institute for Humane Education. It was a huge eye opener for me. The book details the life cycle of common products, such as coffee and a T-shirt. As I read about the various facets of creating these products, it was the first time I truly began to recognize the greater impact my purchases have on people, other species and the planet.

As consumers, we’re often presented with different possibilities regarding which products we might purchase. Take coffee, for example. Upon examination, we may discover that conventional coffee is grown in areas of the rainforest that have been “clear cut”, meaning that the trees have all been removed, negatively impacting ecosystems and inhabitants. Alternatively, we might have the choice of purchasing shade-grown coffee, which is grown under the canopy layer of trees. Not only does this preserve native trees, this method also conserves the habitat for many animals. When I first began doing this research 10 or so years ago, I had a challenging time finding shade-grown coffee and actually had to order it online. I find it exciting to note that you can now find it in many local grocery stores!

 

We can consider the impact of our consumer choices by exploring two questions:

  • What are the effects of this item or activity, both positive and negative, on animals and the environment?
  • Are there any alternatives that may be less harmful or even provide some benefit?

Another example is that we might discover the cosmetics, toothpaste or cookies that we buy are made with palm oil. Conventional palm oil is grown in areas where the land has been cleared for oil palm plantations, which has had devastating impacts on animals such as orangutans and pygmy elephants. Alternatively, there are companies who work to produce sustainably harvested palm oil. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil works to certify those who responsibly produce palm oil.

There are a number of organizations working to gather this helpful information for consumers. There are even a number of apps available these days that help support ethical consumerism. For eample, if you want to purchase a cruelty-free product, you could check out The Leaping Bunny Program. If you’re interested in minimizing your impact on animals and the planet, you might check out The Better World Shopper, “a site dedicated to empower people to make the best choice as consumers and to help build the world we want to live in”. In addition, for those who want to research further, the Institute for Humane Education has put together an entire Pinterest board dedicated to ethical consumerism.

Our choices really do add up! When we take a moment to examine the products we’re purchasing, it empowers us to make the best choice possible for people, animals and the planet. This enables us to make knowledgeable decisions on how to walk softly and treat the Earth’s creatures gently.

– Lisa Forzley is the curator of humane education for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Berman Academy for Humane Education.