Greenprint: Supporting Local Farmers

Summertime provides us with a great opportunity to visit farmers’ markets and purchase local fruits, vegetables or proteins such as fish and beef jerky. Buying from your local farmer allows you to support the regional agriculture industry as well as your community.

Food in the U.S. travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to your plate. All this shipping uses large amounts of natural resources (especially fossil fuels), which contributes to pollution and creates waste with extra packaging. Conventional agriculture uses more resources than sustainable agriculture and pollutes water, land and air with toxic by-products. Food at farmers’ markets has travelled shorter distances and is generally grown using methods that minimize the impact on the earth.

When buying from a large supermarket, only 18 cents of every dollar goes to the grower. Buying local cuts out the middleman and supports farmers in your community. The Detroit Zoo supports this mission by following a sustainable purchasing policy with an emphasis on locally made products. We recently opened Pure Greens, a 100 percent vegan café with all food purchased through Michigan farmers, supporting the state we live in.

A sustainable at-home option is to grow your own food in a garden. Even with limited space, a small pot on a porch can produce tomatoes or basil. At the Detroit Zoo, there is a garden devoted to the lizards and turtles that live in our Holden Reptile Conservation Center. A few of the edible flowering plants the reptiles enjoy are nasturtiums, marigolds, pansies and geraniums. You can view the garden during your trip to the Zoo; it is located on the south side of the Holden Reptile Conservation Center.

– Rachel Handbury is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Greenprint: The Zoo That Could Conserve

Thinking globally.
Acting endlessly.
Who would?
Our Detroit Zoo.
Because it knew that it should, so it could.

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) recently launched a new marketing campaign that highlights the many things we do beyond the Detroit Zoo’s 125 acres to advance sustainability, wildlife conservation, animal welfare and education, as well as our impact on the community.

In ecology, sustainability is the capacity to endure; it is how biological systems remain diverse and productive indefinitely. The DZS’s Greenprint initiative was founded on the desire to lessen our ecological footprint. This unique, green roadmap 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 and action in our community.

Our extensive efforts in sustainability have received national recognition – we were named among the greenest Zoos in America by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums as well as the Best-Managed Nonprofit by Crain’s Detroit Business, focusing on our green initiatives.

The animals that we are dedicated to celebrating and saving serve as the motivation and inspiration for us to create a sustainable environment. As part of our efforts, we are offsetting our electricity use with 100% certified energy from U.S. Wind; constructing an anaerobic digester to compost more than 400 tons of animal waste annually to generate electricity that will power our animal hospital, and no longer selling bottled water in an effort to reduce plastic waste. We have also embarked upon an ambitious zero-waste initiative as part of our commitment to reducing landfill waste, thus reducing our Green House Gas (GHG) emissions.

We can all be part of the solution for habitat and resource conservation by keeping our precious wildlife habitats free of plastic waste. Currently, 1.8 billion plastic bags are used and discarded in America every week and an estimated one million birds, 100,000 turtles, and countless other sea animals die each year from ingesting plastic.

Small changes such as using reusable water containers and reusable bags have such a huge impact. Please join us on our Green Journey!

– Rachel Handbury is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Greenprint: Celebrate Earth Day during GreenFest April 16-17

For the fourth year in a row, the Detroit Zoo is hosting our annual Earth Day celebration called GreenFest on April 16 and 17, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. This Zoo-wide event will provide visitors with environmentally friendly activities and tips that can be used throughout the year to increase environmental stewardship.

GreenFest will feature earth-friendly crafts, kids games, zookeeper talks, science experiments, a trail mix station by Kroger, interactive performances by Drummunity and exhibitions from businesses and nonprofits working to keep our planet a healthy place to live.

GreenFest is an initiative of the Detroit Zoological Society’s Greenprint, a strategic plan to improve daily practices and facilities, develop new policies and programs and improve green literacy in the community. All GreenFest activities are free with Zoo admission; each GreenFest guest who brings a cell phone for recycling will receive a reduced admission price of $9.

If you’re unable to join us for GreenFest this year, please consider these three easy activities that will greatly improve your impact on the environment:

  • Plant a tree at your home or a nearby park (with permission from park management) – a single tree can absorb 10 pounds of air pollutants a year and produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen.
  • Upcycle, donate or recycle unwanted clothes and textiles – according to the Environmental Protect Agency, Americans send 10.5 million tons of clothing to landfills every year.
  • Commit to eating less meat throughout the year. A lot of energy and water goes into meat product; by simply cutting back on meat consumption you can greatly decrease your environmental footprint.

– Beth Wallace is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Greenprint: Five Home Improvement Projects to Prioritize

If you’re like me, you’ve already started a short list of home improvement projects to invest in with your 2015 tax return. Below is a list of five home improvement projects that you should prioritize because tax incentives are currently set to expire at the end of 2016. These projects will bring you short and long-term savings by increasing your energy efficiency as well as savings in the form of tax credits.

  • A new ‘Cool Roof’: By selecting a light colored roof material (metal or asphalt), you’re decreasing the amount of heat that’s absorbed by your home. You can also claim a tax credit that’s10% of the material cost up to $500.

solar cool roof

  • Replacing doors, windows or skylights: ENERGY STAR qualified materials will bring you savings in heating, cooling and lighting as well as a 10% tax credit up to $500 ($300 for windows).

skylight

  • Going Tankless: Heating water can account for 14-25% of your homes energy use. Investing in an energy efficient model will give you energy savings and a tax credit for up to $300 of the units cost.
  • Alternative Energy:  The most opportunistic investment is still with onsite renewables, such as geothermal, wind or solar with a tax credit up to 30% of the cost, with no upper limit. (Now through 2019)
  • Insulation: By increasing the insulation in your walls or attic, you will decrease your home heating and cooling costs as well as receive a 10% tax credit for the cost of the product, up to $500.

For all of these upgrades, you should be able to verify their qualification with your contractor or sales person.

For more information on energy efficient tax credits and incentives visit: Federal Tax Credits for Consumer Energy Efficiency or Energy Efficiency Tax Credits, Rebates and Financing: What Options Are Available for You?

– Beth Wallace is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Greenprint: Detroit Zoo Powered by Renewable Electricity from Wind Farms

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is excited to start the New Year off in the right direction, thanks to a generous donation of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) from ITC Holdings Corp., which offsets our electricity use 100% with certified energy from U.S. wind.

wind farm

In partnership with ITC Holdings Corp., we have purchased RECs through Green-e, an independent certification and verification program for renewable energy. RECs allow businesses, organizations and homeowners to invest in renewable energy when direct installation is not yet possible. 

To learn more about RECs, check out this EPA video on how energy enters the grid and how renewable energy is certified for investment.

Because the DZS is unable to install large-scale wind turbines on-site (we’re in the processes of evaluating solar applications throughout our grounds) this investment in RECs is an amazing opportunity to support renewables while offsetting our energy use. These certificates show energy developers and our regulators that we demand renewable energy, which should in turn incentivize additional supply to the grid.

In addition to the purchase of RECs, the DZS continues to focus on our Greenprint goals to decrease our energy use, increase our energy efficiency and invest in on-site energy generation. By early spring, the first zoo-based biodigester will be coming online, which will supply the DZS with biogas from compost that we will use as an energy source for the animal hospital.

When switching your lights on at home, do you understand the source of your energy? Check in with your electricity provider to learn more. Most providers, include DTE and Consumers Energy, offer their customers green energy options similar to the program mentioned above. It’s not too late to include this in your New Year’s resolutions!

– Beth Wallace is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Notes from the Field: Passion for Peru

The fall trip to the Peruvian Amazon as part of the Detroit Zoological Society’s Adopt-A-School program has come to a close. Over the course of two weeks, our team of 21 staff members and volunteers were able to visit all 53 communities involved in the program. Even though each of these communities is facing challenges, they have shown their commitment to protecting the rainforest. The families clearly see the value of their children’s education.

To accomplish the evaluation for all the Adopt-A-School communities in a two-week period, we rely on volunteers from the city of Iquitos. Volunteerism is not a common practice in Peruvian culture; however the concept is growing. The volunteers this year included people in the fields of education, environmental sustainability and agriculture. The team was enthusiastic and dedicated, which was evidenced by the smiles of the children and hugs from community leaders. Their passion shined in the schools where they sang songs, told jokes and played games to help ensure students were comfortable with them before the evaluations began.

Volunteers support this program throughout the year, and now that the evaluations are complete, we are beginning to focus on our plans for next year. The Adopt-A-School program would not be able to function without the support of our volunteers from around the world. Without them and their contributions, we wouldn’t be able to deliver the donated school supplies to the communities at the beginning of the Peruvian school year. Our program volunteers contribute financially through a mandatory trip donation as well as providing their physical support and presence while they are in Peru.

If you’d like experience these beautiful places and meet some incredible people, consider volunteering with the Adopt-A-School program and join us in our travels to the rainforest in the spring: http://conapac.org/2016AmazonRainforestiBookletShort.pdf. If traveling to the Amazon is not for you, and you would like to contribute in a different way, please find a link to donate here: http://detroitzoo.org/support/give/adopt-a-school/.

– Carla Van Kampen is a curator of education for the Detroit Zoological Society. The Adopt-A-School program provides donated educational materials and supplies for schools in rural Amazonia. The DZS has partnered with Conservacion de la Naturaleza Amazonica del Peru (CONAPAC) in this conservation and education program since 1999.

Greenprint: Understanding Green Literacy

Would you support the expansion of the Michigan bottle deposit law to include bottled water? How about requiring our public schools to include environmental education at all grade levels? Or requiring companies to use only recyclable packaging with their goods? According to a recent survey carried out through the Detroit Zoological Society’s Greenprint, these are just a few of the efforts that Detroiters support to improve our community’s environmental efforts.

Through this survey, we sought to understand “green literacy” in the community, and conducted it in partnership with local environmental organizations, educational institutions and other groups. Our goal was to determine how greater Detroit residents view and understand environmental and conservation issues. Not surprisingly, the survey highlights a community with a personal commitment to environmental concerns that is supportive of public policies to protect our environment and resources.

Michele Arquette-Palermo, program director of the Clinton River Watershed Council and one of our partner organizations on the survey, said that as an environmental educator in southeast Michigan for the last 15 years, she’s very happy to see evidence that reaffirms that environmental education influences attitudes and actions.

The survey also suggests that our community would like to have greater access to public transit, at home recycling programs and access to food with the environment in mind.

The online survey was carried out by Belden Russonello Strategists, a Washington, D.C.-based public opinion research firm, and was completed by 1,000 residents ages 18 and older who reside in a four-county area that includes Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne.

In addition to the DZS and the Clinton River Watershed Council, other partners include Kurt R. Metzger, mayor of Pleasant Ridge and director emeritus of Data Driven Detroit, DTE Energy, Lawrence Technological University, The Nature Conservancy and Wayne State University, among others.

To read more about this survey, including all of the questions presented, please visit: http://dzoo.org/greensurveyreport.

– Beth Wallace is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Greenprint: Upcycling Straw to Save Dogs in Detroit

For the third year in a row, the Detroit Zoo’s Green Team has partnered with a Detroit dog rescue called C.H.A.I.N.E.D. (Continue Helping Animals in Need & Educating Dog owners) to upcycle bales of straw from our annual Halloween celebration, Zoo Boo. This year, we also began a partnership with Dog Aid. We donated more than 150 dry bales of straw to these organizations this week, which will be used throughout the winter to insulate outdoor shelters for dogs left outside by their owners.

Both organizations also take the time to properly educate pet owners on the risk of leaving pets outdoors in the winter, and in some cases they will rescue animals they believe are in dangerous situations.

By simply donating these bales of straw for reuse, the Zoo is greatly extending the useful life of this material, while potentially saving a dog’s life. Additionally, C.H.A.I.N.E.D and Dog Aid are able to redirect the approximately $700 they are saving on straw between them that can be used to purchase other supplies, such as dog food.

In addition, the Zoo donated any remaining bales of straw that might have been exposed to the elements to Detroit Dirt for composting.

This effort reduces waste while also educating the public, both of which are elements of our Greenprint initiative. Among the many steps on our Green Journey, the Zoo has a bold goal to be zero waste by 2020. We are continuing to develop important partnerships like these in order to be successful on our journey.

We would love to know how you’re upcycling fall decorations at your house. Follow the Detroit Zoo on Pinterest to learn more about the different ways to upcycle, such as turning your fall pumpkins into birdfeeders.

– Beth Wallace is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Greenprint: Becoming a Zero-Waste Organization

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is gearing up for our ambitious goal of becoming a zero-waste organization by 2020! We are currently performing waste and recycling audits to have a better understanding on where we stand. This process is causing us to re-think our consumption and how we can develop a more closed-loop approach, which means that zero waste is created.

One major challenge we will have here at the Detroit Zoo is trying to get our 1.3 million visitors on board with this effort. There’s no better way to do that than to share the new five “R’s”, which is the brainchild of Zero Waste Home.

  • REFUSE – Start by evaluating the items you consume and if they are truly needed – things like bottled water, plastic bags, and paper towels/napkins at home.
  • REDUCE – Purchase goods only when absolutely necessary. At the Zoo we’re replacing less sustainable lighting with LED lighting, which helps us with energy costs, but also reduces the quantity of light bulbs we use.
  • REUSE – Find a creative second life for as many items as possible, even if it’s something that is easy to recycle. It’s always better to reuse a product first – Pinterest has a treasure-trove of ideas for upcycling, many of which are fun for kids.
  • RECYCLE – Always recycle plastic, metal, paper and glass. If you don’t have a curbside option, the state of Michigan has a resource for drop-off locations near you. In addition, recycling and donation bins are popping up all across the state for clothing, books, and even electronics recycling.
  • ROT – Ask your neighborhood recycler if they have composting available or start a compost pile in your backyard.

One extra “R” developed by the DZS Greenprint is REPLENISH — find ways to give back. This could involve anything from joining an adopt-a-beach program or volunteering to help an environmental nonprofit. You can also donate to the Detroit Zoological Society to support our mission of Celebrating and Saving Wildlife.

Join us on our Green journey!

Beth Wallace is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Greenprint: Detroit Zoo is the Greenest Zoo

This year, the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) celebrated its 13th year of strategic planning around green efforts. Lucky 13 has proven to be our year, as we’ve just been awarded the 2015 Green Award – top honors – by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums for our sustainability initiatives. This national award recognizes that being green also makes good business practice and directly contributes to the conservation of the natural world.

This honor came on the heels of the DZS completing our bottled water phase-out effort, which is helping to keep more than 60,000 single-use plastic bottles out of landfills and the environment. Over the last three years, the DZS has also invested more than $3 million into energy efficiency projects, which results in utility costs savings of nearly $275,000 annually.

The year ahead is even more exciting as we are currently breaking ground to build the first dry biodigester in Michigan, and the first zoo-based system in the country. This biodigester will compost more than 400 tons of animal waste and organic food waste while capturing methane to be used as a renewable energy source to help power the Zoo’s animal hospital.

We are also getting our feet wet (or in this case keeping them dry) with permeable pavement sidewalks and parking lots, which diverts storm water from our sewer systems to prevent flooding and sewer overflows into our rivers and lakes.

And perhaps most exciting, we will open the new Polk Penguin Conservation Center in early 2016, which will represent our most sustainable construction work to date and will provide more than 80 penguins of four species with a state-of-the-art habitat while creating a critical discussion around climate change. The entire building is being designed to meet goals of LEED and components of the Living Building Challenge, with renewable and recycled materials, daylight harvesting through solar tubes, as well as water filtration systems helping us reach net-zero water use.

Join us on our Green Journey!

Beth Wallace is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.