Celebrate your Sweetie Sustainably this Valentine’s Day

While Valentine’s Day is usually a sea of pink and red, let’s add some green to our celebrations this year. Date nights and gifts that show your significant other how much you care can easily include a little love shown to the Earth as well. Options abound for eco-friendly ways to revel in the romance.

Date Night. Embrace the weather and spend time in nature by bundling up and heading outside. Go skiing, ice skating, find a local winter festival, or head to the Detroit Zoo with your significant otter for a Valentine’s Day date.

Cook at home. Some restaurants require reservations weeks in advance. Instead of hitting the town, cook dinner together at home using locally sourced food. It’s a fun activity that’s more intimate than being surrounded by other couples; plus, it will save you money. Finding fresh ingredients can be challenging during Michigan winters, but a trip to your local farmers’ market could produce everything you need. Many vegetables are ripe this time of year in their extended season, including onions, potatoes and carrots – learn more about what grows when in this handy guide. Get creative in the kitchen by finding recipes incorporating these in-season foods. And don’t forget about maple syrup! It’s a delicious staple of Michigan’s agriculture industry and can be tapped as early as February. This can make for a delicious breakfast in bed for your partner.

Gifts for your sweetie and the environment. This year, consider giving your loved one something a little more environmentally friendly. Jewelry and perfume can be expensive – and toxic. Instead, choose a gift that shows your love for both your partner and the Earth. Here are some ideas:

  • A potted plant or flower seeds for those with a green thumb
  • An indoor herb garden to spice things up for those who love to cook
  • A sustainably sourced bouquet of flowers – either from a local grower and/or one that uses green methods of growth and production
  • Reusable snack bags and travel cups for those always on the go
  • A “date night jar” with ideas for outings to pick at random throughout the year
  • Fair trade candy and chocolate

Skip the pricey wrapping paper – instead, reduce, reuse and recycle! Reduce the cost of wrapping paper by purchasing reusable gift bags. Reuse your cookie tins and jars to present a gift instead of cardboard boxes. Recycle old newspapers and magazines as a sustainable alternative to fancy paper. And for this category, let’s add another “R” – romance. A hand-written card can be more sentimental than a store-bought greeting card.

Crafts for children. Children’s arts and crafts can be good for the environment too. Skip the messy glitter and make a heart-shaped bird feeder! It’s a fun craft to do together while fostering respect for wildlife and providing food for birds. Other options for home-made gifts for the young people in your life rather than pricey presents include friendship bracelets made out of colorful yarn or snow globes made out of recycled baby food containers.

There are countless creative ways we can demonstrate our devotion to each other and to the Earth on Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air, so let’s keep the air clean and safe for all of us who share this planet.

Sustainability and Conservation Go Hand-in-Hand

The Detroit Zoological Society’s (DZS) award-winning sustainability initiatives go hand-in-hand with our commitment to wildlife conservation – every step we take to reduce our carbon footprint serves to protect the habitats of animals around the globe.

Wildlife are facing great challenges – from climate change and habitat loss to poaching and the exotic animal trade – leaving many species threatened, endangered or teetering on the brink of extinction. Human impact on the Earth has, in many cases, led to these dire situations they are in. More than 40 percent of all amphibians are at risk. From snow leopards to snails and from penguins to polar bears, the DZS is actively involved in wildlife conservation efforts worldwide – in the last two years alone, we were engaged in projects on six continents.

We have the power to make a difference. That’s why our inaugural Wildlife Conservation Gala on Saturday, March 18, is themed “Making a Difference”. All of us can take steps in our own lives to help reverse the crisis many animals are facing. It is our hope that our community will be motivated to join us on our Green Journey and commit to a better future for all that share this magnificent planet.

Our award-winning Greenprint initiative is a strategic plan that guides our operations and all that we do toward a more sustainable future. Our efforts include discontinuing the sale of bottled water on Detroit Zoo grounds – previously the No. 1 seller at zoo concessions – keeping 60,000 plastic bottles out of the waste stream annually. We also no longer provide plastic bags at our gift shops or souvenir stands; visitors are encouraged to bring their own bags or purchase wildlife-themed reusable bags.

We built the first zoo-based anaerobic digester in the country, which will annually convert more than 400 tons of animal manure into methane-rich gas to power the Detroit Zoo’s animal hospital. We recently unveiled a new parking lot that uses a progressive green design, reducing storm water runoff and improving water quality by filtering pollutants. Additionally, our operations are powered with 100 percent renewable electricity from wind farms, thanks to the support of the ITC Holdings Corp.

Our goal is to inspire others to join us on our Green Journey as we continuously look for ways to reduce our ecological footprint. By downloading our Shades of Green guide, you’ll find a number of actions you can do at home, including:

  • Switch to a reusable water bottle and reduce the amount of unnecessary plastic pollution
  • Bring reusable bags with you to the grocery store
  • Turn off the lights when you leave a room
  • Recycle
  • Plant native species in your garden to create a natural habitat for pollinators such as bees and butterflies

Please also consider joining us on March 18. By supporting the Wildlife Conservation Gala, you’ll help to ensure the long-term survival of critically endangered amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and invertebrates that represent the diversity of life on our planet. For more information or to purchase tickets to this 21-and-older, black-tie-optional affair, visit https://detroitzoo.org/events/zoo-events/conservation-gala.

Education: 100 Hopeful Days

We could all use a little hope sometimes, especially when it comes to the environment. That’s why the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI) has launched the #100HopefulDays campaign. NNOCCI is a collaborative effort to establish a network of professionals who are skilled in communicating climate science to broad audiences. These efforts are led by the New England Aquarium, in conjunction with some other amazing organizations, including the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA).

The #100HopefulDays campaign will highlight the ways the NNOCCI community is making positive changes in the world. There are people all over this planet who are working together and battling longstanding obstacles to make the world a better place for future generations. We feel it is our responsibility to take care of our natural resources by making practical and feasible choices – however great or small – to protect our environment. Through this campaign, the NNOCCI is sharing all of these actions and aiming to inspire, engage and focus on reasons to hope.

Creating a sustainable future is one of the pillars of the Detroit Zoological Society. Through our Greenprint initiative, our goal is to inspire others to join us on our Green Journey as we continuously look for ways to reduce our ecological footprint. Recent efforts include discontinuing the sale of bottled water on Zoo grounds – keeping 60,000 plastic bottles out of the waste stream annually – and building an anaerobic digester which will convert 400 tons of animal manure annually into methane-rich gas to power the Zoo’s animal hospital.

Our 20th annual fundraising 10K/5K event, Run Wild for the Detroit Zoo 2016, became one of the first races in the country to eliminate bottled water – instead, disposable bottles filled with fresh H20 were provided to participants after the race. We also no longer provide plastic bags at our gift shops or souvenir stands; visitors are encouraged to bring their own bags or purchase wildlife-themed reusable bags. We also recently unveiled a new parking lot that uses a progressive green design. Permeable pavement was incorporated into the lot with 215 new spaces, which reduces storm water runoff and improves water quality by filtering pollutants.

For all of these efforts and more, the Detroit Zoo was named one of Michigan’s and the nation’s 2016 Best and Brightest Sustainable Companies by the National Association for Business Resources as well as the 2015 Best-Managed Nonprofit by Crain’s Detroit Business.

Learn more about our Green Journey and download our Shades of Green guide to help lighten your impact on the Earth and the animals that share it with us. If you’re looking for reasons to feel hopeful and be inspired, follow the #100HopefulDays campaign at @_NNOCCI on Twitter. We can all make a difference and we need to start today.

– Carla Van Kampen is a curator of education 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: 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.