The Houston Zoo in Houston, Texas, received the 2020 AZA Green Award—Significant Achievement—in recognition of how sustainability contributes to our mission to connect communities with animals and inspire action to save wildlife. Since 2017, a comprehensive strategic plan has guided the Zoo’s sustainable business operations and facility development, conservation education efforts, and its Take Action initiatives for guests. The Zoo’s sustainability efforts have become cross-departmental and integral to outreach and a fundamental part of daily life at the Houston Zoo.
The need for a comprehensive sustainability program first emerged through the leadership of The Zoo’s conservation team, who cultivated a group of dedicated employees who demonstrated a commitment to the environment and how we can help save animals in the wild. These staff members figured out how to minimize their impact on the environment at work and integrated sustainable solutions into their jobs. Thanks to these grassroots efforts, the Houston Zoo now has a staff member dedicated to working with all departments to integrate sustainability into zoo-wide operations.
The successes of the sustainability program can be seen within all departments at the Houston Zoo including the animal care teams, grounds and housekeeping, purchasing, horticulture, facilities, human resources, design and engineering, event operations, marketing, and the education team.
Among the successes have been substantial gains in recycling and reduced water consumption: the campus-wide recycling rate has increased by 77 percent and water use decreased by 25 percent since 2016. In order to accomplish this, the Houston Zoo implemented recycling programs for multiple waste streams outside of traditional commingled recycling such as scrap metal, paints, light bulbs, glass, corks, electronics, and batteries. Additionally, the Houston Zoo composts 100 percent of its large mammal and hoofstock manure, with large contributions coming from the elephants, giraffes, and rhinos.
Accomplishing the 25 percent water consumption decrease required investment in the installation of over 400 rain sensors into the irrigation system and dedicating time and resources to leak detection and repair. Water conservation efforts can also be seen in the newest exhibits, for example, the Katherine G. McGovern Texas Wetlands. This functioning wetland ecosystem acts as storm water retention and detention and holds up to 60,000 gallons of rainfall, helping to alleviate storm water runoff, reduce the exhibit’s overall water demand, and increase the resiliency of the Zoo’s campus. In a move that contributes to both waste reduction and healthier waterways, the Houston Zoo has eliminated single-use plastic bottles, bags, and straws and invites local businesses to join in the effort. For more about the Zoo’s sustainability achievements, you can view the Green Award application on the AZA website.
As the Zoo moves towards its centennial celebration in 2022, staff are dedicated to minimizing environmental impact and leading and inspiring sustainability practices by guests, community, organizations, and businesses. The Zoo supports long-term solutions that promote harmony between animals and people in experiences at the Houston Zoo and in outreach around the world.