Monday, March 26, 2012

AZA and Sustainability

Tomorrow is the start of the second annual Green Summit at the AZA mid-year meeting. The summit is put on by the AZA Green Scientific Advisory Group. The Green SAG has also created the Zoo and Aquarium Green Guide”. On the AZA website there is also the Green Practices Toolbox page for zoos and aquariums as well as the general public.

Obviously, sustainability is important to AZA and zoos and aquariums in general, but I keep thinking back to the saying "if it's not measured it doesn't matter". If something isn't measured then there is no way of knowing if it's improving or not, so nobody will get rewarded or reprimanded based on how it's doing. This leads to very little incentive to spend valuable time on the item.

Guess what the first action mentioned in the Zoo and Aquarium Green Guide is? To "Create an annual energy use report to establish a baseline" or in other words start measuring! This is a great opportunity for the AZA to help.

AZA has started this process already, in their accreditation questionnaire there is a question asking about the "institutions programs for energy and natural resource conservation". While it's a start it is only one question out of 20 plus pages of questions, and it's an open ended question. The open ended nature of the question means every institution will answer it differently, maybe or maybe not including specific measurements, making cross institution comparisons difficult. What if AZA also asked questions along the lines of:
  • How much water does your institution use each year?
  • How much waste (trash) does your institution generate each year?
  • What percentage of the the total waster is recycled each year?

With those you can come back the following year or the following accreditation and compare the answers to see if they have improved or not. This would force the institutions that aren't already to start measuring, as well as giving a starting point for comparing across institutions.

Another factor in the measurement is making the results more public, further encouragement to perform better as well as letting institutions get a better feel for their performance levels. Each year AZA publishes it's member directory which has a ton of information on every AZA institution including things like:
  • Hours of Operation
  • Car and Bus Parking Spaces (broken out separately)
  • Number of Visitors
  • Capital Expenditures for Infrastructure and for Construction
  • Number of Employees (part time, full time, temp, volunteers)
  • Acreage (developed and undeveloped)
  • Public Internet Access 

What it doesn't have though is any info on the sustainability or conservation practices. What if the guide included:
  • Money donated to external conservation organizations
  • Tons of Trash per year
  • % of trash that is reused or recycled
  • Water and Energy Usage per year
  • Distance to closest Public Transportation Location
  • Number of bike "parking" spaces

With zoos' and aquariums' missions focused on conservation it seems like those would be good stats to track and show. Many zoos and aquariums are already doing a lot to become more "Green" this would just let them show how they are doing and provide some incentive to do even more.