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What's Your Green Zoo IQ?

Posted by Barbara Segal, Intern in Communications

What’s your green zoo IQ? Many of our green features are hiding in plain sight. Maybe you already knew about our waste sorting bins or our famous Zoo Doo program, but did you know we have an official zoo gnome in charge of the magic that happens in the compost yard or that some of our pavement is water permeable? Check out the top 17 greenest things at your zoo—how many do you already know about?

Wait, you don't know ALL the GREEN THINGS happening at the zoo? We can fix that.
1. Welcome to a green oasis
When you walk through our West Entrance, you’re seeing sustainability hidden in plain view.  The buildings and entrance area are covered with Forestry Stewardship Council certified wood. The buildings’ windows and skylights take advantage of as much daylight as possible to keep energy use down.  The gently sloping pavement that directs storm water to a 975,00-gallon underground tank.  This tank allows the water to slowly drain at a pace that the sewer system can absorb, reducing the chance of overflow going straight into Puget Sound. 

2. Merry-Go-Green
In 2011, the zoo’s Historic Carousel received the first solar array installed at the zoo. The 9-kilowatt array powers the turning of the carousel year-round, showing our guests how solar power works even on cloudy Seattle days.  

 3. No ordinary path
Storm water runoff on hard surfaces sends surface pollution into storm drains, which empty into local waterways. During an overflow event, that pollution can even go straight into Puget Sound.  But there’s a better way.  Next time you’re in the Banyan Wilds watching our Asian small-clawed otters take a swim, or taking in a Penguin feeding by our keepers, take a moment to look under your feet.  That’s no ordinary pavement!  The permeable pathways allow rainwater to trickle through into the ground, where the soil filters out pollutants before the water reaches the Sound. 

4. Hanging Around Sustainably

Our orangutans, gorillas, and animals in the Tropical Rainforest building enjoy climbing on vines in their habitat.  But wait—those aren’t real vines!  They are used fire hoses donated by the Seattle Fire Department, and painted, embossed and cured by our exhibits crew to replicate the animals’ natural habitats.  Smart reuse using is just one of the mad skills of our very creative exhibits team. Thanks exhibits crew!

5. Renovation Destination

The Key Arena renovation goes up—and trees come down. Where did they go?  Some of these local trees have become tables, benches, perches for sloth bear, lemur and primate habitats, and enrichment for all kinds of animals right here at the zoo.

6. Trash Collecting Trash

When you toss your recycled items into a bin at Woodland Park Zoo, you’re participating in a bigger recycling loop than you may realize.  The waste containers at the zoo are actually made from recycled milk jugs! #MindBlown

7. Dedicated Staff

Woodland Park Zoo has an elite team of staff members who have the specific job of helping the rest of the zoo staff move toward our zoo’s zero waste goal.  So far, 81% of the zoo’s waste—from guests, staff, and animals—is diverted from landfills. Now we are working on the last 19% by conducting waste audits, getting better at tracking our current waste processing, and working towards new initiatives to reduce waste--like recycling gloves and composting paper towels.

8. ZooDoo

Our animals produce a lot of poo.  What do we doo with it?  It gets composted into Zoo Doo, which can then be used for gardening.  Our current Zoo Doo facility has been transforming the magic our animals make into local gardener’s ‘black gold’ for over 30 years, and it’s about to get a facelift.   Our new facility will be able to handle more material more efficiently, monitor compost temperature more accurately and circulate underfloor air without the piles having to be flipped as often. Doodle the Doo Gnome supervises the construction process daily.  

Doodle knows what's up with ZooDoo.

9. Driving Change

Electric vehicles put the zoo in zooooom!  During opening hours, only fossil-fuel free vehicles and bikes cruise the zoo grounds.  This not only reduces our carbon output, but keeps the zoo quieter and healthier for our guests and animals alike. 

10. Feeding on Solar Power

Every day, our commissary building helps prepare food for over 1,100 animals, and our Rain Forest Food Pavilion provides treats to hundreds of humans. The cherry on top of each is a solar panel roof.  They were funded by local residents who received power discounts in return from Seattle City Light and Washington State. The panels also help power our electric vehicles.  Going green all goes together!

11. A Bedspread of Roses

Many of our amazing animals bed down in a wood chip mix.  When they’re done with it, it is transformed via composting into a Bedspread product at our Zoo Doo yard. Much of that goes out to our pesticide-free Woodland Park Zoo Rose Garden. The roses can then spread their leaves in a sustainable garden. Full circle? Many of the animals enjoy organic rose petal treats as special summer enrichment. 

12. Charging Ahead

Your zoo wants to encourage guests to make sustainable choices.  That’s why we’ve installed electric vehicle charging stations in our parking lots, and it’s free to park as long as the car is charging.  If you choose to come to the zoo by bike or bus, show your helmet or Orca card to get $2 off your zoo entrance. Our staff are working on their transport choices, too. Over 10% of our staff take public transit to work, a further 10-15% of the staff regularly bike or walk, and we offer 10 carpool spaces to encourage our team to team up while driving.   

13. Water Water Everywhere

To encourage staff and guests to use less plastic, we’ve installed water bottle filling stations throughout the zoo.  We want to make it easy for everyone to make sustainable choices while visiting our awesome animals. Have you tapped the Northern Trail water station yet? Ahhh… so refreshing!

14. We Speak for the Trees

Trees absorb carbon, provide homes for wildlife, and keep us cool on our zoo adventures.  The zoo’s luscious canopy has increased by 400% since the 1950s. 

15. On Top of the World

In 2006, our Zoomazium was the first LEED (Leadership and in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Certificated building in any zoo or aquarium in the U.S.  Its roof is literally green.  Topped with native plants, it helps absorb rainwater and carbon, and provides habitat for animals, too.  

16. Save the Birds

We care for all the animals that live in our zoo, including the many wild birds that make it home.  In places like the Jaguar Cove, Banyan Wilds and Zoomazium, decals and marks on the glass called fritting prevent birds from thinking the glass is open air, saving them from a nasty bump.  

17. Penguin Paradise

Our Humboldt penguins need a lot of water to practice their ace swimming skills.  Our closed-loop system filters the water multiple times, including through a constructed wetland, before returning it clean to our penguin friends.  By recharging with rainwater and reusing even our backwash water, we haven’t had to refill their pool for 10 years!  Not only that, but geothermal energy from 320 feet down keeps the water at the penguin-perfect 55 degrees our penguins love, saving energy year-round. 

So what was your green zoo IQ?  Now it’s your turn—what can you do to green up your home or lifestyle?  Visit the zoo, check out the tips on our website, or follow our social media for ideas all year round. 

Everyone peng-wins when we all go green!
P.S. Vote YES on King County Parks Levy Prop 1 on August 6! A yes vote means preserving forests and open spaces limits sprawl, protects our water quality, prevents air pollution, and give us all places to get outside and enjoy nature.