Speaker Event: Philadelphia Zoo

Philadelphia Zoo

By Robert Kost

This past Wednesday, November 16th, SRB had the pleasure of welcoming Chris Waldron, the Director of Sustainability from the Philadelphia Zoo, to our weekly meeting to speak on behalf of the many green and sustainable measures that the Philadelphia Zoo has undertaken and endeavored into. Chris, who has been working at the zoo full time since 1995 has had experience in every aspect of the zoo’s culture, from cleaning bathrooms, giving pony rides, being a zookeeper to working as a curator. However, his most notable and recent position is as the Director of Sustainability where he has implemented astronomical changes, which have drastically reduced the Philadelphia Zoo’s carbon footprint and pioneered America’s oldest zoo as an environmental friendly green innovator.

One of the altruistic measures of sustainability that the Philadelphia zoo engages in community conservation government programs, and is backing reforestation based park projects where it helped to plant a countless number of trees in a variety of parks, most notably Fairmount Park. Additionally, Chris has also taken the Zoo’s infrastructure to a next level where he has completely redesigned and retro commissioned buildings, walkways, and water systems to be more sustainable and cut back on their consumption of fuels and materials. These changes could be seen all throughout the zoo from an advanced HVAC system, which decreased on energy consumption by 30% (or $300,000) in one building alone! Additionally, the zoo has constructed and designed an advance and aesthetically pleasing wetlands system, which actually serves a dual purpose as an animal exhibit, and natural water purification system, where the water is so clean that the zoo will be able to stock it with fish. Chris also spoke on how the Philadelphia Zoo is constructing a new exhibit house, which utilizes state of the art heating and cooling systems, such as geothermal systems, in addition to large windows and spaces to be heated and lit. More interestingly however is how this building and several others utilize Ornilox glass; a specially and uniquely engineered glass to reduce the amount of bird strikes on buildings that otherwise claim many birds. This glass utilized special ultraviolent and pattern capabilities that the bird recognizes as filled space and will be deterred to fly into.

With an operating budget of around $23 million annually, and with around 10% energy price increases one might ask how much the zoo is saving and how they are able to save.  One way they save is through 42 initiatives (through 2018) that the Philadelphia Zoo has created, include they initiate in strategically buying energy, upgrading systems, and making Operational changes to reduce their carbon footprint, in addition to being a part of a Demand Response Program, to reduce the possibility of brownouts on high energy usage days in the summer. Chris and the zoo have also retro commissioned their water systems to save around 55%, or around $1 million annually. Additionally, through investing in renewable energy credits and initiatives with PECO the zoo actually receives money back from certain projects (around $60,000 so far) and could offset their energy consumption by around 20%. Even more stunning is the zoos monthly savings on electricity through just replacing their old lights with new and efficient ones, which amount to around an astounding $7,000. The Philadelphia Zoo also maintains great city relations and relations with zoo’s across the United States where they are a member of AZA, The Association of Zoos and Aquariums; where they work with their partner zoos to collectively swap animals, reducing the need to capture them from their native habitats.

With all of the Philadelphia Zoo’s sustainable innovations and initiatives, which is helping the zoo to reduce their carbon footprint on the environment while saving money, generate awareness, and educate the public; Chris Waldron is ensuring that America’s oldest zoo is also America’s greenest zoo.