Our #AZA2021 Takeaways on Sustainability at Zoos and Aquariums

We left the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Annual Conference last week with a renewed excitement about the progress that zoos and aquariums have made to be more sustainable and about the work still ahead to accelerate climate action within the industry. 

I attended the virtual conference with my colleague, Verdis Group Senior Associate Brian Harmon, who is leading our nearly finished Sustainability Master Plan at the Seattle Aquarium. 

Reflecting on a week with the AZA, here are some of our top takeaways:

The mission of conservation is expanding.

Zoos and aquariums have evolved tremendously in the last few decades. While animal welfare rightfully remains the highest priority, zoos and aquariums are expanding their conservation efforts and investments beyond the bounds of their own facilities. The next step is to acknowledge that our societal actions have a serious impact on animal and habitat conservation. Zoos and aquariums are now asking what they can do to combat climate change with actions such as diverting waste from landfills and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

Zoos and aquariums are community influencers. 

Thanks to the high level of trust that zoos and aquariums have earned within their communities, they have a massive opportunity to influence wider climate action. Different people might seek out zoos and aquariums for entertainment and family fun, but they’re also known for their excellent education departments that make exhibits and programming so memorable. Educating guests about how humans fundamentally affect conservation efforts can help protect animals and habitats throughout the world. Likewise, educating guests about the scientific consensus that human activity is causing climate change can spur community climate action.

Persistence is key.

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium earned AZA’s Green Award top honors at #AZA2021, after a decade of work to set and implement an intentional and strategic action plan. It wasn’t one action or outcome that led to the award, but an accumulation of daily efforts since partnering with Verdis Group to co-create a Sustainability Master Plan in 2012 that has reduced waste, water and energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions. While becoming more sustainable is not about winning awards, this recognition is a great example that once sustainability becomes integrated in an organization’s work, it creates a structure that allows people to stick with it.

As the zoo and aquarium industry becomes better aligned on how it will address the climate crisis, the next step that individual institutions can take is to get their own house in order. What is your plan to get there, and how will you do it in a way that leads by example for your peers and your community? During our #AZA2021 panel with sustainability leaders from zoos and aquariums, our poll found that less than half of the 80 attendees had a Sustainability Master Plan. There is lots of work to be done, and we are ready to help you do it. 

For more, check out our latest Facebook Live discussion here and follow us on FacebookLinkedIn, and Twitter. To learn how to get started at your organization, download our free Climate Action Plan Guide.

(Photo by Bob Walker on Unsplash)

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