Sustainability Trends in Zoos & Aquariums: AZA Annual 2023

Zoos and aquariums are tasked with an enormous responsibility to conserve wildlife and wild places, and educate people about our connection to nature. To cope with a rapidly changing climate, these organizations are adapting their practices and operations to build more resilient systems. Our work has left us with a powerful impression of how these cultural institutions are driving sustainability and climate action forward. Take a look at some of the trends and themes we have observed this year while working with zoos and aquariums across the US. 

Integrated Sustainability and Conservation

Nature-based climate solutions continue to stand out as exceptional strategies to reduce adverse impacts of climate change. Robust ecosystems act as effective emission-mitigating mechanisms, and zoos and aquariums are situated at the forefront of wildlife conservation and habitat restoration. We have been working with zoos and aquariums to highlight data that illuminates the sequestration capabilities of wildlife and their habitats.

Proactive Climate Adaptation and Resilience

It has been hard to ignore the impact of climate change on guests and operations. Changes in visitation patterns on high-heat days, reduced days of operation due to extreme weather events, and disruptions to guest services by approaching storms are just a few challenges zoos and aquariums are trying to actively circumvent. Adapting and building system-wide resilience to these potentialities requires forethought.

Luckily, representatives from zoos and aquariums nationally are implementing innovative solutions rather than waiting for the impacts of climate change to disrupt their services, operations, as well as the well-being of their animals and guests. Climate vulnerability assessments are useful tools for organizations to identify and mitigate the risks posed by a rapidly changing climate. We’ve noted that increased interest and engagement with these assessments are paying dividends by directly connecting climate events to operational impacts.

Human-centered Sustainability

Sustainability is a human-focused endeavor. This requires intentional consideration of organizational personnel, as well as the audiences and communities that zoos and aquariums serve. More and more organizations are embedding diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) work in their efforts.

Deepening Understanding of Organizational Impacts

Zoos and aquariums are looking to more sophisticated data to inform their climate action planning. Scope 3 emissions–those beyond direct organizational electricity and natural gas use–are emissions that include procurement, animal transportation, employee commuting habits, and business travel. Addressing these complicated upstream organizational impacts reveals a deeper commitment to a healthy and sustainable planet. 

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