Behind the Scenes Tour of Bristol Zoo Gardens: Go Green members take a walk on the wild side

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On Wednesday 3rd June, Go Green members were treated to beautiful weather as they explored the stunning grounds of Bristol Zoo Gardens in the second of our Behind the Scenes Tours. Tim Wilson, Annemarie Harriman, Toby Holloway, Dave Naish and Joe Allotey (with his Airwheel) expertly guided us around, in what was a fantastic and informative evening.

With 600,000 visitors and 40,000 school children annually attending the gardens, it is important for the Zoo to promote sustainability. Now in year eight of its ISO 14001 certified Environmental Management System, the Zoo certainly practices what it preaches. However, the Zoo recognises that its environmental impact is still large. In order to conserve the many beautiful species it houses, the Zoo has to accommodate for their climate, food and water needs whilst making sure the thousands of visitors it attracts are safe, and comfortable.  As a result, Bristol Zoo is continuing to work hard on its electricity and water consumption, its waste and how it procures its goods so it can continue to lead on sustainability. The evening started with guests arriving in the Clifton Pavilion for a glass of wine and an introductory talk from Tim Wilson. We then separated into three small groups and set off round the gardens.

The first stop was the Butterfly Forest.

The Butterfly Forest needs to be kept at a toasty 28 degrees Celsius constantly. Joe talked us through how the Butterfly Forest uses two biomass boilers and wood pellets to provide heat, rather than an electric heater, which would be more expensive and have a greater carbon footprint. They run on pellets, but they could also be run on logs, wood or cereal. Joe shared some useful experiences about the boilers:

  • They use 54 tonnes of pellets in a year, costing £10,800 a year to heat the building. The biomass boilers are now 10 years old but were the top of the range for their time. If the Zoo had more space they could have a hopper that feeds pellets directly into the boiler so the staff do not have to, a time consuming and manual task!
  • The wood pellets are sustainably sourced and use a mix that burns well which includes Forestry Stewardship Council  (FSC) certified wood.
  • When it was fitted the Zoo had a government grant for half of the costs of the boilers and considering they have been in constant use for 10 years, it’s impressive that they have only had to replace some screws because they get so hot! The boilers also get serviced once every other week but new ones can pretty much look after themselves apparently.
  • Joe recommends the biomass boilers as an alternative fuel to run a back-up generator rather than relying on diesel as so many businesses currently do, as this would reduce the potential for environmental risks that are associated with diesel storage and use.
  • Whenever pieces of kit need replacing the Zoo assesses the options by their green credentials. For instance, Air Source Heat Pumps are being considered to replace overhead heaters in some of the animal houses.

The second stop was a visit to the brand new and recently opened Education Centre

Dave Naish talked us through how the Zoo considers the users of the building (mainly children and students) and keeping this in minds led to all the new green features, such as motion sensors for toilet lighting and taps to ensure these do not get left on by young children. It was also really interesting to hear how the building addresses fluctuating temperatures by using ventilation shafts, tubes and cavities under the building that suck in warm air thereby pre-heating the air so it only requires topping up to the required temperature in the classrooms, thus reducing the energy load of the building altogether.

Dave also highlighted more invisible aspects to the build such as the Rockwool insulation, and sustainably sourced carpets from Net-Works which are made of recycled fishing nets, supplied by Interface. Tiles can even be sent back at the end of life and recycled, to close the loop in a circular economy model.

The wood used in these Zoo buildings comes mainly from European sources, which follow good forestry practice and minimises transportation emissions. If the timber has to come from outside the EU they always source FSC certified timber.

Members were also invited to face their fears as we were given the opportunity to a hold a Madagascan Hissing Cockroach and stroke a python (some were braver than others!)

The third and final stop was a trip to the Seal and Penguin coast

Resident expert Toby took us down to the pump room to show how the high tech water recycling treatment system works, keeping the water clean and clear for the animals.

The Zoo has a target to use reduce water consumption to 42,000 cubic meters, so none can be wasted.  Eight years ago the Zoo was using double this amount, mostly due to wastage from leaks. Lots of mud from animal poo and leftover food builds up, so the water needs to be filtered. Waste water from the process of back-washing the filter goes to a settling tank so that the sludge can be removed and the water can be re-used when mixed with fresh water, thereby reducing their water consumption. The water is filtered through recycled glass, which we were told is more effective than using sand.

The water system also minimises energy use via an inverter that controls the speed of the pump in response to demand, and water is purified using ozone thereby reducing the need for chemicals. Salt is then added to the water periodically to keep the resident seals and penguins happy!

Top tips that are transferable to other businesses

1. Be Waterwise: Water is a vital part of the Zoo’s operation, it uses 42,000 cubic metres every year, and so it can be quite a challenge to ensure that consumption is at a minimum. However, by improving water management they have halved their water consumption in 8 years. For example, they use rainwater capture methods where possible to fill places like the flamingo pool and gorilla island. Also, with the help of Bristol Water, the Zoo identified and fixed leaks saving them £12,000 in one year.

2. Retro fit: Bristol Zoo Gardens is the fifth oldest Zoo in the world. Many of its buildings are not state of the art, and lack efficient resource saving measures. But by being creative and retrofitting their buildings with new technologies, they have reduced their utility bills and environmental impact.

3. Top down guidance, bottom up enthusiasm: The Zoo is a great example of how effective teamwork and guidance from management and engagement from staff can make a huge difference to the sustainability of an organisation. Everyone is working towards a common goal of making the Zoo as sustainable as possible, which in turn is seeing significant financial rewards.

4. Education is key: Education plays a huge role at Bristol Zoo, as they aim to promote a wider understanding of the natural world to its visitors. However, the education of its staff is just as important, and it is reducing costs and the Zoo’s environmental impact. For example, Toby Holloway was trained in water management and has become a specialist, saving the Zoo £16,000 in consultancy costs. Staff are also being educated to consider the final resting place of waste if it is not recycled and the negative environmental impacts of landfill.

5. Source sustainably: Today, there is a sustainable version or solution to almost any product or challenge; it just takes a little research and creativity. For example the Zoo’s carpet tiles and how they source their fruit and vegetables for the animals from the leftovers of a large retailer. Therefore saving money and reducing food waste.

Many thanks to Bristol Zoo Gardens for such an interesting and informative tour. If your business has experiences to share make sure you sign up to Go Green, create your Action Plan and once you have completed one action in each pillar, you can apply to move on to the Prove It stage and lead tours yourself.
Do join us on the next behind the scenes tour, the Go Green team are always in attendance to answer questions, and we look forward to meeting you.

Lead a tour !

If your organisation has some brilliant green innovations that you would like to show others, then get in touch and you could be leading the next Go Green Behind the Scenes Tour!