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What’s the Greenest Zoo in America® Doing to Combat Climate Change?

The Cincinnati Zoo is working toward increasing our resilience and our regenerative impact in our own backyard, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing carbon sequestration efforts.  See for yourself!  Book a green tour.

solor panels in zoos parking lot

Renewable Energy

The Zoo aims to generate more renewable electricity for the grid than it uses by 2025 via our own solar arrays on campus, as well as facilitating the implementation of solar generation outside our fence in Avondale, Warren County, Africa, and beyond. We promote access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all.

By upgrading equipment and infrastructure, performing audits, building to LEED platinum standards, electrifying our fleet, and installing solar renewable energy systems the Zoo is reducing our need for fossil fuels and generating renewable energy- not just for ourselves, but for our community.

Our Solar Storybook

Solar Arrays
  • X MW of battery storage allowing the Zoo to use solar energy in an emergency (upcoming project)
  • 2.8 MW Erkenbreker parking lot array
  • 1.56 MW Vine St. Parking lot array
  • 19.3 kW Education rooftop array
  • 28 MW array owned by Harrison Street on our Bowyer Farm property. The Zoo is leasing 145 acres of land for the solar farm (complete with grazing sheep and pollinator-friendly plants to create a healthy agro-solar ecosystem).
  • 35 kW Hippo Cove rooftop array
  • 33 kW Painted Dog rooftop array
  • XkW Elephant Trek rooftop array

Water Reclamation

Greater Cincinnati has the oldest combined sewer system in the country, meaning that during any heavy rain billions of gallons of raw sewage overwhelm pipe capacity. To mitigate the resulting social and ecological issues, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden collects and reuses every drop of water that falls on our campus. This keeps sewage out of the Ohio River (one of the most polluted major rivers in the US) and out of our neighbor’s basements. Studies have shown that in U.S. urban areas, poor stormwater management affects people of color and of lower socioeconomic levels at a disproportionate rate.

Read About Ground Zero for Net Zero

Zero Waste Events

All ticketed events held at Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden are Zero Waste, made possible by our partnerships with ODRC and Last Mile Food Rescue. Event waste is sent to our partners who hand-sort it into appropriate waste streams, with a compost program on-site, and recycling partners who take and recycle various hard-to-recycle items.

At least 90% of an event’s waste must be diverted from the landfill for it to be considered a Zero Waste Event. To make this happen at the Zoo, all single-use products provided to guests are made of compostable, BPI-certified materials. Products such as plates, silverware, cups, and napkins will all be composted. All standard trash cans throughout the zoo will be used as compost bins for these events, so you will only find compost and recycling available. All waste accumulated will be composted, and all aluminum will be recycled.

Sustainable Construction

All new construction projects are built to LEED Platinum standards, and Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden has the 1st Living Building Challenge-certified project in State of Ohio and in our industry. Leadership in Environmental Energy and Design (LEED) is a rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council and Living Building Challenge (LBC) is an international sustainable building certification, even more rigorous than LEED, developed by the non-profit International Living Future Institute.

Cincinnati Zoo’s LEED-certified buildings

Sustainable design features of our LEED buildings include:
9LEED-certified buildings, more than any other Zoo in the nation, including a Living Building Challenge-certified project

• 90%+ landfill diversion of construction waste

• Motion sensor lights and faucets

• Utilization of natural light

• LED bulbs

• Automatic HVAC system

• Low-flow toilets / waterless urinals

• Recycled-plastic carpeting

• Walk-off mats

• Use of low VOC materials

• Bike racks and carpooling parking spots

• Solar panels

• Rainwater catchment tank

• Pervious pavers and curb cuts into rain gardens

• Geothermal heat pumps

• High efficiency insulation

• Electric vehicle charging stations open to public

Discovery Forest Entrance
trash

Zero Waste

The Zoo has set the goal to be Zero Waste by 2025. This means at least 90% of the waste generated at the zoo will be diverted from the landfill, via reuse, composting, and recycling efforts.

Organic Waste

About 80% of Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s waste stream is organic waste generated by the animals and our cafes. The Zoo is working with a local farm to pile and compost elephant manure, turning it into a regenerative soil additive.

Pig recycling a water bottle

Specialty Recycling Garage

We have dedicated an on-site collection space for items that cannot be sent to Rumpke’s mainstream recycling. Items are collected in this space for both reuse and recycling through our partners at the Cincinnati Recycling and Reuse Hub

Responsible Consumption

The Zoo is changing what, where, and how we consume to minimize negative environmental impact and increase positive social impact.  Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is committed to sourcing supplies and services locally to invest in our community and better manage our planet’s limited resources. We are working to develop an innovative and resilient food procurement plan, and goals to spend more dollars with minority-owned vendors.

manatee eating lettuce
giraffe with lettuce

Hydroponics

Sustainably grown lettuce and kale are now being harvested and fed to animals on the same day! Using on-site shipping containers outfitted with hydroponic growing systems, the Zoo is producing hundreds of pounds of produce each week.

The vertical growing model provide acres of growing space in each of the containers and crops are not weather dependent. This gives the animals a year-round, sustainable source of high-quality food and maximizes freshness. It also eliminates carbon emissions generated by transporting food long distances.

Agrivoltaics

Agrivoltaics is the co-location of agricultural production like crop or livestock production or pollinator habitats underneath or next to solar panels.  This setup allows for farmlands to stay farms, while reducing our carbon footprint.  Cincinnati Zoo is working with livestock farmers to introduce sheep to graze under the 30MW solar array on its off-site farm in Warren County.

Community Solar Resiliency Program

The Zoo, in close partnership with SonLight Power, has installed solar arrays at three public schools and one community church via the Community Fund projects. The Zoo will continue to be a critical partner for these projects, but we plan to expand our investment in community solar installations. It’s essential that we recognize our privilege and use our experience and networks to work alongside our neighbors in Avondale and other historically under-resourced communities disproportionately affected by climate change to spread access to solar energy. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden has created a funding framework for positive impact, in part to fulfill our Net Zero Energy and emissions reduction goals. Rather than purchasing outsourced Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) with intangible environmental impact, these funds will support various climate and conservation initiatives, including the formalization of the Community Solar Resiliency Program, a yearly installation of a solar array on key community buildings.

Solar Installations

  • Past Solar installations
    • New Prospect Baptist Church, Roselawn (2019- 30 kW)
    • Rockdale Elementary, Avondale (2021-12.5 kW)
    • Lincoln Heights Elementary, Lincoln Heights (2022- 12 kW)
    • John P. Parker Elementary, Madisonville (2023, 13 kW)
  • Upcoming
    • Lydia’s House, Norwood (upcoming 2024).
    • Horses on the Hill (BLOC Ministries org), Price Hill (2024 solar project with Sonlight & Power)
    • SORALO project (upcoming 2024, Kenya)