Tuesday, October 30, 2007
In addition to being a day captain in the education department, I am also a member of the Aquarium of the Pacific’s Green Team, which is made up of paid staff and volunteers who share a passion to conserve our environment. Our mission is to practice and promote the conservation of resources and materials in a working environment by educating and encouraging staff to perform these practices on a regular basis.
Recently, a few of our members explained some of our green operations—some of these initially promoted by the Green Team—to members of the Association of Science Technology Centers (ASTC) as part of a pre-conference workshop sponsored by the Aquarium. The ASTC is an organization of more than 4,000 hands-on science centers and museums in the world dedicated to furthering the public understanding of science. The workshop, whose focus was on global climate change and roles that institutions like ours can play in educating the public, was held the day before the Los Angeles-based conference began.
During the Aquarium workshop, a behind-the-scenes tour helped to show our guests that the Aquarium has a commitment to “greening the institution” in every aspect of its operation. I was fortunate to be able to talk to them about our co-gen (or co-generation) system that saves us money on electricity, water, and water-heating and cooling. Co-gen enables us to create a portion of our electricity instead of relying solely on the power that comes from the local grids. An engine that runs on natural gas powers two generators, providing us with half of the electricity we use annually. And we harness the steam byproduct of this operation to heat all the water we use. I’m sure our divers are appreciative of this hot water when they take showers after each of their dives–for health reasons, they are required to take five-minute showers after every dive, so when they dive four different times, that’s four different showers! We also use the steam to send power to chillers that provide cold water for our colder exhibits and for our air conditioning system, saving us about 200 tons of chilling capacity ALL THE TIME!
Neal, another Green Team member, stood outside our staff restrooms to tell our guests about our water-saving measures there. Neal discussed the waterless urinals that were installed in the mens restrooms throughout the Aquarium. They use a chemical cartridge that is located at the base of each urinal; this cartridge blocks odors from entering the air, thus eliminating a “U” shaped pipe that require water to operate properly; these save about 40,000 gallons per year per urinal. He also mentioned that the toilets in the Aquarium’s restrooms now are equipped with low-flush handles that save water by using less of it for a flush for #1 (liquid) waste, when you push the handle up, and more for #2 (solid) waste, when you push the handle down. (These low-flow handles were installed by Tom, Willie, and John from our facilities department. They received an award from the Green Team in recognition of this effort.)
Not on the tour, but also of interest are a few other ways the Aquarium is green:
Our Pacific Collections gift shop, for example, is part of our green effort by selling some sustainable items at a Green Team display and by using a sustainable resource as part of its flooring.
You’ll like the organic cotton t-shirts, some with green messages printed on them—and made out of (you guessed it!)—organic cotton. And the polo shirts are made out of bamboo cloth. The latter has micro-holed fibers that make it more breathable and thermo-regulating than cotton. Can you imagine a material that helps keep you warmer in cold weather and cooler in hot weather? Pretty fabulous, don’t you think? And to consider that this cloth is made from a renewable resource, to boot! How fabulous is that?
Speaking of bamboo, we have some bamboo flooring in Pacific Collections, too. You’ve seen it in the area that gets the highest traffic, which is near the cash registers. In addition to being environmentally friendly, bamboo requires neither pesticides nor fertilizers to remain healthy and it grows about 18 inches a day! Can you imagine? (That’s almost as fast as Pacific giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera), which grows about two feet every 24 hours!)
And are you ready for this? We also sell some stationery items, including an address book, writing paper, and bookmarks made out of 100 percent recycled elephant dung! Ha! Can you believe that? Regardless, the items are really nice, and so is the conservation work that their purchase helps continue. After the elephant creates dung, the said dung is collected, processed—I have no idea how—and fashioned into various items. The proceeds of those sales help provide food and medicine for the elephants, who then create more dung, and… well… you get the picture. (Interesting fact: one elephant can produce enough dung to make an average of 115 sheets of paper per day? No kidding! Think of all the trees that saves.)
Our office areas all have low-energy lighting and automatic computer shut-off systems, and office staff members print on recycled office paper, print double-sided when necessary, and use electronic documents whenever possible.
A few years ago, the Aquarium’s eating facilities—Café Scuba and our staff cafeteria—had no earth-friendly plates or eating utensils, but all that has changed because of the Green Team. Sometime before I started volunteering two years ago, a Green Team push for our staff cafeteria resulted in the purchase of reusable plastic trays that staff members use as plates. Since I joined the team last year, we have been able to work with SMG, our food service company, to replace plastic utensils with biodegradable ones. SMG replaced the Styrofoam soup bowls with biodegradable ones made by Cereplast. (The Green Team also acknowledged SMG with an award for their efforts in the making the Aquarium more green.)
Recycling is another important aspect of protecting our environment and saving natural resources, so we recycle cell phones and office printer ink cartridges, along with other items, like cardboard and plastic. Last year alone the Aquarium’s housekeeping staff collected and recycled about 30 tons of cardboard, 1,620 pounds of plastic, 3,620 pounds of glass, almost 1,000 pounds of aluminum cans, and 9,000 pounds of paper.
Speaking of recycling, we recycle water, too. Through our salt water reclamation program we reclaim the water backwashes from our Tropical Gallery and Blue Cavern, cleaning the water and reusing it in our sea otter and diving bird exhibits.
Conserving our natural resources and recycling are important for the health of our planet. I’m proud that the Aquarium is doing so much in that regard, and I’m thrilled to be able to make a small difference through my involvement as a Green Team member. If you have any suggestions of other ways we can become even greener, won’t you let me know? I’ll make sure to discuss them at our next monthly Green Team meeting.
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