“Sustainability Lessons from Natural Disasters”


Donna M. Schaeffer and Cynthia Knott Eck  

Marymount University, Arlington, VA 22207



Patrick C. Olson

National University, San Diego, CA








The AlabamaGulfCoastZoo, Gulf Shores Alabama


300 animals including lions, tigers, bears, monkeys, macaws and more.

·         petting zoo

·         reptile house

·         aviary

·         daily animals shows (seasonally) .


The Zoo Foundation, Inc.






The “world’s first environmentally sustainable zoo built from the ground up!”


·         LEED-certified buildings

·         daily operations

·         educational outreach.







(Source: State of Alabama)

aerial view.jpg


(Source: NOAA)






June, 1989: Zooland Animal Park, a private enterprise, is opened by Joey Ward


1991: The Zoo Foundation, a non-profit organization, is founded and the Ward family donates 17 acres


1994:The  Erie Meyer Foundation and the Ward family donate an additional 13 acres


1997: Hurricane Danny


1998: Hurricane George causes the evacuation of all animals to the Zoo Director’s home


2004: Hurricane Ivan


2005: Hurricanes Dennis and Katrina


2006: local businessman Clyde Weir and his daughter Andrea Weir Franklin donate 25 acres located 4 miles inland and on raised terrain


          “The Little Zoo that Could” airs on the Animal Planet


2010: Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill


Earth Day, 2011: The Zoo Foundation announced plans to re-design the world’s first environmentally sustainable zoo


2012: Ground is broken









Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a voluntary certification program where 100 possible base points are distributed across five major credit categories: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, plus an additional 6 points for Innovation in Design and an additional 4 points for Regional Priority.


Buildings can qualify for four levels of certification:

  • Certified: 40–49 points
  • Silver: 50–59 points
  • Gold: 60–79 points
  • Platinum: 80 points and above

At present, more than 7,000 projects in the United States and 30 countries, covering over 1.501 billion square feet, have some level of certification.


At the Gulf Coast Zoo,


·         Structures and materials used will be non-toxic, natural or organic, biodegradable and recyclable.


Daily Operations -- ISO 14001: Environmental management standard for waste, water, energy, etc. 



Restaurants and gift shops should ensure that the products sold in both have high ethical and sustainable credentials.


·         The zoo will grow some of its own food through hydroponic and aeroponic gardening.

·         An array of alternative power sources will be implemented using strategically placed solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal energy, ultraviolet light, and propagated algae as a biofuel.

·         The zoo will supply its own water via captured runoff collection in basins, wells and reservoirs,

·         Waste and sewage management will be controlled on-site through composting, recycling, and incineration.

·         Biodiesel fuel which will be produced onsite from algae oil from vertical closed loop algae bioreactors will be used to fuel vehicles and generators, both for emergency and planned power generation.

·          CO2 from the generators will be captured and recycled back to the algae farm and portions of the algae biomass will be used to supplement the diets of zoo animals.




The United Nations has named 2005 – 2014 the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.    


·         Zoos have a broad appeal

·         Zoos can present environmentally sustainability information in an enjoyable way and in the context of biodiversity conservation












“We hold the future in our hands, together, we must ensure that our grandchildren will not have to ask why we failed to do the right thing, and let them suffer the consequences.”


UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 2007



(Source: UN.org)





(Source: stevejones,com).







“We want to send the message that if “going green” is possible for a zoo, then it’s achievable for communities everywhere.”


Steve Jones, Chairman, The Zoo Foundation

Lessons Learned

1.    A Zoo “campus” is more complicated that the ordinary work or living campus due to the nature of supporting environments appropriate for the animals and providing interface environments for people to learn about the animals. Yet, a Zoo was able to accomplish this goal.

2.    It takes commitment from all stakeholders to make this work..

3.    This story teaches that it is important to look for where one already has advantages with respect to being green and that it is important to employee these advantages.



Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo to Utilize Algae Biodiesel.  04 October 2011. http://www.grainnet.com/articles/alabama_gulf_coast_zoo_to_utilize_algae_biodiesel-114955.html

Dickey, Lesley A. The Sustainable Zoo: an Introduction. International Zoo Yearbook, Vol 43, Issue 1. Pp. 1- 5.  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1748-1090.2008.00086.x/full

UNESCO. Education for Sustainable Development. http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/leading-the-international-agenda/education-for-sustainable-development