November 12, 2020

Advancing Sustainability

New Water, Energy and Waste Goals Will Guide the Zoo’s Actions and Decisions for Years to Come

By Megan Jorgensen, Director of Safety and Sustainability

On one hand, it feels odd to talk about sustainability objectives and targets at a time when so many institutions in our community are fighting for survival. On the other, the timing couldn’t be better. We have the opportunity to rebound from this transformative crisis with a reshaped economy that promises a more verdant, equitable future for all through innovations that support regenerative growth. This is not the moment to return to “business as usual” with a system that does not support thriving wildlife and biodiversity. We must move forward.

That’s why—despite the disruption—Denver Zoo has chosen to use this pivotal moment in our history to advance and prioritize our sustainability efforts, and continue to serve as an environmental leader, both in the industry and within our community. In order to carry out our mission, Inspiring Communities to Save Wildlife for Future Generations, we must start by focusing on operational sustainability on our 80-acre campus and throughout our supply chains.

Now, for the first time, we are proud to announce three new sustainability objectives that will guide our decisions and actions over the coming years, and—hopefully—inspire others to join us in creating a better future for wildlife and wild places:


Progress: Denver Zoo has proactively installed LEDs, enhanced energy submetering, explored renewable energy opportunities and assessed efficiency opportunities in an effort to reduce overall energy use. 

Goal: 25% reduction in energy use by 2025 from a 2018 baseline; 100% renewable energy use by 2030


Progress: Since 1999, we have reduced our annual water use by 70% saving a cumulative 3.7 billion gallons over the last twenty years.

Goal: 50% reduction in potable water use by 2025 from a 2018 baseline. To achieve this, we will need to remove an additional 72 million gallons of water from our operations each year.


Progress: Last year, we kept almost 2 million pounds of materials out of landfills. That’s equal to the weight of 162 Grouchos, our oldest and largest Asian elephant!

Goal: Zero Waste campus by 2025 (defined as a 90% landfill diversion rate)

Our sustainability objectives are organized into eight focus areas: energy, water, waste, materials and food, social leadership, biodiversity, responsible economic growth, and resiliency. They are strategically aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. A part of the disruption from COVID-19 led to the realization that we have to be specific and realistic in how and where we focus sustainability efforts right now. While Denver Zoo continues action-based work for the publicly announced targets, we plan to fine-tune the definitions of standards and positive impacts for the other objective areas. By the end of 2021, we will have made impactful progress in the areas of energy, water, waste, and materials and food, and also announce targets for the other objective areas, with a supporting action plan through 2025 and 2030.

The impacts from COVID-19 have already led to significant changes in our operations, and it’s inevitable that further disruptions will alter our sustainability program’s path to progress. We are forced to respond to extreme impacts on budgets and operations, while adhering to COVID-19 related safety measures, and we will need to be more creative, innovative and budget savvy in order to reach these goals. We cannot do this alone and look forward to collaborating with partners and other AZA zoos and aquariums to work together to foster a future where wildlife thrives. The time is now to embrace sustainability like our lives depend on it. Because they do.


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