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A large zoo harbors a whole herd of environmental problems. From the intense energy and water use needed to maintain the facilities and animals, to the elephantine amount of trash produced by daily operations and visitors, keeping a zoo green is harder than breeding pandas in captivity.

Just because something is difficult, however, does not mean it's impossible and the National Zoo in Washington, DC, is working hard to create a place that is kind to animals, visitors, and the environment.

Green Initiatives at the National Zoo

LEED Habitats: The LEED certification was designed for both commercial and residential buildings, but not really for the unique demands of a zoo habitat. Even though the rubric is not an exact fit, the National Zoo is working to achieve the first-ever LEED certified zoo project with its new elephant habitat renovation.

Tree Replanting Programs: Expanding a zoo inevitably requires the felling of trees. Though the National Zoo strives to save large trees, some things must be cut to make room. To counter this, the zoo plants new trees on a caliper-per-caliper basis. This means that for every inch of diameter that is cut, an equivalent size is planted elsewhere.

Recirculating Water Systems: A zoo uses a lot of water, but by filtering and recirculating it in a closed system, thousands of gallons are saved every day.

Thermal Heating and Green Roofs: Though a fledgling project, adding thermal heating panels and green roofs to select buildings is helping to mitigate the waste, and expense, of heating water and controlling indoor temperatures.

These efforts are only the beginning. The National Zoo has also made efforts to reduce waste in its offices and dining facilities and, as a representative from Green Living Consulting told the staff of Planet Green after a tour of the facilities, their "commitment continues."

By creating a framework for future green actions, the National Zoo feels that it will be able to make decisions that benefit the animals and planet in the future while educating the public.

Certainly, they are demonstrating that, despite challenges, going green is not impossible; even in complex settings.