Copper Account Manager, Joss Honeywood, gets an exclusive glimpse behind the scenes at top tourist attraction, Bristol Zoo, to find out how they are using imagination and know-how to be more sustainable…

Last month, a select group of Go Green members were treated to a behind-the-scenes look at Bristol Zoo, getting a glimpse into how a major visitor attraction juggles the need to be more sustainable with day to day demands.

We started our tour at the seal and penguin coast, where 145,000 gallons of salt water are used to recreate the habitat of the animals living in and around the pools. Toby, who had recently learnt to dive to personally handle the cleaning of the tanks, explained the water management process. We were shown the specialist equipment used to filter out the sludge – such as feathers and animal waste – which makes use of recycled broken glass to catch particles of dirt. Toby added they had previously used sand, but had changed to recycled glass  to make the process more sustainable. The filtered water makes its way back into the pool via UV lights to kill off bacteria, with rain water and fresh water added to make up the volume as required.

Moving from the noisy pump room towards our next stop, we passed a large trailer filled with animal waste and used straw bedding which will make its way to the gardens at Wild Place, Bristol Zoo’s new attraction, to become compost. Not even waste goes to waste here, it seems!

At the butterfly house, our tour guide Joe explained the benefits of using biomass boilers to heat the butterflies’ habitat as opposed to gas or oil burners. We learnt that despite burning 54 tonnes of wood pellets every year to keep the habitat at temperature – it needs to be at least 26 degrees Celcius inside – these boilers are carbon neutral as they only release the same level of carbon dioxide as the trees took in whilst growing.  Joe explained they were always reviewing how they could make every area more sustainable, and hope soon to boost the green credentials of the butterfly house by adding much needed insulation to the polytunnel.

Moving to our third and final tour location, we passed a listed building which had recently been converted into the gorilla house thanks to a £1.4 million refurbishment. Tim Wilson, the Director of Estates, had now joined us and explained the difficulty of retro-fitting sustainable features to the older buildings – the Zoo has three Grade 2 listed buildings on site – but added that it was beneficial in the long run for both budget and the environment.

The more modern Education Centre has recently been extended and the builders have kept sustainability at the forefront of their minds during the renovations; the thermally insulated building uses ventilation shafts under the floor to heat and cool the building using the outside air temperature; carpets are made from recycled fishing nets; the use of LED, motion-sensor lights and taps has reduced wasted energy, and solar panels have been fitted to the roof of the education centre and on the maintenance building, considerably reducing electricity costs. Our guide Dave seemed disappointed to admit they were still reliant on the Grid for the majority of their electricity needs, due to the Zoo’s power-hungry animals!

Bristol Zoo educates 42,000 pupils per year, with lessons varying from art and geography to marketing and science, and includes important conservation messages in every topic. They are also spreading the ‘go green’ message via their staff and visitors, encouraging them to use public transport to travel sustainably to the Zoo; to recycle wherever possible; and to consider their water consumption, to name but a few initiatives.

During my short visit, the message was loud and clear. The Zoo is looking to the future, constantly reviewing what it can do in light of new technologies and advancing knowledge. Every team member we spoke to was really passionate about the Zoo’s sustainable features and was keen to take any opportunity to improve on what they had. It also became clear that if somewhere like Bristol Zoo can welcome innovations to deliver a sustainable business model, there is little excuse for anyone else. Their staff showed that even as individuals, we can make a conscious decision to help be more sustainable by taking small steps such as travelling to work in the most environmentally-friendly way available to us.