Light plays a very important role in the lives of the giant pandas at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. They are awake by the time the sun comes up every day and have settled in for a night of sleeping and snacking by the time it sets. The lights inside the panda house follow the natural light cycle of the sun. When the sun rises, they turn on and brighten up the indoor enclosures, and when the sun sets they turn off – the difference now is however, that the new lamps are highly efficient LEDs, environmentally friendly and not emitting any heat.
The Zoo installed the LEDs as part of the first phase of a large energy and water efficiency project with the DC Sustainable Energy Utility. Since 2015, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo has been working with the DCSEU, committing to greater resource efficiency and environmental protection. The joint work has resulted in almost $2 million of lifetime cost savings and has prevented the emission of 12,833 metric tons of CO2 – the equivalent of taking more than 2,700 cars off the road for one year.
“At the Zoo, we are all about conservation. We do all that we can to help save species and their habitats in the wild, but we want to ensure that the Zoo itself in Washington, D.C. is a responsible environmental steward,” said Teresa Vetick, head of the Sustainability Committee at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. “We work hard to lessen our carbon footprint in big and small ways—like installing environmentally-friendly LED lights in the Panda House.”
DCSEU engineers analyzed many locations at the Zoo— multiple enclosures, public areas, restaurants, shops, and event spaces—and then managed installation projects throughout the 163-acre campus. The enclosure for the cheetahs, for example, also received LED lighting, as did the Great Apes house and the trails near the Elephant Outpost. The project also made improvements to the elephants’ water pond, making their regular cooling and bathing experiences more cost effective for the Zoo.
“Every animal at the Zoo has access to water, some animals—like our herd of Asian elephants—have larger pools than others,” said Vetick. “The elephants can use the water in many different ways—from drinking to fully submerging themselves to swim. It’s important their pools are always operate as efficiently as possible.”
Other areas where efficiency was improved were insulation, exterior lighting, windows, water chillers and irrigation, placing the project amid many other initiatives to reduce the Zoo’s footprint and improve its sustainability. Like many other Smithsonian museums, the Zoo has demonstrated a strong commitment to energy efficiency and renewable energy. For example, American Trail has buildings that are LEED certified and have complex filtration systems using DC tap water, reducing water and energy consumption by 85% compared to other buildings, according to the Zoo. In 2012, the Zoo opened a solar-powered carousel offering rides that reflect on the stories of many of the species that live there.