ASHEBORO, NC - The North Carolina Zoo received the Governor's Award for Excellence Tuesday from Gov. Bev Perdue at a ceremony in Raleigh honoring state employees and agencies. The award, given for dedicated service, is the state's highest honor.

The zoo was honored for its innovative environmental stewardship efforts, which are central to the zoo's mission.

In 1989, the zoo began a program to reduce its environmental impact. After creating a recycling drop-off in the park, the zoo established a nearly two-acre compost site that has generated savings of more than $160,000 each year.

In 2002, the zoo began an ISO 14001 environmental-management-system certification process to make park operation more environmentally sound. The N.C. Zoo became the first zoo in the country (and the second in the world) to earn the certification for its horticulture division, and by 2011, had achieved the distinction for the entire zoo.

The zoo increased its efforts in the use of organic rather than chemical fertilizers, integrated a more environmentally friendly pest-control system, began monitoring water quality to prevent pollution, and put in place an energy management system.

Additionally, the zoo achieved a number of environmental initiatives that include: (1)a biodiesel processing project for all the zoo's 11 buses and nine trams; (2)a picnic pavilion mounted with solar panels that produce 135,000 kwh of electricity each year; and (3)a constructed-wetland project to filter storm water from the zoo's North America parking lot.

The award was created in 1982 by Gov. Jim Hunt to honor state employees for outstanding achievements in one of five areas: Human Relations, Innovations, Outstanding State Government Service, Public Service, and Safety and Heroism. The zoo was recognized for Innovations. Dr. David Jones, the zoo's director, and Mary Joan Pugh, deputy director, accepted the award Tuesday.

The zoo is an agency of the N.C. Department of Environment & Natural Resources, Dee Freeman, Secretary; Beverly Eaves Perdue, Governor.