Asheboro, NC - The North Carolina Zoo has received Top Honors in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (AZA) 2012 Green Award for outstanding environmental consciousness and institutional green practices.

The award was presented at the AZA's annual conference held last week in Phoenix.

"The AZA is very pleased with the efforts the North Carolina Zoo has made in incorporating exceptional green practices into its business model," said AZA President and CEO Jim Maddy. "The zoo recognizes that how AZA zoos and aquariums operate their facilities is an important part of conservation."

Since 1989, the N.C. Zoo has developed a variety of programs to reduce its environmental impact, and last year the zoo was honored with the North Carolina Governor's Award for its innovative environmental stewardship efforts.

The zoo launched its green programs in 1989 with a park-wide waste audit that helped establish paper recycling and a Randolph County recycling drop-off site on park grounds. In 1994, the zoo created the Conservation Captains, a committee of employees assigned to examine ways the park could reduce, reuse and recycle while providing leadership for those initiatives.

Following major accomplishments in recycling, composting, water and energy conservation, the zoo adopted a more systematic approach to sustainability in 2001. In 2002, the zoo began an ISO 14001 environmental-management-system certification process to make park operations more environmentally sound.

That same year it became the first zoo in the nation (and second in the world) to attain ISO 14001 Environmental System Management certification, in this case, for its Horticulture Division. By 2011, the zoo had become the first zoo in America to achieve stand-alone ISO 14001 certification for all of its operations. After creating a recycling drop-off site in the park, the zoo established a two-acre compost site to handle almost all of its animal and plant waste--that has generated savings of more than $160,000 each year.

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

In addition, the zoo has achieved a number of environmental initiatives that include: a biodiesel processing project for all its buses and trams; a picnic pavilion mounted with solar panels that produces 135,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year; and a constructed-wetland project to filter storm water from its main parking lot.

"We are proud that the North Carolina Zoo has become ISO 14001 certified," said Zoo Director Dr. David Jones. "Our zoo has become a leader among zoos nationwide for sustainability programs and techniques that can be used by our visitors as well as surrounding communities."

Collaborative partners on the project include: Randolph Electric Co.; N.C. Green Power Clean Water Management Fund; N.C. Department of Transportation; N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources Environmental Stewardship Initiative; Piedmont Biofuels; North Carolina State Univ.; N.C. Big Sweep; Central Carolina Community College; Trees N.C.; Asheboro High School Zoo School; and Randolph Community College.

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, education, science and recreation.

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