The Calgary Zoo has always had sustainability close at heart. Their conservation efforts focus on the wild animals and wild places they care for and are connected to the zoo’s overall operations and environmental footprint. The zoo is a bustling tourist attraction with concessions and restaurants that host visitors and events throughout the year. They are a big facility with committed staff who decided they wanted to make a significant commitment to a greener future.

In 2015 they began an official journey that aligned their foodservice practices to the same goals that govern the safekeeping of the animals they care for. They dedicated a Green Team to celebrate the sustainable practices they already had in place, such as their LEED certified buildings, while also championing new initiatives that would move the zoo’s sustainable operations forward. They became designated as a 100 per cent Ocean Wise partner, made excellent progress around local food partnerships, supply chain management, and waste management. LEAF auditors recognized the changes that were made and earlier this year the Calgary Zoo became LEAF’s first Canadian tourist attraction to attain Level Two LEAF Certification.

Concession Operations Manager, Carmel Nicholls, told LEAF that the zoo made a big commitment to composting and waste management that focuses on both their kitchens and guests.

“Every time a child looks at the backboard of one of our three-stream bins and puts their empty milk carton in the blue bin, we’re making an impact,” says Nicholls. “We also changed our packaging and back-of-house procedures.”

This focus on waste diversion shows the impact a big facility can make when it focuses on making sustainability a priority. In 2016 the Calgary Zoo recorded a 53 per cent decrease in waste per guest during their peak visitor season from May to October. With 1.31 million visitors annually, this is a significant green change that will continue to have lasting impact.

The zoo team has also made some commendable changes to their foodservices by increasing both the size of their on-site gardens and the amount of local suppliers. Their chefs harvest herbs and vegetables from onsite gardens – a farm-to-table mentality they are especially proud of. Combined with the zoo’s composting program, very few organic items end up in waste and instead become part of the natural compost cycle.

It’s this dedication to continuous improvement that stood out to the LEAF audit team, who were impressed by how such a large facility could implement widespread environmental practices. The Calgary Zoo is hopeful that other industry partners will follow their lead by taking a more aggressive approach to changing foodservice practices.

When asked about her take on the future of foodservice sustainability, Nicholls wants to see the restaurant industry take bigger steps to reduce the amount of landfill waste that is produced each year.

“It’s also not hard to make small changes that have huge impacts. If every restaurant in the industry would commit to a greener approach, the ripple effect would be amazing,” she says. “Our LEAF Certification will increase awareness about our green journey with our visitors, donors, and the public. LEAF is making a wonderful impact in the foodservice industry and we are proud to partner with them in creating a more sustainable future. ”