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Sustainability at Vancouver Aquarium

Vancouver Aquarium, an Ocean Wise initiative, is a conservation organization working towards a world in which oceans are healthy and flourishing. The reality is that our buildings and operations have an impact on the environment and the animals we work to protect whether it be through the use of energy, the generation of waste, or the buying of goods. In our efforts to mitigate that impact, Vancouver Aquarium has become a leader in environmental sustainability practices. This movement started in 2006 when we built our first green building certified as LEED Gold and continued in 2009 when we made a commitment to certify our environmental program to the international standard ISO 14001. In doing so, Vancouver Aquarium became the first aquarium in the world to build a LEED® Gold building and achieve ISO 14001 certification for their environmental program.

Our commitment to being an environmental responsible organization is driven from the top. Our Senior VP Business and CFO built and signed off on our first Environmental Policy statement back in 2009. While the policy continues to evolve to integrate best practices, it has always been our guiding document and our commitment to the world on being a green organization.

View our current Environmental Policy.


Here’s How We’re Putting
These Environmental Policy
Commitments Into Action



Building Green

The walls of the Vancouver Aquarium's buildings may look beige but the buildings are all green. From roofs that harvest rainwater to use in low-flow toilets, to a heat exchange system that allows us to re-distrubute heat from our kitchens to warm places like our Amazon Gallery , we've made every effort to make our buildings as environmentally sustainable as possible. The  52,000 square foot Aquaquest – the Marilyn Blusson Learning Centre and 55,000 square foot Main Entrance Complex are designed to LEED® Gold standards. Aquaquest is the first LEED® Gold Certified building in a zoo or aquarium in the world. Learn about our green buildings.

Buying Green

Our Environmental Policy commits to 'including the environment and lifecycle thinking in purchasing decisions’. We do this through surveying our suppliers on their environmental and social practices as well as employing lifecycle impact surveys for new products pre-purchase.. We buy green in many areas of our operation, including:


Buying Green: Shade-Grown Coffee

We only serve shade-grown, organic coffee at the Aquarium. This ensures our coffee is growing under the shade of the rainforest canopy, preventing deforestation, and protecting animals like our Goeldi monkeys.

Buying Green: Ocean Wise Sustainable Seafood

We only feed our guests and animals Ocean Wise-recommended seafood. This ensures our seafood is harvested in a method limiting bycatch of non-target and endangered species and keeping populations abundant and resilient.


Buying Green: Gift Shop Souvenirs 

The products we sell in our Gift Shop live complex lives; they start as raw materials that are manufactured into products, are packaged and transported, and then used until they meet their end of life. When we buy products for our Gift Shop, we look at all of these stages and prioritize characteristics that will minimize the product’s lifetime environmental impact, ensuring that guests have earth-friendly choices.. Both nurdles – or plastic beads commonly found in stuffed animals to keep them upright - and plastic hooks are often found on our shorelines. So we offer stuffed animals that are nurdle-free (and hung by cotton loops rather than ubiquitous  plastic hooks. We also offer natural rubber bath toys and bamboo-based dishware for children, an extensive line of reusable straws, bottles, and utensils to support #BePlasticWise lives, crafted items from some of our favourite locals artists, jewelry made of marine debris, and more! 

Reducing Waste

In our Environmental Policy, we make a commitment to identify waste streams and work to eliminate them. We fulfill this commitment by conducting annual waste audits to help us better understand our waste and then to implement new waste-reduction and recycling programs. In our offices, we compost food waste and recycle everything from standard paper, cardboard, and containers to less standard items like nitrile gloves, ceramics, writing instruments, and electronics.  


Reducing Waste: Compostable Dishware and Utensils

All Aquarium Café dishware, utensils, and food waste is composted and turned into Class A compost that is used to grow certified organic alfalfa and hops in the British Columbia’s Lower Mainland.. Follow its journey from cup to compost here:

Reducing Waste: Turning Imperfect Food into Nutritious Animal Feed

Our Café donates overripe produce to our Amazon Gallery animals. Softer fruits that are too ripe for Caféé guests are perfect for animals like bats who prefer the sweeter flesh. This prevents perfectly nutritious food from going to compost and supports our efforts to eliminate waste.


Reducing Waste: Clothing Recycling

Our employees and volunteers now also have the options to recycle their old and worn clothing at work. We collect clothes in our lunchroom that is then taken to a local thrift store by our recycler where it is sorted and either re-sold or recycled into rags. Recycling is great but repairing clothes is even better! We are lucky enough to have a volunteer who mends clothes in our lunchroom one day a month; it’s a free service for employees and volunteers who don’t have the skills or equipment to do it themselves.

Managing Chemicals

We are committed to ‘protecting the environment in everything that we do’ and so we manage chemicals very diligently. All of our chemicals are inventoried in an online database where employees have 24-hour access to safety data sheets to make sure they can do their jobs safely. We use vinegar and Ecologo-certified products for cleaning and low VOC glues, caulking, and paints during construction. We continually review our chemical inventory and look for environmentally preferable substitutions for conventional chemical products, most recently replacing cold packs, motor oil, ice melt, and pesticides with products that are better for the environment. Local experts also facilitate our routine chemical disposals to ensure we meet hazardous waste disposal regulations.


Conserving Water

We are committed to ’measuring and managing natural resource use’ and this includes our water use. We set annual objectives, review water consumption monthly, and actively work to drive water reduction across our operation. We’ve installed low-flow toilets and showers added rainwater collection cisterns on our roof that allow us to collect up to 215,000L and repurpose this to flush our toilets. We’ve also looked deep into our systems, transitioning water-using hydraulic valves to pneumatic valves that require no water to operate.

Conserving Water: Bring Your Own Bottle

On April 12, 2017, the Vancouver Aquarium ceased the sale of single-use water bottles, asking guests instead to bring their own bottle and fill it in one of the seven onsite water fountain / bottle fill stations. Single-use plastic water bottles accounted for 37,000 bottles sold onsite in 2016. These disposable polluters are just one of a host of other plastic items the Aquarium has removed, including plastic straws, cup lids, and shopping bags.


Conserving Energy

Our commitment to ’measuring and managing natural resource use’ extends to energy and includes electricity and natural gas. We set annual objectives and review energy use monthly with the goal continual improvement. Our energy reduction work includes things like transitioning light bulbs from traditional to more energy efficient LED bulbs as well as incorporating a district energy loop system (DES) in our newest building, the Main Entrance Complex. DES is a facility-wide, energy-efficient heat exchange system that redistributes energy among our buildings, exhibits, and habitats. The system enables us to recover heat generated in our Café and repurpose it to heat our warmer habitats (such as the Amazon Gallery) and utilize the cool ocean water flowing through our habitats to contribute to our air conditioning systems.

Providing Green Transportation

We work hard to ensure our employees, volunteers, and guests have the option to get to work in a sustainable way. As a corporate member of Mobi Bike Share, we offer discounted bike share memberships to our employees and volunteers. We also offer a secured bike locker and showers for bike commuters. Our Green Team promotes biking to work through their bi-annual participation in HUB Cycling’s Bike to Work Week challenge. We also offer electric vehicle charging stations outside of our main entrance.


Empowering Employees and Volunteers

Ocean Wise and Vancouver Aquarium attract employees and volunteers that believe in the organization’s mission and work hard every day to create a world in which oceans are healthy and flourishing. Two groups who support our employees and volunteers in doing this are the Aquarium’s Green Team and Environmental Management System Team.

Empowering Employees and Volunteers: Green Team

The Green Team is a group of sustainability-focused individuals that regularly volunteer their time to work towards the reduction of waste and the promotion of sustainable practices at the Vancouver Aquarium.

By organizing easy, fun and accessible workshops, challenges and activities, the team provides the tools that allow employees and volunteers to make more sustainable choices, both in and out of the workplace. Every year the group organizes more than 20 events and workshop.

To learn more about our Green Team, email green.team@ocean.org


Environmental Management System (EMS) Team

The EMS Team is led by our Chief Financial Officer and Sustainability Manager and consists of 15 individuals from across the organization. The Team meets monthly to ensure ISO14001 commitments are being met, objectives are being achieved, and, ultimately, that the environmental program is effective and continually improving. The Team includes senior members from our animal operations, building services, education, water quality, purchasing, food service, sustainability, and Gift Shop departments.


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