Terry Maple, PhD, knows a thing or two about elephant dung. After 18 years as director of Zoo Atlanta and three years with the Palm Beach Zoo in Florida he's stepped in his fair share of the stuff. These days, he's even selling it to zoo visitors-in the form of stationery: "Poo Poo Paper" made from fibers harvested from elephant dung is one of several gift-store products that raise awareness of-and funding for-Earth's natural resources.
The effort is part of Maple's quest to reinvent the Palm Beach Zoo as one of the greenest zoos in America.
Given zoos' focus on biodiversity and conservation education, most people believe they are already eco-friendly, says Maple, who taught environmental psychology at the Georgia Institute of Technology for 26 years before moving to Florida on academic leave in 2005.
"They are not-at least not yet," he says, pointing to the Palm Beach Zoo's overuse of paper and disposable plastic products and the amount of energy consumed for seven-day-a-week operations. In fact, a 2007 internal Palm Beach Zoo survey found that 70 percent of the zoo's employees felt that the zoo overused its resources, and 100 percent said the zoo could improve its green practices.
In addition to selling products made of renewable materials, the zoo's new employee "green team" will educate visitors on the importance of recycling through educational workshops, increase the number of recycling bins and introduce drought-resistant plants throughout the zoo, primarily sustained by water collected in rain barrels.
Two buildings set to open in December as part of the zoo's innovative Melvin and Claire J. Levine Animal Care Complex will generate 36 percent of their energy from solar panels. Installation of wind-power turbines throughout the zoo will further reduce energy consumption. The zoo will spend more than $1 million on these eco-friendly technologies, but benefits to the Earth-and to the zoo's bottom line-should kick in shortly, Maple says.
"I expect to green the zoo into a lead position at zero net cost," he says.
Maple says that, although he has been a strong proponent of animal protection for years, it wasn't until he began researching air and water pollution and the threat they pose to the natural world, for his book "A Contract With the Earth" (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007)-co-authored with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich-that Maple truly understood the comprehensive nature of the Earth's environmental challenges and the need to curb climate change.
With their expertise in changing human behavior, psychologists can play a crucial role in motivating and educating citizens to protect Earth's natural resources, Maple says. The time is ripe for psychologists to become environmental entrepreneurs and lead by example, to help the public realize the benefits of conservation.
"People want to make changes they can actually see," Maple says. "Psychologists can help move our nation, if not the world, toward an environmental century of significant change."