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National Aquarium says it will reach net-zero emissions by 2035

The National Aquarium in Baltimore. (The Daily Record/File photo)

Not unlike a bottlenose dolphin plunging gracefully into the water, the National Aquarium in Baltimore is hoping its greenhouse gas emissions will take a major dive over the coming years. 

The Inner Harbor attraction said on Friday it plans to reach net-zero emissions, effectively eliminating its greenhouse gas emissions, by 2035. The announcement came in conjunction with 24 other major aquariums, all members of the Aquarium Conservation Partnership, who also declared their commitments to cutting carbon emissions this Earth Day. 

The National Aquarium’s announcement comes following a six-month evaluation, in partnership with Omaha-based environmental consulting firm Verdis Group of the organization’s current carbon footprint. The study revealed that from 2010 to 2019, the aquarium successfully reduced its emissions by 31%. It has also increased its use of renewable energy to 40%, utilizing solar and wind energy. 

Work to achieve net-zero has been underway for some years now; the aquarium partnered with Baltimore-based energy company Constellation in 2015 to “upgrade equipment, such as boilers and chillers, with high efficiency models, replace most of our lighting to LED, improve our building envelope to reduce energy loss and upgrade water fixtures to save water and energy,” according to Laura Bankey, vice president of conservation programs at the National Aquarium. These measures help to save the facility more than a million kilowatt-hours of energy each year. 

Over the coming 13 years, the aquarium hopes to reduce both its “scope 1” emissions, which refer to the emissions that come from aquarium owned and operated resources, and “scope 2” emissions, which come from things such as electricity, heating and cooling that the aquarium purchases from outside vendors. 

To do so, the faculty plans to electrify its infrastructure and vehicle fleet, decrease its overall energy consumption and increase its use of renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, for the energy it does use. Currently, the aquarium is looking into emerging technologies that could potentially allow it to invest in on-site renewable energy. 

“We plan on upgrading our fleet to (electric vehicles) as our current fleet ages out, beginning as early as this year,” Bankey said in an email to The Daily Record. “The rest is being prioritized through upcoming capital projects and planning.”

Jennifer Driban, senior vice president and chief mission officer for the National Aquarium, explained why the organization, one of the largest aquariums in the United States, is so dedicated to reducing its carbon footprint and upping its conservation game.

“As you can imagine, it takes a lot of energy to pump more than (2) million gallons of water through filters and throughout the Aquarium while also running HVAC systems that heat and cool our buildings,” Driban said in an email. “Conserving energy has long been a priority for the aquarium — our Animal Care and Rescue Center is a LEED certified building, LED lighting has been installed throughout the campus and even our chilled water is now sourced through a carbon-neutral vendor. However, we are taking further action to achieve net-zero carbon emissions to do our part to slow global climate change, and intend to share about our journey so that others may join, because our collective impact is the only way to effect the substantial change that is needed.”