The Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Annual Conference in Baltimore was one for the books! From engaging sessions and reunions with partners and friends, to the Icebreaker and Zoo Day hosted by National Aquarium, Maryland Zoo and SSA, what a week! Before we get into what excited us the most, here are some additional highlights of AZA + SSA in Baltimore: Zero-waste events, partnering with local Baltimore proud businesses, Pepper the robot, augmented reality experiences, aluminum cups, marketing professionals’ dinner, bio plastics, and SSA team members on panels addressing women in leadership, operations + conservation at Houston Zoo and sustainable and financially healthy retail.
What we took away the most from our week was the components of the Annual Conference in line with SSA’s thrive(3) strategic plan.
#1 Diversity, Equity, Access & Inclusion (DEAI)
AZA’s 5th Promise is to advance DEAI practices in the profession and integrate these as values into our organizational cultures. With DEAI being one of the core drivers of SSA’s thrive(3) strategic plan, and something SSA has been leading the industry for 10 years, our team was proud to participate in and do all that we did:
- Jason Stover, VP of Culture and People continuing his role in the Diversity Committee
- Shannon Fitzgerald, Chief Brand Officer, participated as a panelist in the session: Women in Leadership: Men’s Voices – Ally, Advocate, Apathetic, Antagonist
- Our Operational Team hosting Ice Breaker and Zoo Day reached out local Baltimore proud businesses to partner with SSA to bring the event to life
- Local Color Flowers that sourced MD farm buds for the centerpieces which were donated to local organizations for a “second life”
- Taharka Bros. Ice Cream – DELICIOUS! And an incredible story of this employee-owned company committed to social change
- POP IN artisan popsicles taking inspiration from Mexican / South American frozen treat called paletas and Italian gelato and sorbetto.
- Chesapeake Bay Roasting Co. which commits to high quality coffees while contributing to environmental preservation and community events.
- Bergers Cookies – founded in Baltimore by German immigrants and rooted in a family business (which we love!)
AZA Session Speakers
Operations + Conservation + Exhibit Design: Creating a Revenue Anchor at the Heart of the Houston Zoo – Mark Kathman
Leveraging Our Purchasing Power to Help the Planet – Andrew Fischer
Balancing Your Sustainability Mission and Retail Financial Health – Andrew Fischer
Seafood Watch Approved Menus
We’re proud of our long time partnership with Seafood Watch and proud of our executive chef, Matt Beaudin’s involvement in the Blue Ribbon Task Force. Collaborating closely together as we curated the menus for our Baltimore events.
Single-Use Plastic Free Store
Our retail store at Maryland Zoo joined SSA’s growing number of single-use plastic packaging free stores. Check out more about previous stores, with more information on the Maryland Zoo retail store coming soon.
Preview of New Biodegradable Toys
This innovative new toy line will be coming exclusively to SSA retail stores in 2023 and will offer guests a more sustainable choice when shopping at our locations. Learn more about this exciting new product here. Learn more about this exciting new product, here.
Waste Free Events
Both the Icebreaker Event at National Aquarium and Zoo Day at Maryland Zoo were Zero Waste Events! A Zero Waste Event is focused on diverting all guest facing waste from the landfill. From compostable service ware to recyclable aluminum cups, our team thought about every detail that would cause landfill waste.
- Compostable service ware
- Recyclable aluminum cups and cans
- Oyster shells used for conservation initiatives in partnership with National Aquarium
- Collaboration with vendors to ensure their operations were Zero Waste
- Guest communication, guidance and signage
Sustainable Staff Uniforms
All staff wore Marine Layer Respun t-shirts made from recycled shirts. A favorite apparel item in SSA gift shops!
The printing on these shirts was also done more sustainably than traditional screen printing:
- Uses 60% less energy than traditional screen printing
- Uses 95% less water than traditional screen printing
#3 Digital Innovation
Digital first is the way of the future and SSA’s team is always looking for new ways technology can help to support the guest experience. Here are ways technology showed up at the conference:
Food & Retail Technology
- Pepper the Robot – Guests had the opportunity to meet Pepper, SSA’s newest retail team member. Pepper engages with guests, shares videos about the exhibits and guides guests to the sustainable retail choices in the store.
- Digital Signage – eye catching digital signage is used throughout the store to bring movement, motion and light to the space.
- Draw Alive Digital Screen – A fun and interactive drawing game that brings guests drawings to life! Creating an engaging experience for guests in the retail store.
- Kiosk and Mobile Food Ordering – SSA’s latest kiosk and mobile ordering technology brings efficiency to guest dining.