Solar power carries golfers

NEW ORLEANS — Golfers at Audubon Park Golf course will be the first in the state to zip around bird-filled lagoons and Spanish moss-swathed live oaks in a fleet of entirely solar-powered carts.

The thin, lightweight black panels attached to the roofs of the 75 new carts are removable, said Audubon golf pro Stan Stopa, so that in another four or five years, (typically the lifespan of the carts), the solar panels can be attached to the next generation of carts.

Ben Nelson, managing partner of the dealership that sells the carts, said Audubon is the first course in the state to convert all its carts, and one of only a handful nationwide.

The initial investment was about $1,000 per panel, but the carts will be continuously charged during New Orleans’ abundance of sunny days, saving money on electricity.

According to the manufacturer, each panel can reduce the amount of electricity required to recharge a cart annually enough to offset 100 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

The anticipated energy savings are about $10,000 each year and amount to a more than 40 percent reduction in energy usage. But the golf carts are just one piece of the Audubon Institute’s efforts toward conservation.

In 2011, the institute received the Environmental Leadership Award from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. An extensive recycling program is implemented across the institute’s multiple facilities, as well as other energy-conserving changes, including retrofitting lights with LED bulbs and motion-activated sensors and turning down thermostats.

Just across the road from the course at the Audubon Zoo, the horticulture department has partnered with the food service folks to cultivate a giant compost pile that contains everything from ostrich droppings and eggshells from the Clubhouse, to piles of fallen leaves and coffee grounds from the employee break room.

Other herbivores, including the zebras, elephants and tapirs, also contribute dung to the pile, though Dianne Weber, director of horticulture and arboriculture, said the “contributions” from the zoo’s two elephants are more than enough to meet the composting needs.

Leaves, branches and other plant trimmings that can add significant volume to what goes to the landfill are instead turned into composted soil or a coarse mulch. Paper and cardboard delivery boxes are also shredded and added to the mix.

The pile started small about four years ago, Weber said, and has grown big enough that the 40-foot-long mound now requires a back hoe to turn it, a process required about once every two weeks. Once “cooked,” three to four yards of debris shrinks into about one yard of composted material, Weber said.

The mulch and soil is then used in landscaping projects on the grounds. The nutrient-rich composted soil is also bagged and sold to the public as “ZooDoo Gold,” at a cost of $13 for a 40-pound bag. The proceeds go back into the horticultural department’s projects, and the zoo donates some of the bags of soil to local schools.

Audubon Catering, which hosts hundreds of events each year at the Audubon facilities, including the zoo, the Jerome S. Glazer Tea Room, the Clubhouse and the Aquarium of the Americas, throws very little of their food scraps and leftovers away.

Happily helping to reduce the trash output by thousands of pounds annually, elephants Jean and Panya eat up the catering company’s leftovers at a rate of about 40 pounds a day.

The catering company is the only one in the state to be “green certified” by the National Green Restaurant Association.

Richard Buchsbaum, vice president of food and beverage for Audubon Catering, said the certification that “fits perfectly into Audubon’s conservation goals” was achieved by a staff dedicated to the mission and required various steps such as using biodegradable trash bags, making appliances more energy efficient and recycling food and other paper and plastic materials.

Having elephants and other animals nearby gives the company a convenient advantage in being able to feed them whatever is not served to the guests, Buchsbaum said.

Buchsbaum said six days of trash pickup has been reduced to just two.

In addition, Buchsbaum seeks out vendors who are environmentally friendly and local to save on transportation costs and energy.

The catering company followed the golf course’s example and purchased two solar carts for their own operations.

Stopa praised the Audubon Institute for being “a step ahead” in terms of its green efforts and investments, saying, “It’s good for the environment and good for savings.”