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North Carolina Zoo Kaizen Event

Contact Information

Pollution Prevention and Innovation Team
U.S. EPA Region 4


The North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro is one of the largest zoos in the country. Lion It’s a major Randolph County attraction that has five miles of trails and over 500 acres of North American and African exhibits. The zoo has a strong culture in environmental sustainability as exhibited by its mission to connect people to nature, which encourages the conservation of wildlife and wild places.

The Zoo is a partner of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR) Environmental Stewardship Initiative (ESI) program and has won more than ten awards for their efforts under this program since 1996, including NC State Energy Office’s 2008 Sustainable Energy Champion Award. Recently, with the assistance of ESI, the entire zoo became ISO 14001 Environmental Management System (EMS) certified, the first State agency in NC and the first stand-alone zoo in the US. The Zoo uses the acronym GREEN to describe its environmental policy:

Some long-standing sustainable practices in place at the zoo include: natural pest control and fertilizer; production and use of biodiesel from deep-frying oil; constructed wetlands for stormwater management; organics composting; energy efficiency upgrades; water conservation; 104 kw Solar PVC installation; and a variety of recycling including fluorescent bulbs, cell phones and polystyrene. Each has an educational component.

Problem Statement

The Zoo wanted to increase the amount of time zoo keepers spend interacting with the animals and educating the public. For this to happen, the keepers would need to reduce time spent performing material pick-up, delivery, and cleaning. In order to meet this goal, the Zoo formed a team and implemented a five-day Lean event from October 19-23, 2009 with the help of North Carolina State University Industrial Extension Service (NCSU-IES), North Carolina Division of Environmental Assistance and Outreach (DEAO), and EPA Region IV Office of Pollution Prevention and Innovation (OPPI).

Project scope

During the main Kaizen event, the team analyzed the workflow and work processes of three large exhibits: Zebra, Ostrich, and Giraffe (ZOG), Baboons and Gorillas, and Desert. This gave the team a foundation in Value Stream Mapping (VSM) and enough experience to identify other potential opportunities across the entire Zoo. The team discovered that the Zoo’s delivery and pick-up systems for feed and waste had the most potential for short-term improvement in increasing animal handling and decreasing the zoo’s environmental footprint through reducing vehicle miles traveled. The implementation actions developed during the follow-up days of the event reflect this discovery.

Project team: 17 staff members from the Zoo, OPPI, and DEAO

Sponsor: US EPA Region IV

Trainers: NCSU’s Industrial Extension Services (MEP) provided Lean training and facilitation services.



The first day of the event trained team members about Lean. The second, third, and fourth involved the main work of the Kaizen event, and the fifth day consisted of wrap-up and pursuing the next steps.

The Lean tool selected for the event was VSM. First, the team mapped the time that each staff member spent on activities for the three main exhibits. They also mapped the time spent traveling and the distances traveled. A “newspaper,” or list of ideas, for reducing staff time and travel was developed. The ideas on the newspaper were used to change the original VSM into a map of the desired future state. Next, a list of action items was identified. These action items would be necessary to bring about the desired future state. The savings from each item was calculated. These items were then evaluated by asking if they were:

  • short-term or long-term;
  • feasible or unlikely; or
  • duplicative?
Value Stream Mapping exercise

This Value Stream Mapping exercise at the zoo gave participants a visual representation of how the fundamental steps in a process related to one another.

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The finished Value Stream Map at the zoo helped staff organize their many tasks and look for redundancies.

Once the items were sorted, responsibility for short-term items was delegated to staff members and due dates were established. These short-term improvements would save 5.3 hours of staff time and 28.4 miles of travel in lightweight pickup trucks per day. This savings of vehicle miles traveled represents an approximate reduction of 2000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. Because most of the time and travel savings centered on supply and waste delivery, the team decided to conduct a two-day follow-up on delivery systems.

Solutions Developed

  • Created a full-time “Water Strider” position, who now delivers food and other materials, which allows keepers more time with the animals.
  • For delivery responsibilities not transferred to the Water Strider, “Help Your Neighbor” runs now combine keeper errands from several exhibits so that individual keepers don’t spend time making each delivery each day.
  • Eliminated some runs from keepers and the Water Strider by consolidating trips. For example, incorporated animal medicine into the mail delivery system so that keepers no longer need to make vet runs to get their animals’ medicines.
  • Shifted work that’s less directly related to the animals from zoo keepers to other staff.
  • Cleared parking areas close to the exhibits to shorten zoo keepers’ walks when making deliveries or pick-ups.
  • Improved the standard operating procedure for cleaning the inside animal areas to reduce time spent.
  • Plan to move the elephant waste composting area closer to the elephant exhibit to cut down time and energy costs of transportation.

Contact Information

Julie Woosley
Industrial Assistance Section Chief
N.C. Division of Pollution Prevention and Environmental Assistance

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