The Aquarium of the Pacific’s newest harbor seal pup, Bixby, is introduced to the rest of the sea lions and harbor seals in this August 2012 file
The Aquarium of the Pacific's newest harbor seal pup, Bixby, is introduced to the rest of the sea lions and harbor seals in this August 2012 file photo. The aquairum was honored with an environmental award from the State of California in January 2013. (Scott Varley / Staff Photographer)

LONG BEACH - The Aquarium of the Pacific is one of 17 companies and organizations that have been selected statewide for the Governor's Environmental and Economic Leadership Award, the highest environmental honor in the state.

The award, known as GEELA, honors individuals, companies and organizations that make significant contributions to the state by developing environmentally friendly practices while contributing to the local economy.

The 17 winners received the 2012 award last week at the California Environmental Protection Agency in Sacramento.

The GEELA was for the aquarium's adoption of a master plan for growth without increasing energy and potable water consumption.

Barbara Long, vice president of government relations and special projects, credited the aquarium's "comprehensive efforts" that resulted in the honor.

"We're always trying innovative things to reduce our carbon footprint," she said Monday, adding that includes providing more education programs for the public.

The aquarium became the first museum in the country to earn the status of Climate Action Leader, according to aquarium spokeswoman Marilyn Padilla.

The building is Long Beach's first LEED-platinum certified building, with solar panels that reduce dependence on the electric grid by 14,000 kilowatt hours per year, said Padilla. Its landscaping and irrigation innovations have saved 550,000 gallons of water a year, she said.


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Under its master plan developed in 2002, the aquarium has added new facilities and exhibits that demonstrate environmental concepts, from climate change to watershed education.

Also, annual attendance increased 26 percent while the aquarium's carbon footprint has decreased by 20 percent and water use has decreased by 30 percent.

"Our master plan demonstrates that `greening' can be sustainable from a business as well as an environmental perspective," said attorney Doug Otto, an aquarium board director and architect of its campus master plan.

In 2008 the aquarium opened its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum-certified watershed education classroom and exhibit, which is the first carbon-neutral building of any aquarium in the nation. Exhibit messaging encourages visitors to conserve California's precious water resources.

The Ocean Science Center is designed to LEED gold standards and features climate change programming. The aquarium's retail expansion opens this summer and is targeted to meet the stringent 3 Green Globes rating. Sustainable design and operation are integral components of all future building projects.

The other 2012 GEELA winners include Joseph Gallo Farms for using biogas digesters that set a new industry standard and for their work to become the first large cheese plant to integrate green energy, General Dynamics for reclaiming and recycling more than 78 percent of its waste in 2009, the City of San Diego for its work to become a leader in plug-in vehicle infrastructure, and the San Francisco Giants' AT&T Park for diverting 2,947 tons of its waste from landfills.

For more details about GEELA, visit www.calepa.ca.gov/Awards/GEELA/.

joe.segura@presstelegram.com, 562-714-2167, twitter.com/JoeSeguraPT