Making the Magic More Sustainable at Disney Parks and Resorts

The term “sustainable tourism” has come into vogue recently, defined as tourism development that avoids damage to the environment, economy and cultures of the locations where it takes place while providing a positive experience for local people, tourism companies and tourists themselves. With solid conservation policies and practices in place at its vacation destinations around the world, The Walt Disney Company is a leader in this effort.

Company founder Walt Disney was an early advocate for environmental consciousness, calling for vigilant stewardship of natural resources many decades before it became a popular cause. Since 1955 his original magic kingdom, Disneyland Park in Anaheim, Calif., has grown into two theme parks, three hotels and a shopping, dining and entertainment district, all of which follow responsible environmental practices.

At Disneyland Park, the five railroad trains that circle the property use a soy-based biodiesel to fuel their steam boilers. The Mark Twain Riverboat burns a blend of cooking oil biodiesel as it paddles down the Rivers of America. Succulents and native plants that require minimal water populate the landscape, and recycling receptacles are conveniently located in both back-of-house and guest areas.

Sweet treats for resort guests are created in 10,000-square-foot, eco-friendly central bakery that utilizes Energy Star-rated equipment, has a roof filled with tubular skylights to provide natural illumination, and features porous asphalt paving in the parking lot that captures, filters and returns rainwater into the ground, serving as a natural recycling system. The bakery also diverts waste from landfills by recycling products such as expired baked goods as well as leftover dough, flour and grains into environmentally viable products such as livestock feed.

These are just a small sample of the “green” magic implemented by both the Disneyland operational teams and Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) — the master planning, creative development, design, engineering, production, project management, and research and development arm of The Walt Disney Company and its affiliates. Representing more than 150 disciplines, “Imagineers” are responsible for the creation of Disney theme parks, attractions, resort hotels, water parks, real estate developments, regional entertainment venues, cruise ships and new media technology projects.

WDI is one of the founding members of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability Corporate Partners Program (CPP). The CPP creates an interactive relationship between companies and UCLA faculty, researchers, students and other firms to explore the latest business opportunities in environment and sustainability, corporate environmental performance, successful eco-marketing strategy and promotion of companies' environmental initiatives.

Disney Parks and Resorts and the Research & Development (R&D) division of WDI have a long history of innovation in environmental science and engineering.

Climate & Energy
Disney’s parks and resorts and Disney Cruise Line have made strides to conserve energy through a mix of technical and operational enhancements. According to The Walt Disney Company 2010 Corporate Citizenship Report, Disney has implemented energy management systems and scorecards; replaced old lighting and fixtures with more energy-efficient alternatives; and increased efficiency of chillers, heat exchanges, air handlers and pumps through technology enhancements and controls.

Ecosystem Protection
Walt Disney Imagineering R&D is leading this effort through pioneering work in the area of ecosystem services. Their work draws upon the expertise of key thought leaders in this field, including the United States Environmental Protection Agency's Ecosystem Services Research Partnership. The Ecosystems Integrated Approach continues to evolve with further scientific inquiry.

R&D developed mathematical models that link building physics with the behavior of building occupants, which can be used to provide strategic investment guidance that work to improve energy performance. They have also developed new analysis methods and new design software to help us create truly sustainable buildings.

The 2010 Disney Corporate Citizenship Report outlined the company’s wood use standard, which provides a framework for responsible wood selection in construction projects throughout Disney. Internal teams worked with conservation organizations, including World Wildlife Fund's Global Forest & Trade Network and World Resources Institute, to develop the standard. One key component of the standard is a wood-use guide that features availability information, technologically modified woods and endangerment rankings for 60 different wood species. The standard requires that buyers obtain certification when sourcing endangered wood and, if certified sources do not exist, wood must be of known, verified legal origin.

Water conservation
Water conservation efforts in place since 1990 have helped the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida maintain its beautiful landscape while minimizing impact to local water supplies. More than 6 million gallons of reclaimed water— water that is treated, reprocessed and reused — is used each day to irrigate golf courses, wash buses and clean streets at the parks and resort hotels. Additional reclaimed water is used to recharge the aquifer through a system of rapid infiltration basins. Water conservation efforts have enabled aquifer net withdrawals to remain at levels similar to those of more than 20 years ago, even though the resort has since grown by two parks, two water parks and 20 resort hotels.

Disney Cruise Line is also active in applying technology toward conserving water. The laundry facility on the Disney Magic consumes about one-third of the total water used on the ship. More efficient washing machines were installed in 2010 that have improved water efficiency in the laundry by more than 20 percent. The ship also recycles water from the onboard air conditioning system to supply fresh water to the laundry facilities and for cleaning its outer decks, amounting to a minimum of 50 tons of water conserved each day.

Waste Management
Walt Disney Parks and Resorts set a goal to decrease solid waste to landfill to 50 percent of the 2006 baseline level (the total waste generated that year) by 2013. From 2006 to 2010, the total waste generated by Disney’s parks and resorts increased by 27,786 tons, due primarily to significant building projects at the Disneyland Resort in California. However, despite this growth in construction-related waste, the company surpassed its target in 2009 and sustained it in 2010 due to increases in existing recycling programs and additional recycling programs at every park. Solid waste sent to landfills in 2010 was 44 percent of the total waste generated in 2006.

Disney parks in the United States have also increased the recycled content in a number of items, such as celebration buttons now made of 30 percent recycled steel, PhotoPass plastic cards made of 95 percent recycled content, and merchandise bags made of 100 percent recycled plastic.

Using innovative technology and practices, Walt Disney Imagineering and local teams will continue to work toward the goals of sustainable tourism at Disney’s vacation destinations around the world as part of The Walt Disney Company’s overall efforts in the area of environmental responsibility.

Information for this article was obtained from The Walt Disney Company 2010 Corporate Citizenship Report available online at:  http://corporate.disney.go.com/citizenship2010/