If you asked me a couple months ago if I thought about Disney as a green vacation destination I would have said no, not really. I mean I would have said that I am sure they do some green things but in general I would not have thought it was a primary consideration for them. That was my thinking until I spent a few days at various Disney World Properties in Orlando last month. I came away with a vastly greater respect for Disney, especially in regards to all the work they do in nature conservation and to be better environmental stewards as a company.
If you think about all that goes on inside the operations of any amusement park you think about all the garbage they generate, all the junk food they serve, and all the useless souvenirs they try to pawn off on you. Disney is not without fault of course but I never fully realized all that they do be greener and more sustainable.
“The land itself—should be as dear to us all as our political heritage and our treasured way of life. Its preservation and the wise conservation of its renewable resources concerns every man, woman and child whose possession it is.” – Walt Disney
For instance, in January of this year Disney received the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award. This award is California’s highest environmental honor, for waste-reduction efforts and boy have they achieved something impressive! Over the last 10 years, the Disneyland Resort has doubled the amount of waste diverted from landfills, and is working toward the long-term goal of achieving Zero Waste—a distinction already awarded to Circle D Corral at Disneyland park. In addition to recycling paper, cardboard, plastics and metal, Circle D Corral composts all animal waste, hand towels, laundry lint and coffee grounds from Disneyland Resort restaurants.
This is just the tip of a very deep iceberg. When collecting research for this post I ended up with so much information about their environmental stewardship and practices that I could not possible share it all but here are some highlights:
- At Walt Disney World Resort, IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth show (which I was lucky enough to see last month) dazzles Epcot guests with new environmentally friendly lasers. The show’s solid-state lasers use the energy equivalent of a hair dryer, saving approximately 64,000 watts of power with each show.
- To date, Disney Cruise Line programs have eliminated more than 6,400 tons of metal, glass, plastic and paper from traditional waste streams through recycling, and removed 31,000 pounds of trash and debris from beaches and waterways.
- Disney has a Climate Solutions Fund and it is one of the tools the company uses to address climate change. They charge their businesses for the greenhouse gas emissions they generate, and the money goes to the Climate Solutions Fund. With the fund, Disney can use this money to invest in forestry projects and improved forest management techniques. They have projects around the world from California to Inner Mongolia. Since 2009, they have invested in more than 147,000 acres of forested land—the equivalent of four Walt Disney World parks.
- The animal waste at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is composted.
- The Disney Conservation Fund has awarded more than $27 million to projects in 114 countries. The aim of funded projects is the study of wildlife, protection of habitats and the development of community conservation and education programs in critical ecosystems around the world, and to help connect kids and nature through exploration and discovery.
- Disney makes continuous technology improvements to reduce their footprint including the installation of a 1 MW fuel cell on their Pixar campus and LEED certification on their ESPN campus.
- In 2014, 30 electric vehicle charging ports were installed at the Disneyland Resort—20 for guest use and 10 for Cast Member use. They have plans to add many more across their properties.
- Disney has committed to the following long-term environmental stewardship goals: Zero net greenhouse gas emissions, zero waste, conserve water resources.
- Since 1995, the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF) has supported the study of threatened species, the protection of critical ecosystems, and the development of community conservation and education programs in over 100 countries worldwide. In 2014, the DWCF funded more than 150 projects, surpassing a milestone of more than $25 million in cumulative giving.
So what does all of this look like when you visit the actual Disney parks? Well, here are some of my personal observations:
- Upon check-in at the Disney’s Yacht Club Resort I received a stylish arm band that I can then use to enter my room, make purchases, enter the parks, use fastpasses to get on rides, etc. This reduces a lot garbage in the parks and resorts..no need for tickets, no need for paper receipts, no plastic room keys and so on. Plus you can reuse the same arm bands year after year.
- A huge percentage of the land at the Disney resorts is left wild and virtually untouched. I was amazed by how big a part nature plays in the overall theme at each and every property I visited…which was several. In fact, nearly a third of the properties are dedicated wildlife conservation areas.
- Disney parks provide a vast amount of nature related activities such as boating and fishing. Who knew??? I sure didn’t. In partnership with Take Me Fishing Disney offers onsite opportunities to go boating and fishing. I experienced two of them…cane pole fishing at Disney’s Port Orleans Resort—Riverside and Guided Bass Fishing Excursions on a 21-foot Tracker pontoon at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground.
- There are hundreds of nature experiences provided to kids across Disney properties. It doesn’t have to be ONLY about a riding rides and seeing a mouse.
- By offering so many adventures and opportunities onsite and providing group transportation you never have to go far to find the entertainment you want. This is prudent for them as a business of course but it also makes the most sense environmentally as well.
- The Magical Express transportation system is genius. Get off your plane and board a bus with dozens of other guests. It provides a high occupancy transportation option and there is no need for everyone to get a rental car. You can use the same system to travel between resorts and parks as well.
- Wildlife abounds on Disney properties. I love to see critters and birds happily living and playing on resort properties because I know that the impact is minimal…or the eco system surrounding it would not be thriving.
- Healthy foods abound at Disney. There is no reason to eat junky food on vacation. I had some of the best food (tasty and healthy) I have ever eaten in my life while visiting there. They are also very happy to make sure you have gluten free everything if you need it.
- Every Disney World theme park has organic and fair-trade products for sale. Yay!
I was very impressed by everything I saw at Disney World, Epcot, and the handful of park resorts I went to. While I have always been a Disney fan (heck I spent either Halloween or Christmas there every year!) I did have some outdated ideas about them. I am happy to find that Disney is leading the way for corporations on environmental issues AND providing a cleaner, greener vacation destination.
I leave you with a photo I took while fishing right next to the Disney World theme park. Recognize anything?