Riding the Green Coaster

Theme Parks Around the World Are Getting Greener

Summer is here, complete with funnel cakes and corn dogs, hair-raising roller coasters and water-soaked rides. Of course, theme parks don’t usually spring to mind when talking about sustainability. In fact, some of the earliest roller coasters were used to deliver coal. But modern theme parks have come a long way, and a couple of eco-themed parks are even in the works, boasting environmental literacy centers and conservation programs alongside rides and games of chance. Consumer demand and a need to cut costs have driven the green theme park trend.

“It’s something everybody in the industry is conscious of and they’re always looking to green the operation,” says Dennis Speigel, director of International Theme Park Services. “Are we where we need to be? No. But are we as an industry attempting to improve and look at various alternatives for greening the operations within a theme park? Definitely.”

Here’s a roundup of the latest theme park green initiatives and one eco-themed park currently in the works.

Disney

With both Disneyland Resort in California and Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, Disney’s efforts to reduce Mickey’s carbon footprint translate into huge savings for the environment. Specifically, Disney plans to achieve net zero waste and carbon emissions through a combination of efficiency measures and carbon offset purchases—no small feat considering that the Disney theme park and resort facilities alone emitted approximately 250,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2006. Disney has also made significant strides in water conservation and waste minimization, and its theme park trains run on 100% biodiesel.

Six Flags

Over the years, Six Flags has added a number of behind-the-scenes energy-reducing measures throughout its 20 theme park locations—a money-saving move that may have been sparked by its 2009 Chapter 11 filing. Six Flags uses veggie oil straight from its kitchens to power all trains and vehicles at four of its parks. In addition, the company’s Great Escape Lodge & Indoor Water Park in New York boasts 450 mattresses with plant-based memory foam and bamboo fabric covers. Six Flags operators are also considering installing solar panels in existing available land around their parks.

Universal Studios

Environmental initiatives at Universal Studios include biodiesel vehicles and JAWS© attraction boats, high efficiency air compressors and coffee grounds in the potting soil. Most recently, Universal announced its intention to install a fuel technology system to cut carbon emissions from its food production operations by 40%.

Tivoli Gardens

Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark, has the distinction of being both one of the oldest and greenest theme parks in the country. Founded in the mid-1800s and inspired by the romantic pleasure gardens of Europe, Tivoli purchases wind power to supply the park’s 10 million kilowatt-hours of electricity consumption per year, and uses LED lights and eco-friendly cleaning products. In 2009, Tivoli announced its plans to go carbon neutral by powering the park with an offshore wind turbine, becoming the world’s first amusement park to run on wind energy.

Wild Adventures Water & Theme Park

Wild Adventures Water & Theme Park in southern Georgia combines wild rides and water parks with access to exotic species from around the globe from lions to lorikeets. In addition to a strong conservation message, the park recently announced that it would reduce park energy consumption by six million kilowatts with upgrades that include retrofitting more than 900 light fixtures and replacing 400 lights with energy efficient bulbs. It’s also adding a park-wide recycling program to reduce waste.

Earthpark

Iowa-based Earthpark, marketed as North America’s first center for science literacy and the environment, is a 240-acre learning campus that will demonstrate sustainable and restorative solutions to environmental problems. Earthpark will contain an indoor tropical rainforest, a 600,000-gallon aquarium and more than 1,000 species of plants and small animals in a recreated ecosystem. Though the park was slated to open on Earth Day 2011, it hasn’t yet broken ground.

JESSICA A. KNOBLAUCH is a freelance journalist living in the San Francisco Bay Area specializing in environmental health, science and policy issues.