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The Environmental Sustainability of Disney

The Environmental Sustainability of Disney solar-farm

As the Dorothea McKellar 1904 poem goes, I love a sunburnt country. As an Aussie kid growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, we knew all about the depletion in the ozone layer above us and what it meant for our skin on those long summer days. What we didn’t know was how the rate of climate change would impact us in the years to come.

Fast-forward to the present day, and I write this to you as we watch our entire state of New South Wales flood. Evacuations all around, cities and landscapes in disrepair while being told this was a 1 in a 1000-year event. Problem is, the newsworthy fires that ravaged our land at the same time just two years ago were also a 1 in a 1000-year event. You can see where this is going, and it’s not a coincidence. Climate change affects our state of living, and it isn’t limited to Australian shores. It got me thinking about how a place like Disney, with all of its energy consumption, is going about restoring its environmental footprint.

So, as I watched the torrential rain beat down and the flash floods rise for the 17th straight day, I started to do some research and what I discovered was genuinely heartwarming.

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It’s not something we think about often; all the materials, waste, and fuel that go into maintaining our happy place, but when you take the time to think about the inner workings, it is almost incomprehensible. How do you begin to offset the environmental impact without affecting guests’ experience? Gold star for you in the back who resentfully mumbled paper straws. That’s a start, for sure, but how exactly does Disney handle greenhouse gas emissions, inefficiencies in high water usage, and tackle waste management in their day-to-day operations? Let’s have a look.

Firstly, did you know that Disney has redesigned some of their packagings, including the classic Princess dolls, to now use “100% recyclable, sustainably sourced paper“? As my children are now older, I hadn’t even realized that, but I thought that was pretty impressive. Changes are being made on set too, as shows like The Mandalorian are produced with a focus on education in reducing waste and switching to low emissions energy sources during production.

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Another great way to offset the energy used in the parks is with the power produced by solar panels. You might already know that Disney has a few of those on hand throughout the Reedy Creek Improvement District, but did you know they have 292 acres of solar panels? Yep, not even kidding. These panels, created in collaboration with RCID and Duke Energy, soak up enough sunshine to power up to 40% of Disney’s total annual energy consumption with renewable energy. In some Disney parks with less available land, the space atop resorts and attractions is even being utilized to store that sun-powered goodness. For example, I had no idea that 1,400 solar panels light the rooftop of Radiator Springs Racers in Disneyland.

You might be thinking, okay, but solar panels don’t replace natural resources vital in keeping our planet balanced. Me too! This is why I was encouraged to read that over 9 million trees have been planted by Disney so far. NINE MILLION. Mic drop, much?

The Environmental Sustainability of Disney solar-facility-disney-world

Moving forward, Disney has a plan in place to take its long-term sustainability vision and turn it into a reality. With significant goals set, the lead up to the 2030 self-imposed deadline will see Disney making strides towards a “zero waste to landfill for our wholly owned and operated parks and resorts” as well as a concerted effort to switch to recycled paper and wood materials and “design branded packaging for reuse, recycling, or composting.” Disney will also be exclusively serving environmentally responsible seafood in all parks, resorts, and cruise ships beginning this year alone.

Are you ready for the kicker? Cue the zero-emission and 100% zero-carbon electricity goal for 2030, backed up by a shorter-term target to, in their words, “define a science-based reduction goal for The Walt Disney Company’s Scope 3 emissions footprint by the end of 2022.”

The Environmental Sustainability of Disney toledo-inside-shot

I’m going to admit; this article was initially anchored in anger, fueled by resentment towards a careless world for not taking climate change and our environment seriously enough. Still, I’ve never been more pleased to be wrong. I am delighted to say that my initial expectation of Disney’s seemingly minimal efforts was met with a series of well-constructed and optimistic goals. If you had read as much about this as I did today, you’d agree this plan is more multifaceted than a 2002 box of L’Oréal hair color.

In a time when it has never been easier to talk smack about a company whose prices are rising as their services are limiting, it is crucial to keep it all in perspective and see what your money is paying for behind the scenes as well as in the parks.

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Our flood waters will keep flowing here in Sydney, though my faith in the community-minded aspect of Disney has been restored in reading through all of their innovative accomplishments and future sustainability pursuits. If every individual and big business does their part, we might just find a way to pass this earth on to future generations without destroying it first.

No doubt someone will say how much more Disney could be doing, and likely you will be correct. Instead, try and think of it this way; if every big business took an approach half as dedicated to the environment as Disney has, would we even have a problem to be concerned about?

Zoë Wood is a travel writer from Sydney, Australia. Since her first visit to Disneyland at the age of 6, she has spent her years frequently visiting Disney Parks and traveling around the world.

Join Zoë as she lets you in on all the tips, tricks, anecdotes, and embarrassments that arise from her family adventures.


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