Blog, Think Green

Sustainability in Theme Parks

Jul 26, 2019
Designing a theme park often entails creating an environment that takes you out of your everyday life; essentially transporting you from reality to a fantasy world.In this environment, we are masters of controlling everything the guest sees, hears, smells, and experiences.

Since this is a fantasy world, you may think that guests forget about real issues such as sustainability. But in this generation, guests are evermore informed and concerned about the impact theme parks have on the environment.

Solar Panels

Today we see credible efforts by theme park owners and operators to implement sustainability initiatives including recycling programs, adopting LED lighting fixtures, using green energy (solar panels, wind turbines) to power rides and buildings, buying green electricity, converting food waste to generate energy, using recycled water for irrigation, and so on.

Behind the scenes, there are countless ways that theme park designers and operators can make conscious decisions that follow best practice.

However, let’s start with the public areas. I spend a lot of time visiting theme parks, walking around and appreciating the simple design touches with positive impact. Here are my top five sustainable design decisions that deliver obvious impact on guest experience:

  1. Guest Comfort – Providing Respite Areas

Space cooling and heating systems can account for more than 50% of a building’s total energy consumption.

Guests gravitate to spaces that are comfortable, and search for respite especially in a high energy environment. Using trees, roofs and canopies for shading makes absolute sense, rather than over-designing conditioned space. Embrace the opportunity to create unique thematic environments while weaving layers of canopies that provide guest comfort.


  1. Dining Experience – Waste Not, Want Not

From disposable food ware, individually packaged condiments, straws, etc., the waste generated from a park has a significant impact on the environment.

Making the switch to reusables saves costs in the purchase of single use items and paying to dispose of them. Consider a well themed restaurant that minimizes the use of throw-away plastic by using washable dishes and utensils. Take it one step further, and you can find examples of unique dining experiences, where guests eat from plates and drink from straws made of leaves.

There are benefits by personalizing and branding of reusable or all-natural food ware. This builds recognition and positive public perception, improved presentation of food, and satisfied customers.

  1. Recycling – Return and Reward

How many cups, cans and bottles are thrown away each day at a theme park? Imagine one per guest, and that would equate to a lot of waste and recycling.

Consider a deposit-based recycling program. Tivoli Park in Copenhagen is a great example; their recycling program started in 1998, getting an 80% return rate. Guests pay a deposit for the cup which is repaid when the cup is returned to the machines. This simple operation saves Tivoli one million disposable cups a year which also translates to saving 10 tonnes of waste, hours of labor emptying bins, and sorting recycling every day.

There are also vending machines that reward people for recycling. Returned bottles are not contaminated by other waste which makes it perfect for recycling. They are also crushed, reducing waste volume by up to 90 per cent. More bottles can be stored and therefore less transportation needed to get them to recycling facilities.

Returning the deposit money at the end of the day is a way to be rewarded instantly for your actions – a win for the guests and the environment.

Maps v Apps

  1. Going Paperless

If every guest picks up a map as they enter the park, imagine how many tons of paper that equates to in a year.

Most guests navigating a park also carry a smart phone. Parks should offer interactive apps; to help guests monitor wait times, see restaurant menus, plan their shows, find the best route, and essentially make the day easier to navigate and enjoy.

Having a map on your smart phone certainly beats carrying around a clumsy map; one less thing to carry. Reduced need for paper maps saves tons of energy and paper in printing of maps that go into the trash at the end of the day.

  1. Views from Above

Many rides in a themed environment take guest up high overlooking the park; they may be tower rides, coasters, ferris wheels and many others. Think of the anticipation of beautiful views when you get to the top. The last thing you want to see are unsightly roof tops.

Green roofs are adapted by cities across the globe but could be just as common for theme parks. For the guests looking down, adding a green roof to any building can significantly add to its aesthetic appeal. Green roofs lower energy costs and greenhouse emissions, absorb and slow stormwater run-off, and offer so many other environmental benefits. It makes a strong statement about a park’s contribution to sustainability.

Designing with best practice for the environment while delivering a great guest experience simply makes good business sense.