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Go Green to Save Green - May 2017

Water parks can be environmentally responsible through sustainable practices and technology—— and cut costs at the same time

by James Careless

Do not be fooled. It is possible for water parks to implement environmentally responsible sustainable practices and technology as a part of their operations, and cut operating costs at the same time. Sustainable technology and cost-cutting pursue the common goal of using less energy and less water at recreational facilities. Being “green” can go hand-in-hand with saving green. 

Here is how to do it at your own property.

Start with the ‘Low-Hanging Fruit’
The easiest, least expensive, and quickest way to save money through water park sustainable practices is to go for the “low-hanging fruit,” says Chris Swartz, water park manager at Wild Wadi Waterpark in Dubai. The idea includes simple things targeting both guests and staff, “such as reminders to turn off lights, incorporating lower-flow toilets, and adjusting air conditioners (to run a bit hotter to save power),” he says. Utilizing energy-saving hand dryers in washrooms, using trees, roofs, and canvases for more shading over outside areas, along with similar initiatives that reduce the amount of power and water used, are further easy-to-implement options that save the environment while cutting water park operational costs.

Three Letters to Know: VFD

In the water park industry, VFD stands for “variable-frequency drive.” Simply put, any electric motor equipped with a VFD—be it a pump, a ceiling fan, or a moving sidewalk—spins up power to its motor to regular operating speed when in use, and then drops the power to a low-voltage standby level until needed again.

VFD motors are a great money-saver for water parks because they only operate when needed. When a motor is not on, it is not using power or moving water. Less water in motion means a decreased need for filtration, saving money on power, infrastructure, and water treatment chemicals. Water parks that switch to VFD motors can also save on heating, ventilation, and air conditioning in the water treatment plant, because less filtration means less motor usage. As a result, heat dissipates in this space.

Soaring Eagle Waterpark and Hotel in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, has deployed VFD motors throughout its indoor water park. “These motors perform as well as continuously running motors when we need them, but save us power, water, and wear and tear on our equipment when we don’t,” says Chris Seyler, Soaring Eagle’s water park manager. “We save money and we help the environment. What’s not to like?”

Three More Letters You Already Know: LED

With their ability to deliver the same light levels and color temperatures as incandescent bulbs at a fraction of the wattage, LED (light-emitting diode) light bulbs are spreading around the world.

“Water parks who still have incandescent or other older, less-efficient lighting sources in use need to capture those savings by switching to LEDs now, especially as the per-bulb costs have dropped dramatically in recent years,” says Jeffrey Nodorft, principal and studio director at the aquatics consulting firm Counsilman-Hunsaker in St. Louis, Missouri. “The savings you will see in electricity usage will be immediate. You’ll also save money on air conditioning due to the fact that LEDs emit no heat when they’re on. Add the fact that LEDs last for many years, and you’ll be spending less on staff having to replace these fixtures.”

Wild Wadi’s Swartz describes moving to LED lighting as one of the “larger-scale modifications” made to his water park to save energy and human resource usage. The switchover has paid off so handsomely that using LEDs as Wild Wadi’s preferred lighting source is now “part of our planning process,” he says.

Do Not Run Everything at Once
As a 240-room resort property catering to visiting guests, Soaring Eagle Waterpark and Hotel sees attendance at its indoor water park fluctuate based on the time of year and time of day. This is why the property uses VFD motors (as noted above), and does not keep all of its attractions open at the same time.

“We chose which and how many water park attractions are open based on our occupancy rate,” says Seyler. “We stagger what is open and closed during the day, as well, to let guests use them all if they stay in the park long enough. But we don’t operate all the attractions at once. That just doesn’t make sense from an energy, water usage, and staffing perspective.”

To further save money, Soaring Eagle equipped its hotel rooms with motion detectors. “When people come into a room, the lights and TV are powered on, and the temperature rises to a comfortable level,” Seyler says. “But once they go to sleep or leave, the lack of motion tells the monitoring system to cut the power and lower the temperature—saving us money without making our guests uncomfortable.”

Implement These Ideas Together to Save Energy
Implementing the ideas above in isolation can save a water park significant money. However, it is more effective—and less expensive per option—to do an overall “energy audit,” so a water park can first identify all of the areas that can benefit from green retrofits. After identifying these areas, implement changes collectively in a large-scale project. The actual implementation can then be scheduled on a per-item basis (e.g., replacing all existing lighting with LED bulbs) to minimize disruption of the water park’s day-to-day operations.

At Wild Wadi, “we have implemented multiple projects to make the park more sustainable,” says Swartz. “We added variable-frequency drives to regulate water flow on our slides versus relying only on valves. Instead of spraying water onto our walkways to keep them cooler during the hotter months, we installed a specialized coating that dissipates heat and keeps them cooler without the water. (And) we installed additional meters for both water and electricity to more discretely track our consumption.”

Doing all of this sustainable retrofitting “has worked very well for us,” he notes. “Not only have we enjoyed the internal satisfaction of knowing we are working to be part of the solution, we are seeing savings in key areas such as the park’s utility bills.”

Success Pays Off in Many Ways
Beyond just saving money, adopting sustainable practices and technology can win positive media attention and widespread promotion for a water park.

For instance, Wild Wadi’s substantial sustainable efforts made it the first water park in the world to win Green Globe certification. This is a sustainable tourism designation reserved for companies and organizations that make positive environmental contributions to people and the planet.

Swartz credits Wild Wadi’s success to setting up a team focused on sustainability, and then setting a tangible goal to define and guide its efforts. “In our case, we appointed a champion for this initially, and she kept us focussed on our goal, which was achieving Green Globe certification,” he said. “And we are proud to say we reached that goal.”

In pushing hard for sustainable results, Wild Wadi received global plaudits and praise for its efforts. The payoff is a degree of high-profile attention that can only help drive more tourists to the park, because going green does not just save green—it also earns green as attendance goes up.

An Appetite for Sustainability

Attractions go high-tech to avoid food waste

Sustainability is more than saving energy—it involves avoiding wasteful practices that can also cost in the long run. In 2015, Canada’s Wonderland stopped tossing food in the trash. Instead, the park adopted a high-tech solution that turns kitchen scraps and spoiled and uneaten foods into a liquid that swirls down the drain.

The stainless steel machine, called the ORCA, uses a microorganism solution that mixes with water and plastic chips to break down the food through a process known as aerobic digestion. Between June and October 2016, the park diverted 22.5 tons of food waste from the landfill, reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 21.5 tons and saved more than 66 liters of diesel fuel.

“The folks at Canada’s Wonderland were looking to divert their food waste and eliminate the mess of having garbage bins carted off to a waste holding area and then sitting around in the heat waiting for a collection truck to [haul them off],” explains Louis Anagnostakos, president and CEO of Totally Green, maker of the ORCA.

There are many choices for attractions that want to take a high tech approach to reducing food waste. The options range from aerobic and anaerobic digesters and organic waste recycling to converting cooking oil into biodiesel to fuel rides and vehicles.

Minimizing mess and odor is just one of the reasons a growing number of attractions are looking for opportunities to reduce food waste. Awareness of the problem is growing: Almost one-third of the food produced—more than 253 pounds per person—is wasted.

Lake Compounce signed on with Quantum Biopower in the fall of 2016 to turn its food waste into renewable power. Food waste from the Bristol, Connecticut, amusement park is transported offsite where anaerobic digesters break down organic matter to create bio-gas.

“We used to throw our food waste in the trash,” says Justin Sheehan, director of revenue for Lake Compounce. “We thought this was a better way to use that waste for something positive.”

At Oregon Zoo, technology helps prevent food waste. The zoo started using the LeanPath 360 Food Waste Prevention System in 2015 to measure, track, and analyze food waste through the technology platform. Identifying the source of the waste is essential for reducing it.

Thanks to high-tech approaches to reducing food waste, it’s possible, according to Anagnostakos, to “significantly reduce carbon footprint of a facility.”

Concerns for the environmental impact are not the only reason parks are addressing food waste. Food waste is an expensive problem: Globally, the cost adds up to more than $990 billion. The goal of technology is to improve the bottom line. 

The ORCA, for example, costs less than traditional landfill and composting services, reduces pest issues (and associated costs), and saves staff time because it eliminates the need to haul food waste around the park. Depending on the size of the unit, the ORCA can process between 25 and 100 pounds of food waste per hour.

Lake Compounce has also experienced savings from its high-tech approach to food waste. “We used to pay per pound to dispose of food waste at the landfill,” explains Sheehan. “Quantum [Biopower] picks up our food waste for free so there is a positive impact on the bottom line, and we’re able to meet our goal of being more eco-friendly.”

— Jodi Helmer