At the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal, Canada, in December 2022, countries reached new agreements to protect the world’s ecosystems and to safeguard against a rising climate. But the message was clear: nations and industries must do more.
“I expect sustainability to be as relevant to our guests as safety is today. And we need to prepare for this,” says Jakob Wahl, president and CEO of IAAPA. Sustainability is an opportunity—not a threat—he believes. “I have seen attractions across all regions use sustainability to become more known and more profitable,” he says.
A look at the progress made by attractions worldwide highlights reasons for hope about the future. Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town, South Africa, has made huge strides since embarking on its sustainability journey in 2007.
“We strive to minimize the impact of our operations on the environment and even have a regenerative impact. We want to have a positive influence, build environmental and social resilience, and lead as an organization in which sustainability is deeply embedded. Our key focus areas are plastic pollution, overfishing, climate change, and biodiversity,” explains Helen Lockhart, conservation and sustainability manager at the aquarium.
Cutting Carbon Emissions
An annual independent sustainability audit keeps the aquarium on track. “We have maintained over 90% compliance for five years consecutively,” Lockhart says. “We work on reducing and measuring our water and energy consumption and our waste stream. We analyze our carbon footprint annually. Setting a carbon target will be the next phase.”
Two Oceans Aquarium has achieved year-on-year carbon reductions. “The 500 solar panels on our roof, for example, cover 12% of our energy usage, reducing our footprint by 190 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). By optimizing our life support systems and reducing our energy usage, we’ve lowered our footprint by another 73 tons CO2e, even though we’ve expanded our facilities,” Lockhart says.
The aquarium’s energy consumption and reliance on the coal-fired national grid contribute to its carbon footprint. “We have to be continuously innovative in identifying energy-saving opportunities,” she says. “We have reduced the number of water pumps on-site, used variable speed drive pumps on our bigger systems, monitored energy demand and usage, initiated an energy management program and committee, and worked with an independent consultant to reduce our energy usage. It’s not easy, but we are up for the challenge!”
Lockhart has edited the new WAZA (World Association of Zoos and Aquariums) Carbon Guide, developed to assist other organizations looking to mitigate climate change by reducing carbon emissions. “We hope the guide will kick-start a carbon reduction journey and give people the tools they need to get started,” she says.
The Tower of London in the United Kingdom shows how sustainability can become an added attraction. To celebrate the late Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022, the castle team worked with planting designer Nigel Dunnett to premiere Superbloom, a spectacular, summerlong sea of flowers that encircled the tower. Millions of flower seeds were sown in the moat, providing a haven for pollinators. For the first time, visitors could walk through the 13th-century moat to see a thriving wildlife habitat.
“We added a temporary ramp, allowing visitors to see more of the moat, and recycled a slide to create a fun entry to the experience,” says Rhiannon Goddard, head of public engagement projects at Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), the charity that cares for the Tower of London.
Superbloom heralded the permanent transformation of the moat into a new biodiverse landscape in London. “We tried to be as sustainable as possible in its creation, using vehicles that ran on biofuel in its construction and recycled matter in our engineered soils,” Goddard says.
HRP recruited 700 volunteers to help welcome visitors and assist with insect counts. More than 1,500 schools and 100,000 children participated in the Superbloom schools project and were invited to visit.
“Superbloom also gave local people a new reason to visit, increasing the number of domestic day trip audiences to the Tower of London, a place traditionally seen as an international tourist destination,” Goddard says.
Brazilian leisure and entertainment group Beach Park Entertainment operates one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations at Porto das Dunas beach in Aquiraz, Ceará. Since 1985, Beach Park has grown to include the Aqua Park water park, four resorts, a restaurant (Restaurante de Praia), and an entertainment district with retail, food and beverage (F&B), attractions, and events, like Vila Azul do Mar. Tripadvisor rates Aqua Park as one of the world’s best water parks.
In 2023, Beach Park will sign the United Nations (UN) Global Compact, which mobilizes companies to adopt a principles-based approach to business founded on human rights, environmental responsibility, labor rights, and corruption prevention. “We believe that environmental, social, and governance (ESG) actions will gain increasing relevance in the industry—and should be aligned with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals,” says Murilo Pascoal, Beach Park’s CEO.
Beach Park champions sustainable and social practices. The attraction recently received “Carbon Neutral Company” certification from the Brazilian Greenhouse Gas Protocol Project for offsetting 141 tons of carbon equivalent (tCO2e) emitted by Aqua Park in 2021. Also, it became the first tourist park in Brazil to achieve the 2022/2023 Zero Waste Certification from the Zero Waste Institute Brazil (ILZB) for efficiently managing and correctly disposing of 95.2% of its waste.
Beach Park recycles metal, plastic, glass, green waste, paper, cardboard, electronics, and vegetable oil. Coconut leftovers go to fertilize future trees. Plastic from buoys were turned into flip-flops for lifeguards and children at Davis Lar Children’s Homes, safe havens for children who have suffered neglect, violence, and abandonment.
Pascoal believes “communication with employees is essential” to keep people motivated. Beach Park also encourages staff to volunteer, organizing beach cleanups and environmental education in schools. “Volunteering shows that sustainability is everyone’s task and that good actions benefit everyone and the environment,” he says. Beach Park, in turn, gains a reputation as “a socially and environmentally responsible company.”
Chicago’s Navy Pier is embarked on a 30-year Sustainable Master Plan, with target areas including energy, water, waste, transportation, and community. Many of Navy Pier’s sustainable design concepts are based on the Sustainable SITES Initiative guidelines.
Navy Pier has expanded green spaces, improved pedestrian access and energy efficiency, installed an innovative stormwater management system, and used recycled materials. Honeybees occupy hives on the People’s Energy Welcome Pavilion’s green roof.
Conservation, sustainability, and innovation flow through the Mandai Wildlife Group, which looks after Singapore’s Mandai Wildlife Reserve, Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, River Wonders, and Bird Paradise slated to open later this spring.
“The group is optimizing and decarbonizing our operations rapidly, in line with our commitment to combat climate change and conserve wildlife,” says vice president of sustainable solutions Rohaya Saharom.
The group recently committed to the The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) Net Zero standard to set science-based emissions reduction targets, strengthening its Environmental Sustainability Strategy (ESS). “The ESS serves as a roadmap toward net zero and comprises three strategic pillars: sustainable operations, biodiversity protection, and sustainability advocacy. These pillars underscore our commitment toward environmental sustainability—from managing the park operations and habitats to encouraging our stakeholders and the public to adopt green lifestyles,” Saharom says.
Under the ESS, the group pledges to use 100% renewable energy by 2030. The operator has already achieved a 24% drop in water consumption (from 2016 to 2021) in existing parks through infrastructure upgrades and water metering that monitors usage and detects leakages. Upcoming initiatives include two water recycling facilities using membrane technology to treat wastewater into high-quality recycled water suitable for non-potable use in the new wildlife parks. When fully operational from 2023, these facilities should support 21% of Mandai Wildlife Reserve’s water needs. In addition, the new parks accommodate rainwater harvesting tanks.
The group aims to achieve a 60% waste diversion rate from incineration by 2030. “We are studying the use of black soldier flies, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, and Malaysian blue worms to compost raw food waste from our kitchens and animal food waste generated at our wildlife parks. The invertebrates are used as animal feed, closing the food waste loop,” Saharom says.
The group plans to convert 100% of its internal fleet to electric vehicles or vehicles with low-carbon fuel by 2030. “Shifting towards an electrified fleet has reduced utility costs by 70%,” Saharom says. Electric trams are also quieter and cleaner than their diesel predecessors, enhancing the guest experience. The group’s multistory car park features electric vehicle charging points and solar panels.
Mandai Wildlife Group’s Green Procurement Policy is proving effective. “New developments and the existing parks will be certified by sustainability initiatives and frameworks,” adds Saharom.
“Sustainability is an ongoing journey, and it is important to keep the momentum going,” she says. “As a conservation organization, we have a responsibility to empower our guests, staff, and stakeholders to be sustainable. We do this by making sustainability messaging bite-sized and accessible.” For example, at restaurants and shops, food options and products that are sustainably sourced or emit fewer greenhouse gases are labeled under the tagline “Choose Sustainable.”
“Sharing sustainability success stories can also inspire others,” Saharom says. “People need to feel that their sustainable choices matter.”
Younger consumers are particularly motivated by sustainability concerns. “Conscious consumers want to know which businesses are truly sustainable and if they can trust their climate commitments,” Saharom says. “We want our guests to be assured that they have made a sustainable choice.”
The global attractions industry touches millions of guests annually, along with businesses, government agencies, partners, and suppliers. With these examples, the opportunity has arrived to harness our collective power to drive sustainable change.