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Disney’s Visible Sustainability Actions & 5 Lessons for Smaller Businesses

April 23, 2019



“Conservation isn’t just the business of a few people.

It’s a matter that concerns all of us.” – Walt Disney


Last week for spring break, we went to Disney World in Orlando with the girls and my parents. My four year old was excited to see the princesses, and I was curious to see what sustainability and ‘green’ practices Disney had put in place.  Truthfully, I was skeptical that we would see much, since Disney, while it is an amazing company in many ways, is so successful at promoting consumerism, which is the direct opposite of environmental sustainability.


I knew Disney had taken some steps around ‘going green’ but I purposely didn’t read up on these prior to the trip, because I wanted to see how much was easily visible. I put myself in the shoes of a regular park goer, and didn’t look out for sustainability or green actions, signs, etc…


Here are the top five things that jumped out at me during our three days at the parks:


1. Paper Straws


Our first day was spent at Epcot, and one of the first things I noticed was that my frozen coffee, served in a paper cup, had a paper straw in it. Score one for sustainability! On the following days, as we visited Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom, as well as one of Disney’s resorts, the Contemporary, the theme was the same. Plastic straws had been replaced with paper straws – made in the United States no less!




In doing some research when I came back home, I saw that Disney has committed to eliminating plastic straws at all of their owned and operated locations across the globe by mid-2019, “amounting to a reduction of more than 175 million straws and 13 million stirrers annually.” Looks like they were well on their way in Orlando.


2. Education on Honeybees


I was excited to see that Epcot had a small garden, created in partnership with the National Honey Board, that provided education and signage on the importance of honey bees and described how honey was made. In the adjoining ‘Bee-stro’, they offered food. Although this looks like this is a temporary display that is part of the annual Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival, I hope that they will expand their education efforts and keep this as a permanent mini garden. 


3. Adequate Recycling Bins


The third thing that was readily visible at all three parks were the recycling bins. Yes, recycling right now should happen everywhere, but it is not a given in many places, and especially given the current situation with the global recycling markets, it is not a foregone conclusion. At Disney, there were recycling bins next to the majority of waste bins. The recycling bins had a circular cutout, which is a best practice for helping people to identify that this is a recycling bin for cans and thereby increasing the recycling rate. This also helps with reducing contamination, which is one of the requirements that China, the world’s largest importer of plastics and recyclables, has set.




4. Solar Arrays


When looking out the window on one of the monorail rides between Epcot and Magic Kingdom, I noticed a solar farm. It was late in the day and we went by it quickly so I couldn’t quite make out how large it was. After looking at some satellite pics, looks like it is the smaller one that is close to 22 acre Mickey Mouse shaped solar array, based on satellite pics.




The good news is that Disney has built a much larger, 270 acre, solar farm that just came online this past December and powers the equivalent of two of their parks. This is part of Disney’s effort to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2020 from a 2012 baseline.


5. Easy Access to Drinking Fountains


If you brought your own water bottles, like we did, there were water fountains throughout the park where you could easily refill them. While filtered water would be preferable to Florida tap water, it was still fine for the short time that we were in the parks.


There are, of course, many other steps that Disney can take – such as replacing the single use plastic utensils with biodegradable alternatives, getting rid of plastic water bottles, and offering merchandise made of reused, recycled and repurposed materials.  On the food waste front, they have an anaerobic digester that turns food waste into energy, which is another great step in the right direction.


As always, there is a lot of work to do, especially with such a large organization. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised that they are doing more than I thought.


If you are a small or medium size business and reading this, you may be thinking ‘this is great, but we don’t have the resources that Disney has.” And you are right, but the good news is that you don’t need to. In a previous blog, I discussed how smaller business are ideally suited for sustainability, and here, I wanted to speak specifically to how small businesses could implement some of the actions that Disney has taken without breaking the bank:


1. Reduce Plastics Use


This can range from utensils and bottled water to plastic bags, packaging and other items that may apply specifically to your business. Look into eco-friendly alternatives (as I shared in a prior procurement blog post), and if they truly are too expensive for your organization at this time, look into partnering with another organization to increase the volume purchased, which typically brings down the cost.  


2. Educate Your Customers


Educate your customers about the actions they could be taking, their impact, and if applicable, any steps that your business is taking to be eco-friendly.  You can do this in the form of fun tips or ‘did you know?’s, or pictures with captions under them.  


3. Ensure that You are Recycling Properly


 Conduct a waste audit or at the very least, a visual inspection of your recyclcables. Is there trash mixed in with the waste? If so, you may want to implement a recycling education campaign and change the bins that you’re using (if applicable) to increase your clean recyclables rate. This is of course, assuming that you are recycling. If not, start today!


4. Purchase RECs or Install Solar


If your organization owns the building, reach out to a solar installer to see if solar makes sense from s atructural and financial point of view. Alternatively, if you don’t own the building or solar doesn’t make sense, you may want to look into purchasing renewable energy certificates (RECs).


5. Make Green Actions Easy


Making the eco-friendly option the easier option goes a long way to changing people’s behavior – both within your organization and externally. Some examples include: making sure that there is a recycling bin next to every trash bin, and that it is clearly marked; having a water cooler and biodegradable cups next to it instead of bottled water; offering reusable bags for purchase at a nominal cost and charging for plastic bags used.


The examples I provided above apply across a large majority of businesses There may be other ideas that you have that are specific to your industry and/or organization – if so, do those first! Get creative and have fun with it!


If you're considering implementing sustainability at your organization, be sure to download our free sustainability checklist that can help you determine what you are already doing and some additional actions you can take. 

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