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First Steps for Sustainable Waterparks

Spending a day at the local waterpark has become a popular pastime for families across the globe. From Pakistan to Poland and Uruguay to the United States, millions of people enjoy cooling off in wave pools and slipping down water slides when the weather heats up. Last week I went to a waterpark with my family and was surprised to see no visible signs of energy efficiency or water conservation. It made me realize that not all sectors of the economy are embracing the current sustainability trend but reminded me that even an industry seemingly at odds with environmentalism can begin moving toward a greener future.

Water has refreshed and sustained humans since the dawn of time but today’s large-scale waterparks are a 20th century invention. There are currently about 1000 waterparks and pools with water features in the US and approximately 600 more waterparks around the world. The iconic Wet’nWild park in Orlando, FL opened in 1977 and is considered to have started the trend of large, multi-feature parks.

Most US waterparks are members of the World Waterpark Association (WWA). The WWA is the leading organization within the waterpark industry, but they are not the leading the way toward sustainability.  Their website offers potential members a variety of benefits, including learning how to keep staff motivated and trained, and finding out how to influence legislation that regulates the industry. Protecting the environment and reducing the use of natural resources are not mentioned at all. In a country that has seen almost every item and service imaginable “go green” over the past five years, the WWA’s claim of helping members “understand and stay ahead of the trends that impact the recreation industry and your business” falls short by their failure to include guidelines on how to incorporate today’s sustainable business theories into practice. Conservation efforts are now expected by many consumers and the sooner a company develops and implements its green programs, the sooner they can share their efforts with the public. From this perspective, the WWA is not providing leadership to its members.

Of the many ways waterparks can incorporate sustainability into their operations, reducing their resource consumption is often the simplest place to begin. In a talk I saw last year, CEYo of Stonyfield Farm Gary Hirshberg spoke about the “first bank of conservation.” Implementing resource reduction programs is the initial step most companies take on their path to sustainability. These initiatives save energy and raw materials while banking money that has historically been wasted through inefficient operating procedures and lack of employee education. This is a classic win-win scenario that organizations in all industries can roll out. Waterparks are no different and some are taking the lead in an industry that seems to have its head under water when it comes to the benefits of going green.

In China many businesses have embraced sustainability and at least one waterpark is no exception. In East Huzhou City, MCM Group International is designing a new waterpark for children.  Their founder and CEO, Michael C. Mitchell, wants the park to respect the natural environment and be an example of sustainable design. To achieve these goals, the park will utilize a variety of tools to clean its water, including a non-invasive micron filtration system along with ozone and carbon technologies. This method will leave the water clean and free of chemicals, particularly chlorine which has been linked to numerous negative health effects.

Closer to home, the Chaos Water Park in Eau Claire, WI, is using sphagnum moss to keep its water clean. This allows them to apply 90% fewer pool chemicals. It also means that instead of needing to flush their park with one and a half million gallons of water throughout the year, they can now get by with just 150,000 gallons. In addition to this savings, much of the water that previously left the facility as waste water is now being cleaned with moss filtration devices they purchase from Creative Water Solutions. This permits Chaos to recycle their water back into the park, saving them an additional 375,000 gallons of water every three months. Chaos Water Park is a fantastic example of an industry leader that could be sharing their resource and cost saving strategy with waterparks around the globe.

All waterparks could play a local leadership role by working to develop regional legislation that adopts an increasingly common trend among water treatment systems. Despite their stomach turning moniker, “toilet to tap” methods could provide clean water to waterparks and lead our nation into a new paradigm of municipal water reclamation that reuses household waste water. Although San Diego residents refused to support the development of this water recovery system, Washington D.C. has been turning household waste water into potable water since the late 1970’s and Singapore is increasingly using treated waste water for residential use.

Each and every industry must incorporate sustainability in order to protect the natural world, its people, and their cultures. Businesses must also ensure they remain relevant to their consumers or risk going the way of Borders, who failed to embrace ebooks and went bankrupt earlier this year partly because of their hesitancy to work with this new technology. In a recent study entitled Consumer 2020: Reading the Signs, Deloitte predicts companies need to play an even more aggressive role in moving sustainability across our country. One of report’s conclusions is that “consumer businesses have a crucial and central role in pro-actively influencing consumers to lead more sustainable lifestyles and choose sustainable products and services…”

A natural starting point for waterparks and other industries that have only just begun to work with sustainability is implementing conservation efforts. This is low hanging fruit that all companies should pick because it saves natural resources, reduces their operating costs, and allows them to start fulfilling the leadership role they must embrace.

Matt Courtland of The Natural Strategy educates people on sustainable business practices while reconnecting them to the energy and inspiration found in nature.

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