How Green is a Disney Vacation?

Woman and Pluto

Alicia and Pluto

As someone trying to live a green life, you probably don’t want to give up your values completely when you go on vacation.”Eco-travel” is a growing niche market. For example, the Sierra Club has eco-travel options and our friends went to an eco-tourist location in Nicaragua where they used composting toilets and fans instead of air conditioning in Central America. However, some people just want to go on vacation and forget about everything. I would love to go on vacation where I focus on having fun with my family and not thinking constantly about the state of the world, our health, non-renewable resources and climate change. However, I don’t want to feel guilty about all the carbon being produced by my vacation either.

The ideal for me would be to go somewhere where they provide recycling for everything that can be recycled, the lighting is LED or CFL, healthy food is readily available if I want it, and there is air conditioning, but it is not over-used.  I’d like to know that the company is doing a good job at conserving resources, without it being a focus of my vacation.

Surprise, Surprise,  the Disney theme parks around the world fit this description!  Disney doesn’t make a huge deal about their green practices to their guests,  they are not trying to be a role model to the people vacationing at their parks, but behind the scenes, they are doing the “right thing“.  Back in the late 1990’s I went to the Disney Institute to learn about customer service and I had the opportunity to learn a lot about their behind the scenes practices.

Child on bed with arranged stuffed animals

Our son was thrilled to come back to our room and find
his stuffed animals artfully and thoughtfully arranged on his bed.

One thing I learned is that they were one of the first, if not the first hotel, to offer the guests of not having their sheets changed and towels replaced every day.   At first their housekeepers were upset, because they thought that they would increase their workload and cut their jobs,  but they did not.  By offering the guests the option to not have their sheets and towels replaced, they freed the housekeepers up to spend more time on each guest room. This is where the Disney hotel tradition of turning towels and washcloths into little animals and leaving them on the beds came from.  The Housekeepers had more time, so they started leaving little special touches in the rooms. Disney did see savings from it, at Disney World they have their own laundry facilities on site and by reducing the number towels and sheets coming in, they cut back dramatically on the water and energy used to wash the linens. Fewer washes also makes the linens last longer, saving even more.

I’ve been looking for more information on their “green” practices ever since we started Green Lifestyle Changes.  This information is hard to find!   I’d love it if they would give a Behind the Green Scenes Tour at the parks (Disney offers several behind the scenes tours that you can pay extra to go on.  Jon and I have been on several and we highly recommend them!).   While I don’t want to be inundated with things like composting toilets and educational signs every time I turn around, it would be nice to get a tour of some of their green practices.

So what else are they doing?  They refer to their green practices as part of their Citizenship Targets.  In 2010 they published a set of citizenship commitments and goals.  I was able to find their 2012 report on the status of their work towards these goals.   It is a 30 page report with background, explanation and measures of progress.

Some of their targets help me feel good about what I’m doing when I visit the parks.  The quotes below are from the document Disney Citizenship Targets 2012.

Green House Gasses

By 2012, achieve 50% of our long-term goal of zero net direct greenhouse gas emissions through a combination of reductions, efficiencies and offsets
This goal applies to existing assets, such as theme parks, office facilities and cruise ships, as well as to assets that are added in the future. An interim milestone target of 50% mitigation by year 2012 has been set.

This is very ambitious, even more ambitious than one might realize, because they have a cruise ship fleet, and cruise ships emit high levels of greenhouse gases.  They were making annual improvements in reducing their direct green house gas emissions until they brought a new cruise ship on in 2011, the Disney Dream.  In order to compensate for green house gas emissions that they cannot eliminate, such as the cruise ships, they have been investing in carbon offset programs such as reforestation around the world.


By 2013, reduce electricity consumption of existing assets by 10% compared to 2006 baseline in existing assets

Our Family in the Magic Kingdom

To manage this they have been doing energy efficiency programs such as you might expect: lighting replacements, HVAC upgrades, energy management system implementations.

Pursue renewable sources of electricity to reduce emissions from electricity
Interestingly, they have broken out using renewable sources of electricity as a separate item from electrical efficiency.  This is an important point that people don’t always think about.  Just because you get your electricity from solar panels or wind turbines doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be trying to conserve and use less electricity overall.

An exciting area to me is that they are trying to reduce their trash to landfills to zero.  While Disney has influence over their employees and manufacturing facilities, guests to their parks are not going to produce less trash just because Disney has such a goal.

By 2013, decrease Parks and Resorts’ annual solid waste to landfill to 50% of 2006 baseline level

While I think guests aren’t going to change their behaviors, Disney indicates that they are on target to meet their goal and that by 2011 they had reduced trash to landfills by 49.3%,  primarily through increases in recycling programs at every park.  This is an area I’d love to learn more about.  As one of my favorite Disney podcasters, Lou Mongello, says: “I think this calls for a research trip!”

Water conservation needs and best practices vary greatly by geographic area.  For example, where we live in Massachusetts, there is an abundance of water and it is common for people to use rain barrels to collect water to use on gardens.  Flooding is more of an issue for municipalities than conservation.   In Colorado, lack of water is an issue.  It is illegal to use rain barrels for the collection of water,  water may be channeled into direct irrigation, but cannot be captured and stored for personal use.

As such, Disney’s goal around water conservation is that each of their major locations will use local staff and local information to develop relevant water conservation plans for the locale.  I approve of this approach and look forward to learning more about their progress in coming years.

There are other areas that Disney is working on improving their citizenship, such as ethical sourcing, reducing the lifecycle costs of their products, promoting healthy eating and caring for the environment.  I’m hoping to write more about what they are doing in these areas in future blog posts.

For now,  I think I’m going to see about arranging my next family trip to Disney World!

Happy Greening,


  1. Great article and thank you for the mention, Alicia and Jonathan!

  2. Disney has always been on top of their conservation efforts. They do a great job, just another reason to love Disney!

  3. I didn’t realize all things they did to conserve!

  4. My parents are planning a Disney World trip this Christmas, so I’ll have to bookmark this! Thanks for the tips!

  5. As I’m going to have my own Disney holiday in May, I really like the sound of this. Good for us, good for the environment and win-win for Disney!

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