While sustainable travel may not be the first thing you think of when heading to the theme-park capital of the world, Orlando takes the environment quite seriously -- understandable for an area that's impacted so heavily by the millions of tourists who visit from around the world (a number that far exceeds the number of actual area residents). As the city's largest employers, Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld (among others) actively encourage eco-friendly practices -- on their own part as well as on the part of the millions of guests who pass through their gates, eat at their restaurants, and stay at their hotels.
Disney, in addition to ensuring that its hotels are "green" certified properties, has announced that over the next several years the company will continue to decrease greenhouse emissions (though the goal is to eliminate them altogether down the road) and will decrease its electrical use by 10%. Other lofty goals include the reduction of solid waste (cut by 50% by the year 2013).
Universal is doing its part as well. All three of its on-site hotels have been "green" certified. Universal has also begun using alternative fuels in its service vehicles in an effort to reduce toxic emissions; the cooking oil used in its restaurants is recycled, as are the paper and cardboard products used throughout the resort.
At SeaWorld (and its sister parks), hydrogen fuels power shuttles, dinnerware and utensils are made from sugarcane and vegetable starch, and seafood (even for its animal inhabitants) is purchased from sustainable fisheries. SeaWorld has partnered with the Rainforest Alliance to ensure that foods purchased are farmed and harvested in ways that protects area wildlife, habitats, and people. Roughly 50% of park waste (animal, food, and construction) is recycled. Visitors (and residents) are encouraged to recycle while exploring the theme parks thanks to the addition of special bins for the disposal of cans and bottles, with others for actual trash.
Using public transportation (most notably Disney's vast array of buses, monorails, and water taxis; Universal's water taxis and buses; International Dr.'s I-Ride Trolley system, and so forth) contributes to getting more cars off the street, making for cleaner air. In Orlando, it's even possible to hire a pedicab; the Redi Pedi Pedicab (tel. 407/403-5511) and 5 Star Pedicab (tel. 407/566-7527) are the two largest companies serving the Orlando area.
In addition, several hotels, among them the entire collection of official Walt Disney World resorts and all of the Universal Orlando resorts, have signed on to the Florida Green Lodge program, which requires hotels to become more energy efficient in all areas of operation, from conserving water to reducing unsorted waste. Hotels that meet the standard are awarded one-, two-, or three-palm certification.
Quite a number of Orlando hotels have received "green" certification by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and are designated as Green Lodge hotels. In order to be considered for the certification, hotels must adhere to a set list of requirements, including conservation of water through the use of low-flow plumbing fixtures, a linen reuse program, and the use of energy-efficient and programmable thermostats. Waste-reduction criteria must also be met. In addition, all Green Lodges must use green cleaning supplies and high-efficiency air filters.
Green Lodge resorts can (and do) range from mom-and-pop motels to five-star luxury resorts in Orlando. For more on the program and a complete list of the hotels in and around Orlando that are green (there are several, including all official WDW resorts and all official Universal resorts), go to www.dep.state.fl.us/greenlodging.
General Ecotourism Resources
Sustainable tourism is defined as conscientious travel -- in other words, being careful with the environments you explore and respecting the communities you visit. Two overlapping components of sustainable travel are ecotourism and ethical tourism. The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecotourism as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people. TIES suggests that ecotourists follow these principles:
- Minimize environmental impact.
- Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
- Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
- Provide direct financial benefits for conservation and for local people.
- Raise sensitivity to host countries' political, environmental, and social climates.
- Support international human rights and labor agreements.
You can find some eco-friendly travel tips and statistics, as well as touring companies and associations -- listed by destination under "Your Travel Choice" -- at the TIES website, www.ecotourism.org. Also check out Ecotravel.com, which lets you search for sustainable touring companies in several categories (water based, land based, spiritually oriented, and so on).
Responsible Travel (www.responsibletravel.com) is a great source of sustainable travel ideas; the site is run by a spokesperson for ethical tourism in the travel industry. Sustainable Travel International (www.sustainabletravelinternational.org) promotes ethical tourism practices and manages a directory of sustainable properties and tour operators around the world.
Carbonfund (www.carbonfund.org), TerraPass (www.terrapass.org), and Carbon Neutral (www.carbonneutral.org) provide information on carbon offsetting, or offsetting the greenhouse gases emitted during flights.
While much of the focus of ecotourism is about reducing impacts on the natural environment, ethical tourism concentrates on ways to preserve and enhance local economies and communities, regardless of location. You can embrace ethical tourism by staying at a locally owned hotel or shopping at a store that employs local workers and sells locally produced goods.
Some conservationists say that SeaWorld’s animals endure misery in captivity. Other conservationists laud SeaWorld for being an advocate for marine life. And therein lies the essential tug-of-war over this profit-generating amusement park. SeaWorld is hostile to accusations of mistreatment and exploitation—in 2013, the low-budget documentary “Blackfish” asserted that the 2010 death of its senior trainer Dawn Brancheau, which was witnessed by an audience at Shamu Stadium, was the result of inadequate care. (For its part, the Brancheau family distanced itself from the documentary, saying in a statement: “Dawn would not have remained a trainer at SeaWorld for 15 years if she felt that the whales were not well cared for.”) As an anti-SeaWorld social media campaign grew, concert acts began cancelling appearances in the park, and revenue slumped, SeaWorld sharply rebutted some of the film’s points, objecting to its lack of balanced reporting and complaining that the editing make it look as if the park stocks its park with animals collected from the wild, something it hasn’t done for decades. Excepting a few aged animals that were born in the seas and rehabilitated from accidents in the wild, SeaWorld insists, most of its animals were born in captivity and raised by hand and so they would not know how to survive in the wild. The park says it has rescued some 22,000 animals to date, and points to its other conservation efforts, but “Blackfish” also alleges that the tanks at SeaWorld could never be large enough to contain marine mammals biologically programmed to roam wide territory—a charge that’s harder to deny.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.