By Barbara Kessler

ORLANDO — From the moment we clicked through the turnstiles at Walt Disney World, we morphed into rabid snowgreen.jpgconsumers, sopping up junk food like starving pirates and flitting from the rain forest to Neverland to the Haunted Mansion like Peter Pan on Red Bull. We rode every boat, hopped into every ride queue, peered into every shop, fawned over every fairy book character we entrapped and stubbornly elbowed into a show we didn’t even want to see (It’s A Bug’s Life) simply because our guidebook had warned against it. This was our vacation, darn it, no travel writer was going to gum it up. None of the magic would escape our grubby grasp, we vowed, chortling HA! HA! HA! like the Wicked Queen.

Disney does this to you. It’s about seizing the moment – or the souvenir – and wringing it for all it’s worth. And that’s OK. It’s the Magic Kingdom! You are supposed to drink the potion.

But amidst all this wanton experiencing and consuming, we did pause to wonder whether and how Mickey might be keeping up with the times. Was he turning green – aside from literally being rendered as a green topiary at one entrance – and offsetting all this consumption with some conservation? We were pleasantly surprised to find that yes, the enduring Mouse is on it. Several examples of eco-friendliness made appearances, from acts aimed at mitigating waste to thoughtful exhibits that provided environmental teaching moments. Some of what Disney’s up to green-wise is featured on its Environmentality website. Here’s what we noticed:

Bamboo — Dbamboodisney.JPGisney World’s Animal Kingdom, the newest park at the complex, benefits in several spots from cooling walls of bamboo that block the sun and shade the walkways. On our hottest day at the park, the temperature reached 80 or so, but it felt 10 degrees cooler in the shade of the massive beds of clumping bamboo. These tall woody grasses towered over the lines to the popular safari ride, which helped keep patrons and temperaments chilled out. Disney’s intent was to create an authentic African experience, according to a spokeswoman. They ended up with a demonstration arbor scape featuring renewable plants that grow easily in the Southern United States.

The Kilimanjaro Safari Ride and the Disney conservation program — Did you know that the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund begun on Earth Day 1995 has given out more than $11 million in grants to groups working on wildlife and plant conservation around the world? The program is part of the larger vision that produced the Animal Kingdom, which opened 10 years ago and contains a mock African village as well as 12,000 acres where giraffe, elephants, rhinos, crocodiles, red-cockaded woodpeckers and many other birds, reptiles and small mammals reside.

Here Disney showcases imperiled wildlife and runs its own research and conservation rhinosdisney.JPGprograms helping some 17 threatened and endangered species. While on the safari ride, we got a fun jostling aboard a jeep and also a close up look at the White Rhinos that have been breeding here in captivity and whose progeny have been reintroduced into the wild. The Disney program, accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, also boasts three successful births of African Elephants, another species in trouble in the wild. The conservation program gives back to the world and reminds park goers about the need to protect wildlife, something Walt himself promoted.

Disney intends that the bumpy safari ride with its story-telling jeep drivers will put fun first, over information. But if some info creeps in, well, it’s all good. “It’s like stealth education,” says Disney spokeswoman Andrea Finger. “We’re a theme park and the purpose is to entertain. But there’s also that (educational) aspect of it; here’s a good stage to share these messages.”

The Land Pavilion – A veteran member of the Epcot constellation that started in the 1970s and was redone in the early 1990s, this complex of rides, food courts and exhibits is headlined by the top drawer attraction Soarin’ that lets you mock hang-glide over oceans, mountains and orange groves. Soarin’ is an ode to the land with thrills. No social studies book could compete and it’s even better than IMAX because you’re flying, sort of. More sedatethelandtomato.JPG and more in-depth (fascinating even, if you’re inclined in this direction) is the Living With The Land ride, in which a gentle boat ride takes you past an aquaculture project and several garden demonstrations showing hydroponic and pesticide-free vegetable growing techniques. The kids were amused by the freaky gigantic pumpkins hanging from suspended vines, the similarly upside-down-growing tomatoes and the soil-free hydroponic plants, so this was no boring tour of the old folk’s garden.

The Monorail – The monorail touts its green credentials while you ride it to the Magic Kingdom or between the Kingdom and Epcot. It’s such a smooth, clean ride, you can’t help but wish for more mass transit at home, or Amtrak routes that offer sensible round-trip options. (We could have gone to Disney World from Texas on Amtrak, but to get back, we’d have to tour half the country.)

Norsk Innovation — We had to chuckle over the green greenroofnorway.JPGroof we saw on on a replica of a 1,000 year old Norwegian Church in the world area of Epcot. This forgotten “technology” has taken many cities by storm recently, as planners have discovered it can cool those overheated 21st Century urban centers. In this case, what’s really, really old, is new again.

The Recycle Bins – Happily, you can be a good Mouseketeer and recycle plastic bottles while at Disney. Most trash bins we noticed came in pairs, with one side for waste and the other for beverage can and bottle collection. (Something we wish more public parks and other venues provided.) Disney does such a great job of cleaning up after any litterers that it’s hard to gauge how much each patron is shedding in food waste and jettisoned drink containers and how much is being whisked off to be recycled vs. being dumped. In the aggregate, Disney claims to be diverting about 40 percent of its waste from landfills through recycling across all its “business units.” It also reports that it composts animal waste from the Animal Kingdom. See Disney’s waste minimization page for more info.

Apparently the Tokyo Disney Resort is the recycling leader within the Disney conglomerate, with a diversion rate over 50 percent and plans that reach down to recycle the fast passes – which did litter some busy rides at WDW in Florida faster than workers could sweep them away. Perhaps it’s time for an electronic ticketing solution?

Solar Power and Water Reclamation – Disney World was a little slow on the uptake on solar power, considering the park resides in the Sunshine State of Florida. We looked for and never saw any solar arrays during our visit. But, according to the Disney Environmentality website (hosted of course by Jiminy Cricket), the park installed a set of test solar panels in December 2007 to help power buildings at The Walt Disney Studios. The pilot project will help WDW assess whether it will use more solar installations. Another behind-the-scenes project, water reclamation, is much farther along. In fact, WDW has been reclaiming water for 15 years. The park uses the reclaimed water for many of its vehicle washing and landscape needs, which has helped to offset potable water demands by an estimated 25 percent. It saves money, about $2 million a year. Tink may be a figment of our imagination, but the folks running Walt’s world know a gift from a green fairy when they see one.

Copyright © 2008 | Distributed by Noofangle Media