Sometimes, the best way to solve a problem is to open it up. So when the teams at Universal Parks & Resorts began to evaluate ways to enhance their sustainability programs, they started by opening up their trash compactors and peeking inside.
“We found that what we were throwing away was primarily food. So, we worked side by side with our chefs and our vendors to analyze the problem and find ways to put food waste to better use,” says Brian Colley, Vice President of Resort Services at Universal Orlando Resort. “A lot of thinking went into our approach before we rolled it out. We wanted to make sure what we did was the right thing — for the environment, for our team members, and for our business.”
The first step was educating team members and making sure that sustainability became embedded in the culture. Initial education led to further training and formal food-waste programs. These programs have evolved, and today, food waste is now converted to energy. Universal Orlando Resort collects food waste from more than 30 restaurants and sends it to an anaerobic digestion facility. At the facility, organic material is broken down through a biological process that produces a biogas used to generate energy.
Universal Studios Hollywood also began to look for ways to make better use of its food waste and expand its recycling and reuse programs. Today, 100% of the restaurant and retail venues at Universal Studios Hollywood CityWalk actively participate in recycling and composting programs. Teams across Universal Studios Hollywood are working to design, implement, and manage new recycling programs that will divert more waste from landfills.
“Waste diversion was a major initiative for us on the West Coast, so we evaluated environmentally friendly, efficient means to divert waste from landfills,” says Boris Tuch, Senior Director of Compliance and Administration for Universal Studios Hollywood. “Now, everything from team member uniforms to food waste is put through our recycling and composting program. Our internal chipping program is used throughout the property, and the nutrient-rich mulch is repurposed for ecological use for farmers in Central California. We are incredibly proud of our sustainability efforts this year.”
But while efforts like these showcase sustainable practices in action, they’re part of something much bigger. We’re creating a greener experience across our Universal parks in Orlando and Hollywood with a unified strategy. Reducing waste is just one part of a three-pronged approach:
Slashing Our Trash
Through our waste-reduction efforts each year in Orlando and Hollywood, we recover more than 10,000 tons of materials, including metal, glass, plastic, paper, pallets, and textiles. Additionally, our entertainment divisions at both destinations save and repurpose items from seasonal events, such as Halloween Horror Nights™ and Grinchmas™.
Powering Up Efficiently
It takes a lot of energy to light up our parks, and we’re committed to doing it right. Universal Parks & Resorts has increased the number of LED lighting fixtures throughout operations in the United States, saving nearly 6 million kilowatt hours (kWh) each year. At Universal Hollywood CityWalk, nearly 60% of all lighting fixtures are now LED.
Our heating and cooling are getting smarter as well. Universal Orlando Resort’s building cooling system now uses Central Plant Optimization (CPO). CPO allows the chilled water plants to operate at their most efficient level and automatically make real-time adjustments, which contribute to energy savings that average 30% for chilled water production for the resort. At one of our restaurants at Universal Orlando Resort, we’ve implemented Thermal Solar, which uses the sun to preheat water. Thermal Solar is reducing the use of natural gas to heat water by 35%.
We’re building energy efficiency into our new buildings and attractions. In fact, NBCUniversal and the Universal City property, including Universal Studios Hollywood, were recognized with a 2017 Cool Planet Award from The Climate Registry and Southern California Edison for collaborating with a local utility to create and incorporate energy-efficient designs. This collaborative effort resulted in design enhancements that save an estimated 2 million kWh per year.
Making Every Drop Count
We know water is precious. We work to conserve it, while keeping our parks beautiful. Across Universal Parks & Resorts, we use recycled water for landscape irrigation whenever possible. Irrigation control systems with specialized sensors help us monitor weather data and ground moisture in real time to adjust watering as needed.
At the Universal Orlando Resort, we also use recycled water in the chilled water plants’ cooling towers. Universal Studios Hollywood has installed waterless urinals and is piloting a program to capture and filter urban runoff for reuse in irrigation at Universal City. Combined, these practices are helping us save more than 300 million gallons of potable water every year.
It doesn’t take much searching to find the reason behind our teams’ commitment to sustainability in and across our theme parks and resorts.
“It’s simple,” says Colley. “We have a responsibility to do the right thing — it’s one of our core values.”
As we look ahead to implement new sustainability programs in our parks over the next year, we will continue to let that responsibility guide us.