{family travel} The National Park Service Plans for Sustainability

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One year after releasing a strategic plan – and a shared vision – for sustainable operations within our nation’s parks, the National Park Service is going even greener. In the year since the Green Parks Plan, released on Earth Day 2012, focused the bureau on sustainable management of national parks and key environmental issues ranging from reducing energy and water consumption to adopting greener transportation methods to lowering emissions of greenhouse gases, parks have achieved notable successes.

“The Green Parks Plan is comprehensive – it makes us look at how we can conserve energy and increase our reliance on renewable energy, improve water use efficiency, limit the waste we generate, mitigate the effects of climate change, change what we buy and how we manage facilities,” National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said. “Perhaps most importantly, it makes us think about how to integrate sustainable practices into every aspect of our operations. And over the past year we’ve done just that.”

Based on reporting over the past year, the National Park Service has:

  • Decreased emissions from on-site fossil fuel combustion and electricity consumption from the grid by 13% from the baseline measurement in 2008. This is on track toward the goal of reducing these emissions by 35% by 2020.
  • Decreased greenhouse gas emissions from indirect emission sources such as commuter travel and off-site wastewater treatment by 7%. This is on track toward the goal of reducing these emissions by 10% by 2020.
  • Decreased potable water use intensity by 22% from the 2007 baseline measurement, on track to achieve the goal of a 30% reduction by 2020.
  • Diverted 92% of construction and demolition waste. This exceeds the goal of diverting 50% of annual solid waste from landfills through recycling and other practices.

The past year saw specific sustainability success stories in parks around the country:

  • Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks partnered with the City of Visalia, Calif. to provide hybrid-electric shuttle-bus services to its visitors.
  • Denali National Park has partnered with a recycling company in Fairbanks, Alaska to break down glass from the park’s recycling stream to make glass tile and to liquefy plastics for energy recovery.
  • Through a partnership with the Department of Energy Clean Cities Program, 13 parks have received grants to exchange conventional vehicles for alternative technologies, installed electric charging stations, and implemented other fuel reduction opportunities.
  • Zion National Park, in coordination with the Zion Natural History Association and Xanterra Concessions, now provides free “Zion Spring Water” at filling stations located throughout the park.
  • Lake Mead National Recreational Area has completed construction of the first ever LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) floating building.
  • Thomas Edison National Historical Park partnered with the West Orange Energy Commission to spread awareness about energy conservation.
  • New River Gorge National River has created a volunteer program with local universities to engage students in prepping park areas for prescribed burns.

    All of these successes – and others across the nation – are due to the dedication and innovation of National Park Service employees and to the collaboration of partners and stakeholders. National Park Service volunteers, park partners and concessioners have been instrumental in implementing the plan and adopting sustainability as a guiding value.

    “To succeed, we must think and act on a scale that extends beyond park boundaries,” Jarvis said. “We will collaborate with and learn from our partners, concessioners, and surrounding communities. We will share our success stories and explain our approach to sustainability in ways that engage the nearly 300 million people who visit their national parks every year. We’ll invite them to do their part in the park and at home.”

    The Green Parks Plan focuses on collaborating with concessioners, local communities, and other partners to promote sustainability. Concessioners are one of the early success stories when it comes to environmental sustainability in national parks. Concessioners have programs to recycle and compost waste, conserve water and energy and reduce fleet fuel consumption. Visitors to parks provide the greatest opportunity to affect change by encouraging sustainable behavior within and beyond park boundaries.

    Moving forward, the National Park Service will continue to work to reduce fleet fuel consumption, to increase the amount of municipal waste diverted from landfills through recycling, composting, and reuse, to reduce energy consumption—in particular through simple conservation and efficiency measures, and to take personal responsibility for incorporating small changes in workplaces.

    For more about the National Park Service Green Parks Plan, please visit

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