Could these be the most sustainable theme parks in the world?
Rainforest Adventures wins accolades for treading lightly in Costa Rica
Dec. 4, 2012, San Jose, Costa Rica – While numerous theme park operators worldwide move toward more sustainable practices – from pilot solar power projects to a few electric vehicles and LED lighting – could the most sustainable theme parks in the world currently be the Rainforest Adventures parks in Costa Rica? According to the Rainforest Alliance, Earth University and Costa Rican Tourism Institute, these two parks are the model for best practices in the world when it comes to sustainable development and operations.
With two parks in Costa Rica, Rainforest Adventures has undertaken a number of initiatives to help protect the environment, engage with local residents, and educate guests on the importance of sustainability practices. And, many of these initiatives started during to construction of the first park, Costa Rica Atlantic, in 1994.
“When we decided to build Rainforest Adventures, Costa Rica Atlantic, we had two choices: cut down trees to build our aerial tram experience, or find a way to preserve the pristine environment,” says Joaquín von der Goltz, president of Rainforest Adventures. “While it was complicated and expensive to construct the aerial tram without removing trees, for me, the decision was easy – we had to protect the rainforest. Otherwise, why build a park to help educate visitors on the importance of rainforest conservation?”
During the construction of the Costa Rica Atlantic park, local loggers were hired to help with the erection of the aerial tram lift. Rather than cut down part of the 1,200-acre rainforest in order to create a lift-line (much like a chairlift at a ski resort), the tram was completed without cutting down a single tree. The result was an untouched rainforest environment, where guests could travel at canopy level, and view the flora and fauna in an in-depth, immersive experience.
To further complicate the construction of the aerial tram, loggers discovered a ‘Grandfather Tree’ (a large tree that is connected to all other nearby trees through the provision of nutrients in the soil) on the planned route. This required von der Goltz to redraw the route to save the tree and the surrounding rainforest.
This initial commitment to sustainability continues to present day. Both Pacific and Atlantic parks have on-going practices in place to reduce the impact on the environment on a day-to-day basis, including park-wide environmental management systems and an extensive recycling program for both guests and staff. The environmental management system includes: an energy savings plan where all electricity is measured and reduced whenever possible, thereby reducing the reliance on bio-diesel; a management plan for liquid and solid waste generated in parks; a water saving plan that involves water-saving taps, urinals and toilets; and a response plan for the care and management of potential spills. The recycling program for guests and local teams includes international signage to help identify the correct containers for plastic, metal, glass, paper, compostable and non-recyclable waste.
In addition to these programs, Rainforest Adventures has a commitment to buying local, and encouraging their guests to do the same. The parks have an agreement with local artisans in which they are invited to showcase their crafts for sale to guests. And, more than 95 per cent of food and beverage available for park guests is derived from local products produced by local farmers.
With a focus on social sustainability, Rainforest Adventures employs about 150 local, multilingual guides at their parks (many of these guides once made a living by hunting or by cutting down trees in the rainforests). Each guide adds depth and colour to the visitor experience by sharing insider information about the region’s native plants and animals and about local customs, cultures and traditions.
Rainforest Adventures is committed to minimizing their overall impact on the environment, while encouraging their guests to take the in-park methods and apply them at home. Both Costa Rican parks have education centres where guests can learn about conservation and the importance of preserving the world’s natural resources. Understanding that youth are future policymakers, Rainforest Adventures pays special attention to this demographic by offering a number of all-age, family-centric experiences, activities and exhibitions that are designed to empower and educate youth about the environment.
Continuing their focus on youth, Rainforest Adventures developed a Youth Leadership Program for Sustainable Development at the Atlantic park. Park collaborators work with students who attend the five schools within the buffer zone of adjacent Braulio Carrillo National Park to inspire and encourage them to improve and protect the surrounding rainforest and its animal inhabitants.
“We continue to look for ways to further expand our commitment to sustainability,” says Eugenia Solano, general manager of Rainforest Adventures Costa Rica. “As a team, we are always looking at ways to reduce our consumption, communicate the importance of conservation to our guests, and work more closely with our local residents.”
And, with the commitment to sustainability, government and NGOs have taken notice. Rainforest Adventures Costa Rica Pacific has been recognized for its sustainability by the country’s government, earning an Ecological Flag, a Blue Flag, a Decree of National Interest for the Republic of Costa Rica and Certification for Sustainable Tourism. And, after a lengthy, two-year process, EARTH University officially certified the Atlantic park as carbon neutral, Costa Rica’s first tour operation to receive a carbon neutral title.
In 2012, both Costa Rican parks (Pacific and Atlantic) were verified by Rainforest Alliance – a standard recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council – achieving the highest rating possible. To meet this rating and verification, both parks were required to create a sustainable management plan and to undergo an on-site verification to evaluate the practices put in place.
For more information on the sustainability measures in operation at Rainforest Adventures, visit www.rainforestadventure.com
About Rainforest Adventures
With tour operations in Panama and award winning, adrenaline-inducing adventure parks located in Costa Rica (both Pacific and Atlantic), Saint Lucia, Jamaica and Mexico, Rainforest Adventures locations serve as ecotourism attractions, nature reserves and wildlife refuges. Since 1994, the company has been combining unique rainforest adventures such as aerial trams, bobsleds and zip line rides, with exceptional, multi-lingual naturalist guides, giving each guest an educational, adventurous, sustainable and unforgettable rainforest experience. For more information, visit www.rainforestadventure.com