Sustainable Practices in National Parks

By Daniel Weisman
Sustainability Analyst
Sustainable Investment Group (SIG)

The National Park Service

Since its founding in 1916, the National Park Service (NPS) has been a leader in the protection of natural resources at over four hundred parks across the United States. National parks are home to many of the world’s most fascinating creatures. Within these parks, visitors all over the globe have the privilege to view and explore some of the most beautiful sites nature has to offer. The NPS manages more than 50 million square feet of constructed space, such as visitor centers and historic structures, more than 4 million acres of campgrounds and battlefields, and 20,000 miles of trails and utility systems. While these parks are some of the best-protected places on Earth, climate change has begun to negatively impact them and will continue to pose threats if this issue is not addressed. It is important for everyone to take part in sustainable practices to keep these natural wonders pristine for generations to come!

The Fight Against Global Warming

Icebergs float in glacial meltwater from the Angel Glacier in Jasper National Park of Canada.There is no surprise that global warming has had significant effects on national parks. At the current accelerated rate of ice melt, scientists predict that glaciers will disappear from Glacier National Park by 2030. Since 1956, the North Cascades has seen its total glacial mass decrease by 80%. On the coastal front, it is estimated that 118 parks will be vulnerable to sea level change due to global warming. Even more, national parks along the coast have experienced changing storm patterns, increased ocean acidity, and melting permafrost. In order to address these issues, the Green Parks Plan (GPP), which was established in 2012, aims to develop a long-term plan for the sustainable management of national parks. The plan is based around 10 sustainability categories, which can be found here.

Traveling Green

National parks attract approximately 331 million people per year! From hiking and camping the Grand Canyon to scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef, people enjoy the outdoor recreation national parks have to offer. Visiting national parks is a great way to have fun and enjoy the outdoors, but more importantly it is an excellent way to practice traveling greener!

Here are some tips on how to travel sustainably:

  1. Rather than drinking out of plastic water bottles, be sure to bring a reusable water bottle.
  2. Marine life on the coral reefBring reusable bags, utensils, and Tupperware when camping. It is estimated that one million plastic bags are consumed by people per minute!
  3. Conserve energy when staying in a hotel and be sure to turn off lights and turn down heat or air conditioning when leaving the room.
  4. Recycle! When entering a national park or visitor center, ask about what can be recycled and where.
  5. Reduce food waste. Ask about any composting options when traveling.
  6. Absolutely do not litter when visiting a national park (and in general)!
  7. Utilize eco-friendly motoring. Many national parks offer free shuttle busses that run on clean compressed natural gas.

Green Building

The National Park Service is home to dozens of green buildings. For visitors to travel greener at national parks, it is important that they practice staying in sustainable lodging. Many national parks including Yellowstone National Park, Grand Tetons National Park, and Zion National Park offer Green-Seal certified hotels. The Green Seal’s standard for buildings focuses on waste minimization, energy conservation, waste water management, and pollution prevention. Along with lodging, national parks come with visitor centers, restaurants, and shops, amongst other tourist attractions. The Golden Gate’s National Recreation Area includes Muir Woods Café, where visitors are given organic and local produce and non-disposable water containers. Be sure to do your research and support the establishments that are sustainable! Sustainable Investment Group (SIG) shares the goals of the National Park Service by promoting green building. SIG aims for buildings to practice more environmentally friendly construction methods as well as provide advice for ongoing sustainable maintenance. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a program that certifies different levels of green building, and it is SIG’s mission to help buildings achieve the highest sustainability level they can!

Sustainable Resources

Yellowstone National ParkIf you would like more information on how to promote sustainable practices in National Parks, please visit our website and reach out. Sustainable Investment Group provides Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) consulting, LEED Exam Prep Training, Green Building Consulting and Technical services from our offices in Atlanta, GA; Boulder, CO; Minneapolis, MN; New York, NY and San Francisco, CA.


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