NPS promotes greener national parks

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A new plan by the U.S. National Park Service seeks to improve the sustainability and energy efficiency of its holdings.  The NPS Green Parks Plan (16-page PDF)  outlines the service's plan to reduce its impact on the environment, mitigate the effects of climate change, and integrate sustainable practices throughout its operations.

Solar panels line a bathroom roof at Devil's Garden campground, Arches National Park, Utah.

While the park service is famed for the wild and scenic landscapes it protects - totaling over 84,000,000 acres - the NPS also manages the largest number of structures of any civilian agency in the federal government.  All told, the NPS portfolio of 397 national parks includes more than 67,000 structures with more than 50 million square feet of constructed space and more than 3,000 utility systems.  Each year, 2.6 billion gallons of water are consumed in national parks, and the service's annual energy costs average $44 million.

The Green Parks Plan identifies nine strategic goals:
  • Continuously Improve Environmental Performance: meeting and exceeding the requirements of all applicable environmental laws
  • Be Climate Friendly and Climate Ready: reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting facilities identified as at risk from climate change
  • Be Energy Smart: improving facility energy performance and increasing reliance on renewable energy
  • Be Water Wise: improving facility water use efficiency
  • Green Our Rides: transforming the NPS fleet of vehicles and adopting greener transportation methods
  • Buy Green and Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle: purchasing environmentally friendly products and increasing waste diversion and recycling
  • Preserve Outdoor Values:minimizing the impact of facility operations on the external environment
  • Adopt Best Practices:adopting sustainable best practices in all facility operations
  • Foster Sustainability Beyond Our Boundaries:engaging visitors about sustainability and inviting their participation
The park service is looking forward to its centennial in 2016; in last year's NPS Call to Action, the service committed to reducing its carbon footprint before that date.  The park service views the Green Parks Plan as the roadmap for implementing that commitment.  While the fully-articulated Green Parks Plan is new, many parks have already adopted sustainability initiatives.  For example, campground facilities in Arches National Park use solar photovoltaic panels to power water pumps and light buildings.

What does the Green Parks Plan mean?  For the park service, it may lead to improved sustainability and lower operating costs.  For greentech businesses, it may mean opportunities to install energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, or to sell greener vehicles.  For park visitors, it should mean cleaner air and water, and more opportunities to participate in sustainability.  Expect the park service to release periodic updates on its progress toward achieving the nine goals of the Green Parks Plan.

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