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The Emerging Culture of Sustainability

An Emerging Culture of Sustainability in the National Park Service

There is much change afoot in our grand park, in a word, sustainability. Sustainability is managing the Earth’s resources so they are passed on to future generations of all life in a healthy and abundant manner. “Greening” is often used interchangeably with this term. During the past 10 years, Zion has become a leader in the National Park Service (NPS) in this fledgling cultural shift. Although sustainability has been a major mission in the Parks beginning with the 1916 Organic Act, it is only in recent years that a full fledged commitment and mandate from the NPS has occurred. It touches all aspects of our operations- design, policy, management, and interpretation. Zion National Park’s history of sustainability follows.

- Zion begins working with the Gateway community of Springdale on addressing the issue of an overabundance of motorized vehicles in Springdale and the Park.

- The Zion National Park Comprehensive Plan addresses sustainable design for transportation and buildings
-Zion receives “”Partnership Leadership for Beyond Park Boundaries” award from the National Park foundation. (many more awards would follow)

- Opening of the new Zion Canyon Visitor Center
- Running the new Zion Canyon/Springdale propane powered shuttle buses
- New interpretive materials/programs produced on shuttle & visitor center
- Recycling program in cooperation with park concessionaire Xanterra
- Landscaping utilizing native, water efficient, wildlife friendly plants

“Environmental Management System” is mandated in the NPS requiring purchasing environmentally friendly (green) products, establishing a “green team”, green design, recycling, along with other management and policy change.

- Zion’s General management Plan includes a section on “Sustainability” (page 20). View at http://www.nps.gov/zion/parkmgmt/upload/zion_gmp.pdf

- New Emergency Operations Center “LEED’s certified building opens

- Zion hosts a "Climate Friendly Parks" workshop with EPA & NPS national office.
- Zion hosts a workshop on “Collaborative Problem Solving” on building partnerships with neighboring public lands managers.

- “Environmental Management System” draft report on Zion managing release of Green house gas emissions.
- Cooperating with Environmental Protection Agency and Utah Dept. of Transportation, Zion Instituted a van pool operation to serve employees.
- Purchased Honda Civic Hybrid.

- Additional interpretive materials prepared, Park website pages produced on sustainability in the park and beyond.

- Purchased Toyota Prius hybrid
-Continued development of interpretive materials and further development of web site
-Formation of "green team" to institutionalize sustainability in the park and beyond.
-Developed orientation materials for seasonals and new-hires on sustainability in Zion.

What follows is taken from the 1993 National Park Service document “Guiding Principles of Sustainable Design”. http://www.nps.gov/dsc/dsgncnstr/gpsd/toc.html

“Sustainability does not require a loss in the quality of life, but does require a change in mind-set, a change in values toward less consumptive lifestyles. These changes must embrace global interdependence, environmental stewardship, social responsibility, and economic viability.

Sustainable design must use an alternative approach to traditional design that incorporates these changes in mind-set. The new design approach must recognize the impacts of every design choice on the natural and cultural resources of the local, regional, and global environments.”

The National Park Service’s Sustainable Design Initiative
Two events in particular were instrumental in the adoption of the National Park Service's Sustainable Design Initiative.

National Park Service Vail Symposium. In October 1991, five working groups studied "the state of the parks" as part of the organizational renewal activities associated with the 75th Anniversary of the National Park Service. They found that National Park Service is being stressed by a variety of factors:

  • Population increases
  • Park visitation increases
  • Demographic changes
  • Increased numbers and types of sites to manage
  • Environmental degradation
  • Lack of capable leadership
  • Need to protect whole ecosystems

The concept of sustainable design was mentioned frequently, as it covers a wide range of topics. It integrates principles that enable humans to live in harmony with the rest of the natural world, protecting biodiversity and sharing habitats with other species.

Virgin Islands National Park, Maho Bay Resort. In November 1991 the Sustainable Development Initiative was officially launched with a workshop in MahoBay. This partnership forum included participants from the American Institute of Architects (AIA), American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Ecotourism Society, National Parks and Conservation Association, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Greenpeace, local representatives from the Virgin Islands, private architectural and engineering (A/E) firms, and ecotourism resort operators. Representatives from various NPS offices included professionals and managers from parks, regional offices, Washington office, and the DenverServiceCenter.

A model of the new design principles necessary for sustainability is exemplified by the "Hannover Principles" or "Bill of Rights for the Planet," developed by William McDonough Architects for EXPO 2000 to be held in Hannover, Germany.

  1. Insist on the right of humanity and nature to co-exist in a healthy, supportive, diverse, and sustainable condition.
  2. Recognize Interdependence. The elements of human design interact with and depend on the natural world, with broad and diverse implications at every scale. Expand design considerations to recognizing even distant effects.
  3. Respect relationships between spirit and matter. Consider all aspects of human settlement including community, dwelling, industry, and trade in terms of existing and evolving connections between spiritual and material consciousness.
  4. Accept responsibility for the consequences of design decisions upon human well-being, the viability of natural systems, and their right to co-exist.
  5. Create safe objects to long-term value. Do not burden future generations with requirements for maintenance or vigilant administration of potential danger due to the careless creations of products, processes, or standards.
  6. Eliminate the concept of waste. Evaluate and optimize the full life-cycle of products and processes, to approach the state of natural systems in which there is no waste.
  7. Rely on natural energy flows. Human designs should, like the living world, derive their creative forces from perpetual solar income. Incorporate this energy efficiently and safely for responsible use.
  8. Understand the limitations of design. No human creation lasts forever and design does not solve all problems. Those who create and plan should practice humility in the face of nature. Treat nature as a model and mentor, not an inconvenience to be evaded or controlled.
  9. Seek constant improvements by sharing knowledge. Encourage direct and open communication between colleagues, patrons, manufacturers, and users to link long-term sustainable considerations with ethical responsibility, and reestablish the integral relationship between natural processes and human activity.

These principles were adopted by the World Congress of the International Union of Architects (UIA) in June 1993 at the American Institute of Architect's (AIA) Expo 93 in Chicago. Further, the AIA and UIA signed a "Declaration of Interdependence for a Sustainable Future." In summary, the declaration states that today's society is degrading its environment and that the AIA, UIA, and their members are committed to:

  • Placing environmental and social sustainability at the core of practices and professional responsibilities
  • Developing and continually improving practices, procedures, products, services, and standards for sustainable design
  • Educating the building industry, clients, and the general public about the importance of sustainable design
  • Working to change policies, regulations, and standards in government and business so that sustainable design will become the fully supported standard practice
  • Bringing the existing built environment up to sustainable design standards

In addition, the Interprofessional Council on Environmental Design (ICED), a coalition of architectural, landscape architectural, and engineering organizations, developed a vision statement in an attempt to foster a team approach to sustainable design. ICED states: The ethics, education and practices of our professions will be directed to shape a sustainable future. . . . To achieve this vision we will join . . . as a multidisciplinary partnership."

For more on environmental leadership at other NPS sites:

Sustainability and Cultural Resources
The vernacular response to climate, setting, and materials provides opportunities for presenting positive lessons in ecologically sound design. Conversely, many of our historic military, industrial, and engineering sites afford opportunities to discuss ecological excesses of the past.

Technical efforts to preserve cultural resources, however, must not contribute to degradation of the environment. The use of pesticides, fungicides, and other toxins has damaged the earth, so any preservation efforts should consider nonhazardous alternatives.

In some instances toxic materials, such as lead-based paint and asbestos, are inherited. Toxic materials that exist in many historic buildings must be removed and properly disposed of. Unfortunately, some of the inherited toxic materials are significant features of historic structures or sites…. The problem of inherited toxins will need to be addressed in all proposed management and development projects in the future.

Another facet of dealing with cultural resources is the energy consumption that is required to protect them. In terms of numbers, the largest percentage of inventoried cultural resources is museum objects. Serious consideration must be given to their conservation. The use of mechanical heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems in a historic building or museum, to maintain desired temperature and humidity levels, must include not only a cost in energy/dollar figures but also the cost in resource dollars. More natural, less consumptive ways of achieving the same result must be assessed.

Did You Know?

CCC Camp in Zion, 1935

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) had three camps in Zion National Park in the 1930's. Much of their work can be seen today. More...