Sustaining the thrill: How Merlin Entertainments is conjuring up big carbon cuts

EXCLUSIVE: International theme park operator Merlin Entertainments has achieved almost half a million pounds in energy savings over the past two years following the deployment of 'sustainability champions' across the business to drive behaviour change.

The company’s group head of sustainability Dare Ilori told edie that more than £460,000 has been saved through sustainability behaviour change programmes with the support of local sustainability champions and facilities managers across Merlin’s expanding portfolio of 127 attractions, 19 hotels and seven holiday villages.

“We have sustainability champions on each of our sites and I work with them to achieve our carbon targets,” said Ilori, who is speaking at edie Live in May. “Most of these champions are volunteers and they have other responsibilities to manage. We provide training for them through webinars and we are seeing some of them getting very engaged and becoming more ambitious to take on new sustainability projects.”

As part of a group-wide behaviour change drive, Merlin Entertainments is preparing for its second annual sustainability festival to raise awareness of CSR activities across the business. Taking place throughout May, the We Care About Our Planet event requires every Merlin attraction – spanning 24 countries across four continents – to make an environmental commitment, with pledges ranging from ‘paperless Fridays’ to ‘no lift weeks’ and neighbourhood and beach cleaning initiatives.

“For a central sustainability team of two, overseeing the performance of a global business with varying sites can be a challenge,” Ilori added. “Through the We Care About Our Planet event, we can bring the different sites together to raise awareness and encourage best practice.”

On-site solutions

The company’s behaviour change savings come in addition to around £400,000 that has been saved over the past 24 months through centrally co-ordinated energy efficiency and renewable energy projects overseen by Ilori, which have helped to deliver a 5% reduction in carbon intensity (based on revenue) – surpassing a 2% annual carbon intensity reduction target set by the Dorset-based firm in 2014.

At Madame Tussauds London, for example, a variable speed drive project and LED fit-out have together cut the site’s energy costs by £50,000 in two years. And in Surrey, Thorpe Park is undergoing a switch to LEDs in places where the technology is financially viable. The site also recently underwent a sub-metering programme which Ilori says “has been instrumental in localised management of energy use”.

Alton Towers in Staffordshire, meanwhile, recently agreed a power purchase agreement (PPA) for an on-site CHP plant which produces 854kWe of renewable energy – enough to provide 30% of the electricity and 41% of the heat requirement for the resort. And Legoland Windsor is about to flick the switch on a new on-site 30kw solar PV system.

Merlin’s on-site sustainability focus extends internationally, too. A 2MW solar carpark at Legoland Florida and an LED rollout at a combined resort in Sydney Harbour – which saves £40,000 a year – are among 25 sustainability upgrades made by the group’s corporate and local sustainability teams over the past year.

Thrill-seeker engagement

But continuously improving the sustainability credentials of an ever-expanding portfolio of complex sites is not without its challenges. Many Merlin Entertainments attractions, such as Alton Towers and Thorpe Park, are closed during the winter months, making it harder to achieve a quick return on investment for some on-site sustainability projects. And business expansion – the company opened six new sites last year – can offset the balance between economic growth and sustainability.

For Ilori, another significant challenge is engaging the customers – the thrill-seekers that visit the theme parks – with sustainability. “This is a big challenge that affects the leisure industry generally in the UK,” he said.

“Merlin has the Sea Life brand, which engages consumers very well on things like marine conservation and ocean plastics, because it’s a natural extension of the brand’s purpose. But if you take a brand like Thorpe Park, then it can be more difficult to balance the sustainability messaging with the satisfaction of the guests.

“We have to speak to our consumers more, educating them on sustainability and also finding out exactly what they expect from us.”

Dare Ilori at edie Live 2017

Merlin Entertainments’ group head of sustainability Dare Ilori is among the expert speakers appearing on stage at edie Live 2017 at the NEC Birmingham on 23-24 May. 

Ilori will be in the Resource Efficiency Theatre on Day 1 of the show, in a session focused on how to deliver value through sustainability and procurement alignment, with examples from those driving effective collaborations.

Find out more about edie Live 2017 and register for your free two-day pass here.

Luke Nicholls

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