Theme Park Execs to Gather, Discuss Sustainable Design on Eve of Shanghai Disney Opening

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Shanghai Disneyland

The annual invite-only gathering expects between 80 and 100 executives from around the globe to attend; it will be held in the Chinese metropolis two days before the latest Disney attraction makes its magical reveal following seven years of construction and a $5.5 billion pricetag.

While Shanghai Disney opens on Thursday for its big reveal after seven years and $5.5 billion in construction, a much quieter gathering will take place in the city of 1.4 billion two days earlier. This year’s Themed Entertainment Sustainability Summit-Asia also will be held in the Chinese metropolis, taking advantage of the moment when many of the world’s theme park leaders will descend upon the latest Disney attraction. An annual, invite-only meeting, TESS represents one of the few opportunities for the world’s largest theme park executives to gather and share best practices in sustainable design.

“I don’t know of another day when these competing companies get together,” says the summit's creator/founder Jim Scheidel, who is an architect and principal of Culver City-based Cuningham Group. “This is an open forum where people share. We’ve been meeting since 2008, and at this point, everyone knows each other.”

Scheidel has worked on every Disney theme park in the world since 1988, as well as Universal Studios in Los Angeles and Orlando, Warner Bros. theme park in Madrid, various Six Flags, and Legoland in Carlsbad. “Theme parks use large pieces of land, lots of energy and they create waste,” he says. “But they also create huge positives, both economic as well as entertaining people. We meet to discuss how to minimize the environmental impact and maximize the positives.”

Site rendering, Warner Bros Movie World Madrid, explored at TESS Asia 2016. (Image by Cuningham Group)

This year’s meeting will attract between 80 and 100 high-level theme park executives from Disney, NBC Universal and SeaWorld Parks and Resorts, as well as members of the U.S. Green Building Council. In the past, topics have highlighted both macro issues, such as creating and implementing large-scale theme-park recycling programs, as well as more targeted solutions, like creating environmentally friendly fireworks. And there’s plenty of room for more experimental ideas as well, says Scheidel, citing Ocean Park Hong Kong’s program that converts on-site organic waste into fish food.

This year’s TESS topics will include everything from ocean conservation issues to an exploration of creating environmentally friendly indoor ski slopes. “These are proving to be extremely popular in China,” says Scheidel of the country where more than 50 theme parks are currently under construction or are being planned.

Of particular interest is the way that theme-park sustainability practices might be imported beyond massive-scale Magic Kingdom and Six Flags walls into Chinese cities themselves. Among other TESS offerings will be a presentation on how Disney’s own research on China can be implemented for sustainable growth outside of theme parks and in cities of the future.