Conservation is a large part of the show and mission at Walt Disney World. This April Disney hopes to expand Earth Day into Earth Month and encourages everyone to “Make A Wave, Make A Pledge” and take action to help our oceans and sea life. Of course, there is the movie tie-in with Disneynature’s “Oceans” coming out on Earth Day too.
Here’s a great interview with Disney’s Vice President for Animal Programs and Environmental Initiatives, Jackie Ogden, Ph.D.. Dr. Ogden has some ambitious goals for Earth Month at Walt Disney World Resort. Jackie has made her pledge. She sat down to talk about that and other environmental topics as Earth Month kicks off at Walt Disney World Resort.
Q: Conservation has always been an important part of the mission at Walt Disney World Resort. Looking at our conservation efforts, what are we doing today that really stands out to you?
Jackie: We have always done such a good job with the environment. It’s so much a part of our legacy as a company and it’s always been part of what we do. Particularly at Walt Disney World, we’ve always had this incredible grass roots effort. Now we’re taking a very strategic approach with a top-down effort where we’ve gone public with our conservation goals. We’ve got long-range goals and medium-range targets in the areas of waste, emissions, electricity, and ecosystems. So, the fact that we’ve gone public in a big way and being able to measure what we’re doing to protect the environment really stands out to me.
Q: The celebration of Earth Day has really grown and changed quite a bit over the years. What are your thoughts on how Earth Day has evolved?
Jackie: I think one of the original messages associated with Earth Day is still one of the best messages about our environment: Anyone can make a difference. And that’s the message we’re trying to get out at Walt Disney World Resort. It’s one of the key parts of our company’s environmental strategy. It’s not only reducing our environmental impact – which is very important – but it’s also inspiring people to make a difference for all the earth’s inhabitants, including wildlife and wild places. For Earth Day this year, because of the Disney movie Oceans, which is actually coming out on Earth Day, our theme is “Make a Difference for Our Oceans.” One thing that everybody can do, kids of all ages, is go to the Disney website and look up “Friends for Change.” Friends for Change is a great program that our team out in Burbank has developed for kids and it teaches kids what they can do for the planet and – for this year in particular – for our oceans.
Q: Some conservation principles can be difficult to teach to children. What do you think is the best approach for educating kids about protecting the environment?
Jackie: That’s a great question. Certainly it is part of our mission at Disney’s Animal Kingdom – as well as The Seas at Epcot and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge – to make a difference for wildlife and wild places. We try not to provide “doom and gloom” messages, but instead we want them to know that kids of any age can make a difference. We want to show kids what they can do. One of the great experiences we have at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the Kid’s Discovery Clubs. We have these interactive stations all across the park. Although they’re fun for kids there is a defined behavior we’re trying to instill in them. For example, we’re inspiring them to make their backyard more friendly for wildlife and we’ve found that these kids who take part in these discovery clubs actually go home and change their behavior.
Q: We’re challenging people to make a pledge for the environment with the “Make a Wave, Make a Pledge” initiative this Earth Day. Why is making a pledge so important?
Jackie: We know that telling someone else what you plan to do helps people follow through on a behavior change. If I sit here and tell you what I’m going to do to help the environment, I’m much more likely to do it than if I just say it to myself. So we’re asking everyone to make a pledge for the environment on Earth Day and in particular for our oceans. And I’ve made my pledge: I will eat sustainably harvested seafood, which is not easy to do because a lot of our fish in the oceans are in trouble. So one thing I am pledging to do is think about my seafood before I purchase it so I make sure I’m not harming the oceans.
Q: Are you a big seafood fan?
Jackie: (Laughs) I am a big seafood fan.
Q: Many of Disney’s executives are heavily involved in the community and in professional associations. Where have you focused your involvement?
Jackie: Well, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and The Seas at Epcot are both accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. That’s the group in North America that makes sure places that exhibit animals in managed settings are doing the best for the animals from a welfare perspective as well as doing a great job with education and conservation. I’m on their board of directors. I’m also on a couple of other conservation boards, including the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International which was founded to honor Dian Fossey. Dian Fossey not only devoted her life to understanding mountain gorillas but her work led to a greater understanding about the need to protect gorillas from a conservation standpoint. I’m also on the board of Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders, which is a group focused on training the next generation of conservation leaders.
Q: So what do you do in what little spare time you must have?
Jackie: I always have loved being outside in nature. I love spending time with my family – which includes my husband, two dogs, a cat, a bird and a turtle. Most of the animals are rescued – the two dogs are retired racing greyhounds. I also love reading and hiking, travel and unfortunately, (laughs) my husband and I love dining out. So we do our part to help the restaurants in Central Florida.
Q: What goals do you personally have for us here at Walt Disney World Resort as it relates to our environmental heritage?
Jackie: When Walt purchased the land here he set aside almost a third of the acreage to be kept as conservation land in perpetuity – now we’re continuing and enhancing that legacy. We’re excited to know that every day here we’re able to teach kids of all ages to care about wildlife, wild places and educate them on what they can do to make a difference.