CHICAGO—A year and a half ago, Great Wolf Resorts announced it would replace plastic straws at all 17 of its indoor water park resorts with more environmentally friendly paper straws. That step completed by the end of 2018 stopped more than 5 million plastic straws from entering local landfills annually. Bob Holesko, Corporate Director of Engineering at Great Wolf Resorts, said there were very few complaints about the switch.
Eliminating plastic straws is just one of many of the steps Great Wolf Resorts has taken to reduce its environmental impact as part of its Green Wolf program. Great Wolf Resorts has some unique challenges given that each of its now 18 locations has a waterpark that the company proudly states it keeps at 84 degrees year-round. Add in more than 7,000 guestrooms, food and beverage operations and meeting spaces at each property, and the eco-challenges get hefty.
“We treat a total of 8 million gallons of water daily,” Holesko says. “Diatomaceous earth filters and UV lights are used to keep the waterpark water clean and disinfected. The UV lights kill off any microorganisms.” Every attraction has its own heat exchanger.
Three Phases of Improvements
Improvements to the resorts have come in phases and the level of investment has been impacted by the age of the property and other factors. The oldest Great Wolf Resort—Wisconsin Dells—was built in 1998. The Great Wolf Lodge Arizona near Scottsdale just opened in September.
Phase one of improvements included lighting and water fixtures including showerheads and aerators. Phase two included 86,000 LEDs at 10 lodges and items such as kitchen exhaust systems. A combined heat and power system was installed at the Great Wolf Lodge in Boston/Fitchburg. Holesko says that system will turn one-year old next month. “At the end of the day, it covers the power for the waterpark,” he says. “The payback came in at 2.8 years.”
Phase three of improvements, which includes $4 million allocated for lighting and retro commissioning, is currently under review. The lighting upgrades would complete the transition to 100 percent LED lighting at all resorts. Holesko says a solar system is being considered for the company’s Traverse City, Mich. Location. It could happen if all the possible rebates are approved.
Holesko, who joined Great Wolf Resorts in 2017, says the efforts of he and his team of engineers has resulted in a 6 to 10 percent reduction in gas and electricity consumption at each resort.
While the company currently does not compost, it does recycle and is considering dispensers for guestroom bathrooms to reduce single-use plastic waste.
Energy Set Point Program
Holesko, who has a long track record for implementing energy conservation systems, oversees an energy set point program. The concept is to adjust, monitor and certify the set points for domestic hot and chilled water, for occupied and unoccupied spaces, coolers and freezers, as well as for the variable frequency drives so the settings match each building’s needs while maximizing energy conservation. “We are in year three of that program. It helps the directors of engineering dial into a building,” Holesko says. One resort has a laundry water recycling system and electric vehicle charging stations have been installed at many of the resorts.
Great Wolf Resorts has an in-house scholarship program and is very involved in raising money for Make-A-Wish and Autism Speaks. Over the years the company has also supported other nonprofit organizations including Ronald McDonald House Charities, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, American Red Cross, Boys & Girls Club, and the Jack and Jill Foundation for Late Stage Cancer.
Glenn Hasek can be reached at email@example.com.