Back to articles Great Wolf Lodge Goes Green by Enviro Dad Eric Novak

Categories: Family Fun

If you are playing the Word Association Game, and somebody calls out 'Great Wolf Lodge' there are a number of typical responses you are likely to hear. Family resort, water park and big are some of them for sure.

However after doing a bit of research and then paying the resort a visit lately, I'm now going to be able to use a new word association when someone calls out Great Wolf Lodge and that would be Eco-Friendly.

Given the size and scope of the facilities -- their Niagara Falls, ON location has 406 suites, a 100,000 square foot year-round indoor water park containing 2 Million Litres of water, 7 separate eating establishments, a kid friendly spa, a 10,000 square foot arcade and more -- it might be hard to envision that there is a lot of eco-friendly elements going on. However, it turns out that the entire 11 property chain has an initiative called 'Project Green Wolf' which through its implementation has established Great Wolf Resorts as a leading proprietor of eco-friendly hospitality in the US and Canada.

With my family booked to begin March Break with our 3rd visit to GWL in Niagara Falls, (but 1st as a family of six), I decided to reach out to the Lodge to learn more about Project Green Wolf. I had the chance to sit down and talk with some key staff members including Shannon Allen, Director of Brand Experience and Joe Treneer, Executive Chef to learn more during my visit and what I discovered was impressive.

The Niagara Falls, ON location is the only Canadian Great Wolf Lodge and is also the only location to not be corporately owned. Operated as a franchise and owned by the Jim Pattison Group of Companies, the facility opened in April, 2006. At that time, there were no official policies in place at any GWL location which focused on environmental best practices. But through the implementation of various green ideas, as well as the feedback of guests, the Niagara Falls management team began to develop and suggest ideas that could be utilized across the chain.

Through these suggestions as well as further discussions with the parent company, the decision was made to create a series of best-practices that would form the basis of an official plan to establish GWL as a green leader in the hospitality industry. The idea was to reduce the environmental 'Paw Print' of all GWL resorts and after 18 months of development, Project Green Wolf officially launched across all GWL properties in April, 2008.

To be able to promote the benefits of the program, GWL understood that they needed independent verification and accreditation of their policies by a well-recognized and established entity. This was achieved by obtaining their Green Seal -- Silver designation with all US properties and a 4 Leaves certification in Canada from the Audobon Green-Leaf Eco-rating program.

While the exact implementation of Project Green Wolf varies to some degree across all of its properties, there are a number of key highlights that are noteworthy. These include the following:

Fresh Water Management

It's an unavoidable fact that when you are a large resort with a huge waterpark, you are going to need a lot of water. GWL understands this, and they have gone to significant lengths to minimize the amount of water used.

The Pump House underneath Great Wolf Lodge's Waterpark

Most impressive is the fact that about 97 - 98% of the 2 Million litres of water needed in the waterpark is recycled. The biggest challenge of course in a situation like this is to maintain the quality of the water through effective filtration. Underneath the waterpark is a massive pump room that effectively and efficiently recycles the water after being processed. To minimize the use of chlorine, GWL utilizes a UV filtration system combined with a C02 injection system, that when combined has yielded a 40% decrease in the usage of pool chemicals.

Given the efficiency of waterpark recycling, most people don't realize that more water is consumed by the 406 guest suites than by the waterpark. To combat this, GWL has installed low flow showerheads and toilets in all of its suites.

Laundry use is also a big water user at any hotel property and GWL has recently installed equipment on all its high efficiency washing machines to both reduce the amount of water needed as well as the water temperature required, which reduces energy consumption. All dryers are equipped with moisture sensors to ensure that towels are not dried longer than necessary. The benefits here are that they consume less energy as well as extend the life of the towel as excessive drying can weaken the fibres.

Hi efficiency washing machines at Great Wolf Lodge

Energy use at a facility of this size has the potential to be significant. GWL realizes this and Project Green Wolf calls for energy efficient lighting fixtures to be used throughout its properties, high efficiency HVAC equipment installed and Energy-Star rated appliances purchased throughout the resort.

Waste Reduction

The waste potential of properties this size is huge. Throughout effective and dedicated policies though, the amount of waste can be greatly reduced. Project Green Wolf calls for the distribution of recycling bins in all suites and across all public areas of each resort. Biodegradable cups, plates and take out containers are regularly used. Policies are also in place to effectively sort and return compostable waste to municipal programs. At the Niagara Falls facility alone, the green bin program has reduced the amount of waste by 120,000 kgs.

Environmentally and Socially Sensitive Purchasing

GWL requires all of its purchasing partners to adhere to the conditions set out in Project Green Wolf to ensure every item purchased is environmentally sensitive wherever possible. All paper products are post-consumer recycled, dishwashing and laundry detergents are biodegradable, and paint used is all low VOC to provide a few examples.

In the case of the Niagara Falls location, and it being located right in the heart of Ontario's agriculture and fruit belt, a policy is in place to source out locally produced food as much as possible. While seasonal limitations place some constraints on this practice, Executive Chef Joe Treneer advised that menus are adjusted seasonally to ensure as much local food sourcing is done as possible. Where food is concerned, Joe also advised that there is active monitoring of food consumption by guests since the main restaurant, Antler Shanty operates as a buffet. Through forecasting of occupancy rates and historical analysis, they can predict how much food to make which in turn minimizes the amount of waste incurred.


As GWL is a family-focused chain, they provide plenty of opportunities for children to be educated and informed about sustainability and stewardship. Daily 'Wolf Walk' educational tours are provided and certain entertainment programs in their Kid Club facility are geared towards educating children about wildlife and environmentally sensitive topics.

There are other areas contained within the parameters of Project Green Wolf that focus on operations, staff engagement and other best practices, but suffice to say the entire program is very comprehensive and shows a significant commitment on behalf of the entire chain to operating in a manner that is as environmentally friendly as possible. I was told that in the future, items such as the installation of solar panels will be explored among other initiatives. It demonstrates that they acknowledge they still have work to do and will continue to improve the program as economics and logistics allow.

While there is little doubt that Great Wolf Lodge has the capacity to provide families with a wonderful vacation experience, it's heartening to know that in doing so, families such as my own are supporting a company who both understands and respects its obligation to be proper stewards of the environment.

To my mind, this is solid business practice from both a financial, brand strength and overall CSR perspective and it's one that I hope to see more examples of across all areas of the hospitality industry. When I discover more examples such as Great Wolf Lodge and Project Green Wolf, I'll be happy to share them as part of our EnviroDad Reviews commitment.

Eric Novak is a father of 4 who also thinks that environmental stewardship is a requisite of parenting. He's not a professional Dad nor is he an environmental scientist, but he's someone who gives a damn and is trying to make the right decisions as he lives his life as a father, environmentalist and business owner. Eric and his wife Karen have 4 children and reside in Ajax, Ontario.