Letter to Get Better- Seattle Aquarium, Follow your own Advice!

by - Friday, March 11, 2016

Dear Seattle Aquarium, 

Last weekend, my husband and I took our 15 month old son to your aquarium for the first time, and it is safe to say he loved it. He particularly enjoyed the bubbles in the tanks and the bolts around the edges, but he also said "fish" for the first time, so the trip was definitely a success. He came out with no complaints. 

That being said, I came out of your establishment feeling pretty uneasy with how you are running things, and it might keep us from being regular attenders. At first, I was excited and encouraged to see how much your aquarium encourages conservation and sustainability (mentioning it often in your exhibits and now I can see these two ideas play a big role on your website. Cool)! I love that an aquarium can make for a good space to discuss our environmental impact with our children, and your focus on local sea life highlights that even more. I also love your information on sustainable seafood and solar power. Yay you for sending a great message out there. 

This is a little chunk of one of your most pointed encouragement and mission for visitors, including reconsidering how we power our homes and use energy, how we discard of waste, and how we could make better consumer choices. So true on all counts, and great advice! I also love that it comes toward the end of the trip, as well as opportunities to volunteer for local watersheds.

So why did I come out of the trip feeling discouraged?

You don't practice what you preach! 

You want people to make better consumer decisions? 
Stop selling such BAD choices!

You want people to better conserve energy? 
Stop shipping so much of your merchandise from China! 

Soon after reading this giant board of great advice, we shuffled into the aquarium shop to get a Christmas ornament to commemorate the trip. We stopped to look at the toys, mostly because The Bub found some stuffed crabs very interesting. We would have bought him a stuffed animal or toy, but every stuffed animal, even the ones intended to support local otters, is made in China. I looked. I couldn't find anything. You have tons of plastic toys bound into plastic packaging? Wouldn't it be better to sell fewer options that are actually made locally, supporting the economy that you live in and offering more environmentally-friendly options? I found one book printed in Mexico, and a few crafty items made in the States, but mostly that store is empty of anything that would encourage visitors to shop in a more environmentally conscious way. 

I love that you describe your store as having a "thoughtful collection." What are you thinking about? Because it clearly isn't the environment. Just because you don't use plastic bags does not mean your shop is ethical. I mean, honestly, why would you have a whole store full of plastic and imported junk if you want to encourage thoughtful consumption? I get it. The shop needs to make money, but if you have to do it in such a disrespectful way to the environment, is it really worth doing?

I hate to tell you this, but your gift shop is an embarrassment to your organization and a direct negation of everything you do so well supporting in other areas. You are the problem. It is easy to point fingers at your visitors and tell them to take shorter showers, whatever. We can all say everyone should take better care of the environment. It is only useful when you are willing to do it yourself, and so far, in these matters, you are not. As an organization, I hope that you can commit to caring about the environment more than your own pocket, and stop selling junk that you know is part of the problem. To take it to that next step where things are inconvenient to you. Easy and cheap has got us where we are, and you know that. 

Practice what you preach and make a change. 

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  1. Dear Sunshine Guerrilla,

    Thank you for your recent feedback on Facebook. We understand and appreciate your perspective. The product assortment in the Seattle Aquarium gift shop supports the Aquarium’s mission and messaging, and also serves as an important revenue-generating service for the Aquarium that enables us to reinvest in the visitor experience and continue the Aquarium’s work in service of its mission. In an ideal world, we would be able to source every item locally from sustainable resources and with universally accessible price points. Because that’s not possible, we attempt to strike a healthy balance.

    It is critically important that the Aquarium offers an accessible and positive experience for all, which we bear in mind while developing the product assortment for the store. We seek to reach differing guest demographics with a variety of appealing items and price points. Today’s global sourcing environment is part of that equation—and we are also focused on identifying domestic sources for compelling products. Our approach has yielded exciting results in terms of overall guest satisfaction and a growing revenue stream that supports the Aquarium’s mission. We assure you that our merchandise is sourced as ethically and responsibly (for the environment) as possible while still focusing on meeting consumer demand.

    We work closely with our vendors to minimize packaging whenever possible. As for product origin, while a good percentage of the plush and toy items in our assortment are sourced internationally due to cost competitiveness, a significant number of our items are made and/or decorated in the USA. Imported goods (plush included) are largely sourced from suppliers that support conservation efforts within their respective countries and all Seattle Aquarium gift shop vendors are thoroughly vetted to ensure that consumer safety and environmental regulations are met.

    Our product assortment is constantly changing, and we will take your feedback into consideration as we add new items and selections going forward. We appreciate your feedback, and hope this explanation helps you understand our approach. We also hope to see you and your family enjoying the Seattle Aquarium soon!

    Best regards,

    Seattle Aquarium Gift Shop Team



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