It’s time for hotels to take water usage seriously
It’s time for hotels to take water usage seriously
23 AUGUST 2018 7:38 AM

As the water crisis is hitting various parts of the world, hoteliers need to do more than offer programs for guests to opt out of housekeeping services; it’s time to embed water stewardship.

There are lots of numbers that get bandied around when we’re talking about water. But often they’re so big it’s hard to assimilate them.

For at least one month each year, 2.8 billion people are affected by water scarcity, and 1.2 billion people are without clean water to drink. Additionally, demand is expected to outstrip supply by 40% by 2030.

And yet despite living in our own freshwater bubble, water scarcity can be very close to home. It’s estimated up to a million people in California’s Central Valley struggle to access safe and regular water in the summer months, while the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, has forced the state to spend tens of thousands of dollars every month on bottled water for its residents.

Meanwhile the long-running drought in South Africa has forced Cape Town residents to take drastic water-saving measures in a bid to delay “Day Zero,” when authorities would be forced to switch off the water supply, leaving people to queue in the street to collect their daily requirement. This is the third-largest economic hub in all of Africa with more than 600 hotels. And what do you imagine happens to a hotel with no running water?

The problem for hotel groups is that water is a local issue. Headquarters might set strong targets on reducing its global water footprint, and those are easily achievable by your hotels in northern Europe. But what about your hotels in Asia/Pacific, where in some countries guests typically use 10 times or more water daily than is usual for local people? You can have all the linen policies you want; if your occupancy is increasing, it’s not going to make a blip on your water footprint.

When the International Tourism Partnership set its 2030 Goals for the hotel industry last year, it worked hard with its membership of leading hotel groups to develop a meaningful goal on water. The wording it settled on was: ITP commits to support increased water-use efficiency, sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and reduce the number of people affected by water scarcity by embedding water stewardship programmes across hotel portfolios.

The goals are clearly focused on helping members work collaboratively toward a number of the targets laid out in the United Nations’ Global Goals—or SDGS—and sets actions at property level. Properly embedding stewardship means not just setting reduction targets but really thinking hard about how a property is impacting its neighbors. It means factoring water scarcity into growth strategies, and sometimes it means making hard decisions for the benefit of all, even if it comes at a cost to the hotel. Not because it boosts the bottom line, but because it’s the right thing to do.

This was exactly the decision taken at the Mercure Convention Centre Ancol Jakarta, this year’s winner of the Green Hotelier Award for Water and Green Hotelier’s Sustainable Hotel of the Year. Indonesia has several of the most water-stressed locations on the planet, and water-thirsty hotels can have a big impact on availability for local people.

Hoteliers realising their role in ensuring local people can access high-quality fresh water have begun actively working with local government. They engaged experts and undertook a comprehensive audit, ceased drawing from their hotel’s well, installed meters across the property, trained staff, check weekly for leaks, added a range of efficiency measures and are now re-using greywater. Stopping direct draws from the water table and instead paying for the municipal supply was a big, bold move. Nevertheless, they’ve achieved a water savings of 51% in six years and 10% cost savings against an increase of 7% on revenue. And they’ve helped over 7,300 people access more and better water.

This is exactly the kind of stewardship that hotels and their CSR managers need to be investigating and implementing no matter where they are in the world. This year, 1 August was Earth Overshoot Day—the point when we’ve used up the natural resources that the earth is able to renew in one year. And despite our efforts, the date comes earlier every year. Water is dwindling, and since it’s essential for our survival we all need to do our bit—and more—to protect and preserve it.

The good news is that when individuals and businesses set their minds to it and really work together for change, it does make a difference. Water-saving actions in Cape Town have seen Day Zero pushed back from the first half of this year, now to 2019. Working together for positive impact—as ITP’s members are doing—can and does make a difference. It’s time for hotels to think bigger than linen policies and really embed water stewardship so we’re ready when the next Cape Town happens.

Siobhan O’Neill has been editor of Green Hotelier for the past five years, branching out as communications manager for the International Tourism Partnership. Before joining ITP she worked for ten years as a freelance journalist across a variety of media; specializing in catering and the hospitality sector, with a particular interest in sustainability issues.

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