How can hotels’ water conservation help the Global Goals?

Global Goal 6

Global Goal 6

As World Water Week comes to an end, experts have discussed a number of issues touching this year's theme of Water and waste: Reduce and reuse. Key to the discussion was how fundamental water is to achieving the United Nations' Global Goals. As more international hotel groups are aligning their CSR activity with the Goals, what can all hotels learn about how their water preservation efforts can also contribute to the Goals?

With horrendous flooding currently affecting millions in South Asia and the US, no one can deny that water as a global issue is critical for multiple reasons.

A growing world population and more unpredictable weather patterns will increase uncertainty around the availability and quality of water. It has already been felt through a prolonged drought in California, in unusually high temperatures and drought in southern Europe, and in a devastating and deadly lack of rain in the Horn of Africa. Participants at World Water Week focused attention on how to mitigate the growing water uncertainty in many parts of the world, discussing how we can develop and sustain both technologies and behaviour that helps us thrive in an increasingly water scarce future.

One key objective of World Water Week is to track water in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Each year decision-makers have the opportunity to take stock of water's role in the implementation of the water-related SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement, with the aim of ensuring water is part of the solutions. The International Tourism Partnership is working with its hotel group members to address water as a critical issue for the industry, and find ways to work together towards Global Goal 6: clean water and sanitation.

Today's complex water challenges were addressed by some 3,000 participants at World Water Week from nearly than 130 countries, representing governments, the private sector, multilateral organisations, civil society and academia. See below some of the wide-ranging topics of discussion covered during the Week.

For hotels however water scarcity is increasingly common and therefore vital for them to address. As more countries, and cities, experience the effects of high population pressure and less available freshwater, the interest among policy-makers, businesses, and citizens grows. We need to become more efficient water users. We need to make some drastic changes.

The President of the United Nations General Assembly, Peter Thomson, called the world's climate and water resources the "fundament of our existence", and said that "Without proper stewardship of that fundament the 2030 sustainable development agenda obviously goes nowhere. Because without the fundament we can't exist."

"Together with the Paris Climate Agreement, implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals represents the best chance our species has to achieve a sustainable way of life on Planet Earth before it is too late", he added.

Sweden's Minister for Environment, Karolina Skog said that "Sustainable and efficient management of our water and wastewater has a profound effect on all aspects of human life; economic growth, sustainable development, sustainable city planning, circular thinking in industry and in production, energy saving, good quality of our water and, last but not least, it is crucial for health and for a sustainable environment."

Another central aspect of efficient water use, is to use less. In his welcoming speech Holmgren pointed out that it will be challenging but necessary to change large-scale water consumption patterns: "The Week's theme, Water and waste: Reduce and reuse, really touches the very core of our daily lives. To reduce, some drastic changes will be necessary - especially by the main water users, including industries, energy producers and the agriculture sector."  He added that changes are also needed in how we think about reuse of water: "I think that it is very important to try and change the mind-set around waste. Rather than presenting us with a problem, we can view waste as an asset also becoming a business opportunity."

These words are essential for hoteliers to take to heart as they consider greywater systems or ground water collection as part of the arsenal of water-saving practices they have at their fingertips. All hoteliers need to be thinking far beyond linen re-use programmes, and as guests in some countries typically use ten times or more the amount of water daily than is typical for local people, we also need to look at education and communication to customers.

Check out Green Hotelier's many free Resources on water use and saving, including our Know How Guide: Water Management and Responsibility in Hotels. A few years ago we commissioned SIWI, the organisation behind World Water Week to identify key water risk areas for hotels. You can read that report here.

Here are some of the many issues under discussion during the Week:

Water and climate: Climate change is to a large extent water change. Water disasters account for more than 90 per cent of the natural disasters in the world and climate-driven water hazards, water scarcity and variability pose significant risks to all economic activity, such as food and energy production, manufacturing and infrastructure development, as well as political stability. This is also true for high income countries. Resilience to climate change requires adaptive water management and robust water infrastructure.  

Sustainable Development Goals: Nearly all the sustainable development goals will require water to be achieved, and implementation will need to be integrated and coordinated. Water can help to facilitate this. For example, energy and food security, as well as economic growth and urbanization (SDGs 2, 7, 8, and 11) are directly dependent on the availability of freshwater resources.  

Water as connector between the SDGs and the Paris Agreement: In the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the water and sanitation SDG (Goal 6) links across all the other 16 Goals with a great number of water related targets in the overall Agenda; making water a key underlying factor and entry point for the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda. For the Paris Agreement, most of the countries who submitted their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), prioritized water in their adaptation chapters, before agriculture and health. This positions water as a priority for national policy, program implementation and funding.   

Drinking water and sanitation: The global water and sanitation crisis is mainly rooted in poverty, power and inequality, not in physical water scarcity. It is, first and foremost, a crisis of governance. Poor resources management, corruption, lack of appropriate institutions, bureaucratic inertia, and insufficient capacity lie in many places behind the lack of sustainability of services, which also undermine the arrival of new investments. Better water governance is needed for enhancing sustainability of services and attracting more investments into the sector. 

Water security: To manage the global rise in demand for water and to increase water productivity, incentives for using water more effectively are necessary. Water needs to be given its true value for production purposes in the energy, industry and agriculture sectors. 

Water and food/nutrition: Although prevalence is declining, an estimated 800 million people are still undernourished. A worrying opposite trend is a rapid growth of overeating: well over 2 billion are now overweight, obese or are negatively affected by diets that are less healthy. This kind of New Normal and mal-development is a global phenomenon with the most rapid increase among young people, and notable also among the poor. 

Innovative financing and green bonds: A great deal of (sustainable and climate smart) finance will be needed for both supplying water and treating waste water, but these investments to increase resilience to climate change will be much cheaper than the emergency responses which a future changed climate will require in terms of food security and human health. An investment in climate-proof infrastructure today will be offset by a future reduced need for emergency response measures to counter floods and droughts.

Water cooperation: Development needs cooperation. Cooperation over transboundary waters would spur regional development, improve resilience to climate change, and decrease the risk of geopolitical hostility. The political aspects of transboundary cooperation cannot be neglected if real progress is to be made. 

Water integrity: Corruption is one of the most serious challenges to sustainable management of water resources management and provision of water services. It reduces economic growth, discourages investment, increases the services delivery costs, increases health risks and robs poor people of their livelihoods and access to water. 

On pricing of water and valuing water: Water needs to be better valued. Some parts of this value can easily be reflected in a price, others cannot. Therefore, water pricing needs to be complemented with other types of policy instruments (such as laws, public awareness raising, or standards). Especially, we need to make sure that basic water services are affordable also to the poorest people, as per the human right to water and sanitation, and that water continues to keep ecosystems healthy. 

Water and migration: Increasingly, researchers and policymakers are seeking to explain migration and refugee flows in terms of water scarcity - often perpetuated by climate change. The interlinkages between water challenges and climate change manifested in the form of, for example, increased variability and uncertainty, are not the main causes of large-scale population migration. Rather, they should be considered as push factor multipliers. Social, economic, and political factors will also affect the vulnerability or resilience of communities.

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