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Last month I was at the World Travel Market with International Tourism Partnership (ITP) discussing water with a number of major hotel companies along with a diverse range of stakeholders who know a thing or two about the subject. There was a lot of good, open discussion and I was encouraged by the appetite shown by the companies in the room to work on water stewardship.
Similar to many other sustainability issues, there are some companies moving faster than others. Water is still a relatively new subject on the corporate responsibility agenda so it’s understandable that the question I heard repeated most often that day was: where and how do you start working on water stewardship?
With this is mind I’ve put together a list of the top 3 tips which serve as a beginner’s guide to water stewardship strategy for the hotel industry.
It’s important to understand the global challenges around water, which will help you to understand the context you’re operating in. There are some great resources at the following websites:
It’s also a good idea to spend some time familiarising yourself with the concept of water stewardship, why this approach is needed and what it entails. This information is provided in detail by WWF’s briefing ‘Water Stewardship: Perspectives on business risk and responses to water challenges’
It’s critical to understand the risks and impact your business has on water. Luckily there are tools out there to help support this analysis. Two examples are WWF’s Water Risk Filter and WRI’s Aqueduct. Water related risks are often categorised as physical (droughts, floods, pollution), reputational or regulatory and it’s useful to look at your business risks through this lens.
One interesting port of call is International Tourism Partnership’s water risk assessment which clearly highlights the risks to hotels in Dubai, Shanghai, Beijing, India’s Golden Triangle and Rio de Janeiro. It’s a though-provoking read irrespective of whether you have hotels in these locations.
Carrying out a water footprint assessment is also a great way to better understand your dependencies on water. But a word of caution here, a water footprint doesn’t necessarily point you in the right direction. For example, a large water footprint in a water abundant region is not necessarily a problem so it’s incredibly important to use a footprint as a part of your analysis.
Given the fact that hotels are almost always unable to move locations and very often dependent on the natural beauty of the surrounding area, it’s likely that the highest risks are in your direct operations rather than supply chains, despite water footprint studies such as the one done by Accor pointing to large water consumption in the food and beverage supply chain.
It’s important that the hotel industry understands where its water comes from. Often, because hotels are located by the coast or in urban areas, they are at the end of a river basin or a long chain of water service provision. As the world moves towards greater water scarcity, hotels will need to become part of decision-making, investment, lobbying to ensure that the source (natural) areas, which you have an invisible dependence on, are protected and water allocations are sustainable . It’s in your best interest to ensure that water source areas are protected, invested in, shared equitably and fairly managed.
Once you’ve established the areas of highest risk and impact you can use this to form the basis of your water stewardship strategy. This naturally will include reducing water consumption, which many companies at the ITP event had already made positive steps forward on. It may mean anything from training staff, fixing leaks, measuring water use at each site to improving efficiency of water usage in laundry, watering plants and foliage etc.
It is a great first step to look at water management in your hotels. But it has to be remembered that water runs through everything, connecting everyone upstream and downstream. What good is it if you become great at managing water in a hotel that sits in a landscape that is severely degraded and polluted? This could mean an increased risk of flooding or drought and pollution can degrade the natural beauty of lakes, rivers and beaches – all of which remain a risk no matter how efficient your water use is.
It is a crucial to engage and involve other relevant stakeholders in your water stewardship programme to start what’s known as collective action (and once you’re familiar with WWF’s approach you’ll recognise this as step 4 on the water stewardship ladder). This is an important step, which requires working with new organisations, looking at the issues that impact everyone in the same catchment or basin and working together to address them. The main aim of collective action is to ultimately improve governance (step 5 on the water stewardship ladder), so that water is managed sustainably for communities, the environment and for business too.
WWF-UK will be publishing a ‘how to’ guide for UK businesses on water stewardship next Spring. For more information on water stewardship from WWF-UK please email CBramley@wwf.org.uk. You can also follow Claire on twitter @claire_bramley