Hotels & SDGs: Moving Together On Water Risk

By Fran Hughes 16 January, 2018

ITP's Hughes looks at SDG integration in the hotel sector

Meeting SDGs could create jobs & opportunities worth USD12tn; forward thinking co's are re-aligning strategies
Leading hotels are adopting holistic approaches & moving beyond efficiency measures e.g Radisson Blu & Hilton
In Sept 2017 ITP released their Vision & Goals for 2030, which are aligned to the SDGs for sustainable growth

In September 2015 the United Nations launched the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); 17 ambitions to inspire and direct governments and companies to tackle the world’s most challenging social and environmental issues, from poverty and inequality to climate change and water risk. The SDGs, also known as the Global Goals, provide a framework for organisations to address issues in a manner which has meaning and will help them to demonstrate real impact.

Meeting the SDGs could create almost 380mn jobs & opportunities worth USD12tn

It’s not about doing good for doing goods’ sake; the Business and Sustainable Development Commission believes that meeting the SDGs could create almost 380 million jobs and opportunities worth USD12 trillion. Investors are increasingly expecting companies to demonstrate how they not only mitigate risk but also create shared value, and this does not come from reporting on incremental improvements in performance or isolated acts of corporate philanthropy. In fact, continuing to report in this way potentially exposes companies to more risk than if they did not report on corporate responsibility at all. It suggests a lack of real understanding of material issues and the impact the business has on them, and they on the business in future.
I think most recognise that being a sustainable business is not about tree hugging, but neither is it only about Earth Hour, employee volunteering or low flow shower heads; it is about having a strategy to ensure it continues to grow and flourish in a rapidly changing world. To paraphrase Brundtland, it meets the needs of today without compromising its ability to do so in future. And industry leaders are not content with just meeting needs; they want to ensure their impacts across the whole value chain are ‘net positive’.

“Forward thinking co’s are thus aligning their corporate strategies to the SDGs, & there are great examples in the hotel sector”

Forward thinking companies are thus aligning their corporate strategies to the SDGs, and there are great examples in the hotel sector. Taking SDG 61 on water, leading hotel groups are moving beyond simple efficiency measures and adopting holistic approaches to water stewardship. Long-term thinking, structural change of how the hotel product and service is delivered, and locally appropriate solutions characterise the best approaches, two of which are illustrated here:

  • Whilst soap recycling and reducing linen changes are becoming increasingly commonplace, Carlson Rezidor’s award winning Blu Planet initiative in its Radisson Blu brand has taken these initiatives further by investing the savings generated into water projects for sanitation and health in vulnerable communities. Given that it is estimated that up to 85% of a hotel’s water footprint is in the food and beverage supply chain, Radisson Blu has also calculated the impact of its food service provision and offers a water-light super breakfast: Great innovations that demonstrate real impact (and taste very good too!)
  • Another example of great leadership on water is that of Hilton which in 2017 announced its water commitment and stewardship strategy. The company is using the data it has collected over seven years on its properties’ water impacts and extended value chain analysis of challenges and opportunities in priority water regions, including positive and negative impact of Hilton operations, to make thoughtful decisions about what actions need to be taken and where, and how to engage the stakeholder community in those regions.

The hotel sector is growing fast and as such may have a long way to go to decouple growth in business from growth in water consumption, but it is clear that change is happening and that industry leaders are demonstrating intelligent and innovative responses to SDG 6. It’s happening on a sector level too.

“Our biggest step & most ambitious commitment was made in Sept 2017 when we & our 13 members announced our Vision & Goals for 2030, aligned to the SDGs…”

Two years ago my organisation, the International Tourism Partnership (ITP), had just embarked on developing a common methodology and tool to measure and report on water risk; the Hotel Water Measurement Initiative (HWMI). Now over 12,000 hotels worldwide use the methodology with more planning to implement it in the next few years. Our biggest step and most ambitious commitment was made in September 2017 when we and our 13 members announced our Vision and Goals for 2030, aligned to the SDGs, for sustainable growth and a fairer future for all.

ITP’s Goals, launched in the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, send a clear call to action to the wider industry about the critical importance of using the SDGs as a focal point to drive responsible business in hospitality. Our Goal on water is “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”
ITP goals

When you are part of one of the world’s fasted growing industries, social & environmental responsibility cannot be underestimated

For 25 years, the hotel industry under ITP’s leadership has advanced sustainable tourism; developing tools and resources for hotels around the world, sharing knowledge and working together for a more responsible future. Looking forward we have a common ambition: to lead the industry through example with clear and quantifiable commitments to sustainability aligned to the SDGs. Because whilst it is incumbent on all businesses to demonstrate social and environmental responsibility, when you are part of one of the world’s fasted growing industries, that responsibility cannot be underestimated.

ITP’s Goal on Water

“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.”


1 Sustainable Development Goal 6: “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”

Further Reading

  • Companies Are Taking Water Security Seriously – Here’s How – CDP’s Cate Lamb shares key findings from their 2017 Global Water Report, which includes a 41% increase in companies disclosing and a record number of corporates achieving an ‘A’ score. Is putting an internal price on water the next step?
  • Droughts: Misery In Slow Motion – Floods and storm surges are sensational disasters but the World Bank’s new report shows droughts can actually be more impactful. We sat down with their Richard Damania to find out more
  • Key Takeaways From The 5th China SIF Conference – The 5th China Social Investment Forum Annual Conference was just held in Beijing. See Dr Guo Peiyuan of SynTao Green Finance, a co-host of the event, three key takeaways, including the first ESG Chinese equity index
  • China’s Green Planning For The World Starts With Infrastructure – China can exert greater external influence through infrastructure development but Professor Asit K Biswas and Kris Hartley from the Lee Kuan Yew School for Public Policy caution against it citing financial and environmental risks. See more
  • 5 Facts On Crop Failures Due To Water Risks – In 2016 China suffered 44 million tonnes of crop failure due to droughts and floods. Check out China Water Risk’s Max Leung’s five facts to get the latest info and see which regions are most at risk
  • ITP Water Risk Assessment Report: This study investigates if and how freshwater can become a constraint to the hotel indsutry in specific regions. The study was conducted by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) and China Water Risk’s work is referenced in the China section of the report
  • Hotels: Giant Leaps For Water Scarcity – The hotel industry ranked water as the No. 2 most important issue. International Tourism Partnership’s Hughes on work ahead with a new tool to standardise measurement of water across 30,000 hotels
  • Hotels: Moving Beyond Water Use – International Tourism Partnership’s Fran Hughes on why the hotel industry should move beyond water per guest night and address operational and reputational risks
  • Alleviating Water Scarcity in Cuba – UNESCO-IHE’s Dr. Vazquez on how Cuba is alleviating its water scarcity issues through wastewater reuse, use of seawater and pilots in Cuba’s growing tourism sector to ensure “Mas Agua Para Todos”
Fran Hughes
Author: Fran Hughes
Fran Hughes is Director of the International Tourism Partnership (ITP). ITP is a global industry organisation, bringing together the most powerful hotel companies in an alliance focused on a single ambition: to lead the industry through example with clear and quantifiable commitments to improved sustainability. ITP believes that the hotel industry can be a force for good and make a positive contribution to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and to the COP21 climate agreements and that bigger impacts can be achieved faster through the industry working together at scale. ITP’s collaborative work focuses around four critical goals on carbon, water, youth employment and human rights. ITP works with its members to drive continual improvement through promoting and sharing best practice through its online magazine, offering a range of practical products and programmes, such as the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative (HCMI) - developed in partnership with the World Travel & Tourism Council; and setting the agenda on sustainability through collaborative working groups and issues management. Fran has over 25 years’ experience in the tourism industry and holds a Master’s in Environmental Strategy.
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