Sustainability and Water Efficiency: Lessons From Down Under

Sustainability and water efficiency are becoming an increasingly important issue for hoteliers. A study gives some solutions for food production in Australia.

Sustainability, in terms of energy and water conversation, is becoming an increasingly important issue for hoteliers. As we have previously reported in Hospitality Insights, hotel groups such as the Radisson and Mandarin Oriental are taking steps to reduce their energy and water usage. In addition to the halo effect of being able to position themselves as sustainable corporate entities, such initiatives can also help the bottom line by reducing energy and water bills.

Water efficiency is also important when it comes to food production, especially in the more arid parts of the world. Farming is the largest consumer of water and the expansion of food production to meet population growth and increasing droughts caused by climate change, threaten water security and food production in many countries.

Hospitality_Insights_Agriculture_Water_ConsumptionSource: World Development Indicators.

Study into the adoption of innovative practices

This has prompted researchers at Charles Darwin University (CDU), Swinburne University of Technology and Ecole hôteliere de Lausanne to embark on a joint study into the adoption of innovative practices that could make food production more sustainable and water efficient in Australia, the food bowl of the Asia Pacific region.

The study found significant barriers to the uptake of more efficient irrigation on farms. One of the joint authors of the study, CDU Professor of Marketing, Steven Greenland, said the adoption of climate-smart agriculture practices has been very slow.

The study found governments and the agricultural sector aren’t fulfilling their social responsibility and sustainability obligations because there are neither the policy settings nor industry leadership to promote climate-smart practices.

Nearly 200 farmers participated in detailed interviews or surveys to identify the barriers to the uptake of drip irrigation, the most water efficient form of irrigation for agriculture.

The impacts of government policies and other complex barriers

Professor Greenland said while farmers recognised the value of water efficiency, this wasn’t the key factor behind decisions about irrigation methods.

“Complex barriers were identified that have resulted in a lower uptake of drip irrigation. These include cost, satisfaction with existing irrigation methods, and a low appetite for trying different methods.”

But by far the biggest factor holding back more water efficient irrigation was government policies. “Government support for alternative, less water-efficient irrigation methods was a critical barrier,” Professor Greenland said.

“Governments at national and state level have invested in improving pre-existing, open-channel flood irrigation water delivery and infrastructure, rather than promoting and encouraging the adoption of more water-efficient irrigation methods.” “For instance, investments such as automated gates and valves that include flow meters has increased the convenience for farmers and their satisfaction with a traditional irrigation method. This lowers the motivation to pursue more water-efficient alternatives,” he said.

The research found that in order to reduce the risks to future food and water security, the agricultural sector and stakeholders such as governments must prioritise water-efficient irrigation. Professor Greenland said sustainability does not appear to be the key driver for governments in determining water-related policies as they prefer to invest in costly desalination plants, which have a significant environmental impact of their own.

It would require a paradigm shift for sustainability to be integrated into government policy on water. The entire food industry should lobby the agricultural sector and governments to encourage this change. That includes downstream processors, supermarkets, hoteliers, and ultimately, consumers.

Professor Barry O`Mahony, Chief Academic Officer at EHL and a member of the research team, said that “consumers are becoming increasingly sensitive to sustainability messages and procuring food products from sustainable sources is now emerging as an important element in the consumption experience.” “This is an issue for hoteliers and restaurateurs because if consumers demand food produced in a sustainable water-efficient manner, they’ll need to source food produced in this way – much the same way organic foods found a place in the market,” he said.  


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