Sustainable hospitality: What a small town in Karnataka can teach us about circular economy

Most of our usual economic practices are the result of the habitual ‘take-make-use-dispose’ linear economy which we have been a part of; and as an outcome, our planet has been witnessing constant environmental degradation and natural resources depletion for a long time. But with the world of human beings finally awakening to this harsh reality, we look to stem the erosion by adopting a sustainable ‘take-make-use-reuse-recycle’ economic system called circular economy. A circular economy is closed and inclusive and adopts conscious practices for optimal resource usage, eliminating or minimising wastage, reuse and recycle. The idea which first emerged in the 1970s-80s, initially gained popularity in production and manufacturing.

According to Murray, Skene and Haynes, a circular economy is a sustainable development strategy or economic model that attempts to conceptualise the integration and interaction of economic activity and environmental issues in a sustainable way, balancing economic, environmental, technological and social aspects. A closer reading of this description suggests that this guiding essence is applicable to any sector including service sectors like hospitality.

Green practices

The principles and practices of circular economy can be, nay, are already being adapted in the world of hospitality, and successfully. How?

There is a small town called Kumta in Uttara Kannada in Karnataka. Miles of the ocean, flanked by rolling green hills, dotted with small rivers, forming a wide estuary ideal for fishing. But the true play of colour happens at night when the seawaters light up as you step into the water — a phenomenon called bio-luminance, as spectacular as the northern lights, yet a little less explored. This virgin district, with so much natural resources available for harvest, can soon be overrun by commerce, with most of its beauty plundered. So, the community has come together to protect its own, with a vision to give back to the land as much as they take from it. And in doing so they have created a circular economy, with the tourism and hospitality industry acting as the foundation supporting the micro-economy.

The idea is to create several hospitality products — a large hotel with a convention centre, a range of high-end tents and Finnish glass structures for exclusive experiences, lodges around the river for wildlife spotting and bamboo homestays for the affordable segment; but all these properties are built around sustainability. There is careful use of water, natural filtration plants, recycling, and waste management to avoid polluting natural resources, solar plants for energy efficiencies, etc. The projects will be in partnership with the local community. While the hospitality projects shall be the natural consumers for all resources, they will simultaneously provide opportunities to the local community.

Entrepreneurship — Locals who would set up homestays shall be coached on providing services and will have revenue share arrangements with capex providers.

Employment — A large part of the local community will be employed with these hospitality providers who focus on local recruitment. Hospitality training shall be provided to uplift basic skills.

Food consumption — Local fisheries, dairies, and farmers shall provide stock for daily consumption. In addition, each project shall entail their own kitchen farms and provide herbs, vegetables, etc.

Local activities — Tourist engagement activities to be planned and managed with the inputs and expertise of local experts and guides. Activities can be floating restaurants, fishing and water sports, excursions into the jungles, foraging, and birding and wildlife tours. Locals will be trained to provide these services.

Arts and crafts — Sessions in local crafts and products for tourists made by local folk or artists can be sold directly to hotels or through souvenir shops.

While tourism makes use of micro suppliers, certain large industries can also grow autonomously. Fisheries can tie up with cold storage companies for surplus produce. Transport providers will increase — helicopters will transport customers from Goa / Bangalore and local taxis (battery vehicles) will take care of within-area travel. Dairy products such as cheeses can be produced too, directly contracting with large food chains. And each of these industries, in turn, shall provide an impetus to tourism.

There has been a perceptible shift in the behaviour of the hospitality industry’s consumers. The average consumer is aware of and supports green practices. This gives an additional motivation to the industry to not only be environmentally responsible but also to adopt principles of circular economy. According to the findings of recent research, consumer awareness of sustainable issues has a direct impact on companies’ adoption of circular economy and green practices. The Kumta project is a $300 million initiative under the United Nations to conserve natural resources and create a huge impact across the 150 km radius of the district. And if we can save one district, one untouched virgin district and make it into a thriving vibrant and economically strong circular economy, it can stand as a demonstration, a proof of concept for a better India, a better world.

Aditi Balbir

Originally published at https://www.cnbctv18.com.

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