Circular economy: the key to a sustainable tourism industry
The future is uncertain by definition, but where do we want to see ourselves in a few years?
Because the future is not a gift; it is an achievement…
Sustainability is an attitude. An economic attitude that allows us to keep growing; a level of wellbeing and equality of opportunities between generations. The aim for the future must be to maintain, over time, the ability to meet the public and private requirements of society and to maintain a certain level of wellbeing. To do this, we can’t keep growing at the expense of future generations.
What problem are we facing, exactly?
With regards to future generations, it’s clear that we’re dealing with a huge problem in terms of scarcity of raw materials. We are using natural resources at a rate that is faster than the Earth’s capacity to renew them.
We’re reaching the stage where, soon, we might not have enough raw materials to do what we want. Therefore, efficient growth means replacing scarce capital – natural resources – with other types of capital: technology.
To put it more simply, our current economic activity follows a linear model of production and consumption: extraction-production and consumption-waste, which exhausts natural resources and generates waste on a scale that is clearly unsustainable from an environmental perspective.
In this context, it’s clear that we need to find a new and more holistic model of production that eliminates the planned obsolescence by transforming “products” into “systems” with a better ‘production cost-environmental damage-product price’ ratio, generating benefits for the environment, profitability for companies and lower prices for the consumer. Here is where the concept of circular economy arises as an economic model that is tied to sustainability, whose objective is for the value of products, materials and resources to remain in the economy for as long as possible, reducing waste generation to a minimum.
But what is the circular economy? What does it involve?
The circular economy is much more than the simple act of recycling. Our progress as a human race should be rooted in making resources last for as long as possible; and once they break, repairing them. When they can’t be repaired, we should extract their component materials and use them to build new products.
A circular economy is one which uses resources efficiently and maximises their value, with any remaining value at the end of their useful life being recycled or reused by means of reducing waste. To meet these targets, all involved parties need to pull in the same direction. We need to fight against the problems related to consumerism, continuous growth and a scarcity of resources. The main objective is to strike a better balance between people, the planet and economic growth.
Circular economy and tourism
The tourism industry is currently expanding. It is considered to be one of the most important socioeconomic sectors, allowing some societies to develop off the back of its exploitation. It’s a well-known fact that the tourism industry is, and has been, vital for the development of the Spanish economy. However, the development of the tourism industry entails negative consequences for the environment, such as high resource consumption and waste production. The circular economy is therefore particularly important, as it proposes production models with zero emissions/waste via the creation of circular and inclusive processes.
The development of a circular tourist economy may lead to the sustainable use of resources, improving the efficiency of the tourism industry and achieving the sustainable development of the sector. An adequate and sustainable management of resources is a key element of current and future touristic policies; it also requires the involvement of all component parts of the economy, and for them to be interconnected. Companies, consumers and governments need to work together towards a common goal: implementing a just, social, collaborative and sustainable economy.
Some of the most environmentally vulnerable areas coincide with areas considered as first-class tourist destinations: the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean, amongst others. It is vitally important for actions to be taken to preserve and recover these tourist areas. These actions are directly related to the development of the tourism industry. These actions must also promote sustainable production and consumption while minimising the use of key resources such as water and energy by means of reducing climate change.
Sustainable tourism is not a new concept. However, the concept of a circular economy is helping to promote this model when it comes to redesigning products and services.
The proposals laid out by the circular economy are understood as an opportunity for the sector and the companies when it comes to reconsidering the way in which tourist destinations promote themselves. In order to limit the negative impacts and the conflicts that are created between interested parties, the social components involved in the tourism management strategy must be considered, and community participation must be encouraged. It is crucial to understand the relationships held between the interested parties, with their collaboration being massively important. They must work together in the planning and management of the industry and the implementation of projects.
The circular economy stems from the real need to abandon a linear economic model that has been followed by society, exhausting necessary resources, to meet the future needs of an increasingly weak planet: our planet.
A shift towards a sustainable model is the solution. Nowadays, there’s an infinite range of opportunities for companies and consumers in new lines of business, as well as greater supply chain security, re-use of resources and reduced costs. We need to reconsider the current system and try and find new perspectives through innovation and creativity.