Turning Phuket Green
Recently, as the rains hit Phuket, the notion of 'green thinking' seems to be gathering momentum. For the first time in many years the island is starting to wake up to the larger world's environmental issues. Summer in Phuket – led by hotels around the island – has set up a framework, while a mass beach and public area cleaning day saw participation from businesses, schools and locals alike. Granted these are baby steps, but they've certainly got a fair few people off their chairs. Rather then merely commenting on problems, they are taking concrete steps to improve the community.
There is an interesting story from a Caribbean island concerning a resort located in a small bay. A new manager started work there. Each day he saw the staff go down to the beach to collect and remove barrel after barrel of trash. After a few weeks he took a walk to the next bay over and was amazed to see local garbage trucks emptying trash directly onto the beach. Eventually at high tide the trash ended up washing into the ocean and yes, you guessed it, washed up on the resort's beach. When the staff of the hotel were asked how long they had been cleaning their own beach the response was "longer then they could remember".
Here in Phuket, while many basic or cosmetic fixes are being look at, it's important to view things holistically and take into account cause and effect. Trying to clean the island's beaches every day would take more manpower than is humanly possibly. What's more important is to look at who is dumping garbage, why they are dumping it and how things can be addressed at the root of the problem. Phuket is afflicted by an epidemic of littering and garbage and exactly what can be done to make things better is the million baht question.
Municipalities for the most part are responsible for garbage collection and disposal. They often have limited budgets, lack manpower and recruit private individuals or companies to take away trash. Garbage disposal becomes big business for entrepreneurs who have little interest in protecting the environment and operate free from regulation. Starting a dialogue with these municipalities and looking at providing more public trash receptacles, recycling centers and designated garbage dumps for both locals and businesses would help. Getting more garbage trucks and infrastructure to handle the growing population must be a priority.
Taking on littering is another problem. Again it's about getting into the community, the schools and the markets, where there is little awareness of the impact of throwing trash everywhere. If you look at a company such as Apple, which only has about 10% of the PC market in the world, and view how they plan to the future, you see that they are working in schools, donating on a large scale and are being rewarded with much more significant market share in the student segment. In the next decade these youngsters will enter the work stream and retain loyalty to the Apple brand. Bluntly put, the lessons of today will impact the future in ways not imagined.
Hospitality environmental pioneer Lyndall de Marco of the International Tourism Partnership (ITP) has been actively promoting the new third edition of the green bible for hospitality, "Environmental Management of Hotels". Key sections of the manual focus on areas including water conservation, waste management, environmental health and energy management. There are also case studies. The ITP organization was founded by the Prince of Wales in 1992 to spread environmental awareness in the travel and tourism industries. A comprehensive web site and resource is available at www.internationaltourismpartnership.com.
Instilling what need to be universal values in foreign residents and Thais alike is just the starting point. What is needed is a long-term and sustainable approach to not only keeping Phuket clean but tackling the growing problems of water pollution and scarcity, waste and the degradation of natural environments. Success in these areas will keep tourism alive and thriving here for a lifetime. While it's easy to be cynical and dismiss government participation, it's critical to engage in a meaningful dialogue with the private sector, particularly hotel and property developers, in order to see any real improvement. Getting the message to students as young as possible and getting buy-in from the large non-Thai workforce (Burmese) also need to be worked towards.
Perhaps the current economic slowdown does have a flip side. It's forcing businesses to look at themselves in the mirror and examine their own values and sense of responsibility to Phuket – not only today, but going forward. There has never been a better time to get involved. What's most encouraging is seeing people getting out and making the island a little better, one day at a time.