Jamaica: Implementing environmental management systems for sustainable tourism (#153)

Tourism has placed great pressure on the natural environment of Jamaica. Action was taken through a USAID funded project that aimed to increase water use efficiency and improve environmental management. The key lessons are the value of demonstrating the benefits locally as well as to institutionalise the programme. 


The tourism industry in Jamaica is a large component of the economy with over 158 licensed hotels on the island. Tourism, while vital for economic growth, can place a strain on the infrastructure and the natural resources of a destination by inflating the population of an area with large numbers of transient guests. High-density tourism in coastal areas can result in potable water scarcity, water quality degradation, and mangrove, wetland and reef destruction. 

Action taken

The project funded by USAID has improved environmental management in over 30 hotels in Jamaica, reducing resource consumption and minimizing the environmental impacts of the hotels. A program of water use efficiency activities was successfully designed and implemented as part of this environmental management system (EMS) project, which has institutionalized "best practices" in the tourism industry in Jamaica.

These best practices include equipping all areas of the hotel with water conservation devices, installing drip irrigation and low pressure sprinkler systems in landscaped areas, installing sub-meters to monitor water use in key areas, and implementing voluntary towel reuse programs in guestrooms.

These measures contributed to water savings of over 41.4 million Imperial Gallons among the participating hotels as well as reduced energy and chemical use. Significant improvements in water use efficiency and reduced chemical use help protect the sensitive coastal ecosystems that attract tourists. In addition, the project focused on training and awareness building.

The project has served as a model throughout the Caribbean for industry programs to meet voluntary environmental standards for the protection of water and related land resources and has established Jamaica as a leader in sustainable tourism in the Caribbean.

Lessons learned

  • Create incentives for voluntary action: EAST project initially had difficulty identifying 15 volunteer properties because there was no clear incentive to participate. Introducing the Green Globe Certification created an incentive for continuous improvement. Today there are over 40 hotels in Jamaica that have benefited from the environmental management system and training offered by the project. 
  • Demonstrate the benefits locally: There was little or no information on the environmental performance of Jamaican hotels prior to EAST project. Using specific examples of audit findings and EMS results from nearby hotels was much more powerful and compelling than references to experiences in other countries or even destinations within another country. 
  • Publicize the results: The hotel industry in Jamaica, as in other places, is very conscious about public relations. Coverage of the EAST Project, including documentary videos and press coverage, has greatly raised awareness within the industry of the benefits of environmental management. 
  • Institutionalize the programs: Perhaps the most important lesson is to introduce EMS as part of an industry-wide initiative. On-site technical assistance needs to be supported by awareness and training activities. Housing the program in a hotel association like JHTA provided an excellent way to expand membership services and help redefine the industry`s reputation at home and abroad.

Importance of the case for IWRM

The case illustrates how environmental management systems can achieve reduced demand for potable water, promotion of water recycling and greywater reuse, improvement in proper handling and treatment of wastewater, reduced amounts of chemicals, fertilizer and pesticides, training and increased awareness on best practices for sustainable environmental management of coastal ecosystems.

Photo credit: Tomash Devenishek