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Water efficiency as an immediate mitigation tool against Jakarta sinking process

Please briefly describe your Water ChangeMaker journey

Jakarta is often rated as one of the worst destinations in the world in terms of water risk for tourism. Under present conditions, Jakarta’s water security cannot be achieved. Jakarta is sinking as abusive extraction of underground water generates land subsidence. Water resources are insufficient, and the utility is not in a position to meet the demand. As a result, high rise buildings, malls, and hotels turn to deep wells as the easiest and cheapest alternative. Wastewater management is not addressed, and many of these big users do not treat their effluent before releasing it into open channels. This combination dramatically jeopardizes the water cycle and condemns the environment in a city that is increasingly affected by climate change. It prevents the poorest citizen from enjoying safe water as they must pay much more for their water than rich users who can afford to drill deep wells. As a further deficiency, most big users over-consume without knowing it. All these deficiencies contribute to building the hidden costs of water. Water is mistakenly considered cheap or free (underground water), while it is increasingly unavailable. This over-consumption dramatically impacts the cost of water and jeopardizes business security, while land subsidence generates expensive disasters. Jakarta’s water costs a lot. 

Please describe the change that your initiative created and how was it achieved

Since water is considered cheap, we selected a partner that already declared a strong commitment to sustainability. This partner is an iconic and one of the biggest hotels in Jakarta, managed by one of the top hospitality leaders in the world. We addressed financial competitiveness by highlighting hidden costs and risks, linking water sustainability to business security and to SDGs targets. We spoke the same language. Our comprehensive and transparent approach allowed us to demonstrate the true cost of water and exposing hidden costs. Against the market trend, we developed a “demand-management” strategy focusing on over-consumption and underground water over-extractions. To reduce underground water extraction, we optimized their consumption and engineered their transition towards alternative water sources. Through targeted wastewater treatment and “on-demand” engineered recycling solutions, we demonstrated the circular economy’s cost benefits. We supported our objectives through a combination of technology and capacity building programs dedicated to technicians and non-technicians. We promoted resources that were available in-house and also invited every sub-contractor involved in water assets maintenance, including swimming pool, landscape, cooling towers, or HVAC installations. Operating procedures were reviewed and adjusted. Benchmarks were set and KPIs adjusted to meet international tourism criteria.

How did your initiative help build resilience to climate change?

Instead of focusing on crisis management, we strived for mitigation. Resilience was consolidated simply by mobilizing decision-makers that already integrated sustainability criteria in their own financial strategy. We could position water as central to energy-efficiency, food-security, and social and environmental sustainability. All together it confirmed the true cost of water while addressing climate change issues. As an answer to water scarcity, we achieved an overall reduction in water usage of 57%, equivalent to 160,000 cubic meters per year. Reducing water needs, allowed to reduce and fully stop extraction from deep wells that were contributing to 30% of the water intake. The sewerage treatment plant was optimized and allowed to increase treatment capacity from 30% to 80%. Improvements to STP operating procedures enabled chemical-free operations. These improvements associated with close monitoring enabled a reduction in wastewater effluents and potential pollution during rainy season floods. The rainwater harvesting solution met water needs for landscaping for the whole year.

What water-related decisions did your initiative influence or improve?

The major achievement has been to demonstrate that Jakarta’s water sustainability, as an integral component of the climate change challenge, fully depends on commitment, mindset, and leadership. Water efficiency and demand management requires endurance, persistence, and commitment. We could provide all these criteria. But our performances were fully influenced by the general management personality who allowed us the required transparency in data collection. It allowed us to develop S.M.A.R.T. solutions that fully combined Specific improvement targets, Measurable performance indicators, Assignment of responsibilities, Realistic benchmarks, in a Timeframe that could provide an attractive return on investment. This environment allowed us to promote synergy, solidarity, and responsibility, to achieve common goals. We could encourage and reward “team” performances instead of individual achievement. This team spirit triggered the mobilization of sub-contractors, but also the contribution of non-technical staff that were not only involved in developing the strategy but indirectly affected by its performance. Regular coordination meetings were organized including the contribution of non-essential stakeholders, like security staff. Clients were kept informed about progress through an internal magazine. This team spirit-built staff pride and a sense of ownership. It boosted our motivation to promote this initiative for dissemination. It was introduced to the Jakarta Government through a round-table-discussion and workshop.

What were some of the challenges faced and how were they overcome?

Our initiative was introduced to a dozen potential partners, but underground water usage was a taboo topic, as many deep wells are illegal, unrecorded, unmeasured and undeclared. This water is often considered free and does not appear on any official records. The prevailing lack of transparency hindered the application of the required methodology and tools to monitor progress. Furthermore, many building owners refused to allocate CAPEX for wastewater treatment or storage facility. To convince our client to become a partner, we triggered adhesion from management and building owners by simulating and developing strong and fast consumption reductions from each water user, including utilities, HVAC, kitchen and restaurants, swimming pool, mosque… Our benchmarks and Key Performance Indicators demonstrated resilience to social, economic, technological, and environmental challenges. Both consumption reduction and alternative water intakes demonstrated sufficient return on investment that covered the financial deficit from closing deep wells. Once financial costs were covered, we exposed the identified hidden costs and promoted them under the company’s global sustainability report that covered climate change, as part of the environmental sustainability undertaking. During this sustainability journey, we dealt with 3 different general managers that had a different mission but adhered to the same vision.

In your view: Will the change that was created by your initiative continue?

We are convinced that both methodology and outputs are an appropriate answer to future climate changes. We believe that our solution offers the potential to slow down Jakarta’s sinking process. We already established proven references to improve water access. The achieved performances were introduced to Jakarta’s policymakers but failed to trigger dissemination. We decided to promote this showcase to international competitions and were glad to be awarded the “Green Hotelier of the Year”, with the “best Water Sustainability Performances” by the International Tourism Partnership- London. It was introduced at “SIWI World Water Week 2019.” Without political endorsement, we cannot influence decision-makers that are not concerned about climate change and sustainability issues. However, we believe that the benefits in this hotel will endure and will be replicated in other hotels from the same management company and to other hotels that demonstrate similar environmental responsibility.

What did you learn during the initiative or after? And is it possible that others could learn from you?

This achievement is the result of 20 years of dedication to improving Indonesian production and consumption patterns. We lead business optimizing water usage, and our performances have been recognized for improving business security and for generating financial, social, and environmental benefits. We developed “designed- to-purpose” water treatment and recycling solutions that meet circular economy principles. We successfully engaged in the water-energy nexus. Our solutions have been rewarded for their innovation and impact and broadly encouraged, confirming our alignment to sustainable development. These performances triggered the staff's sense of solidarity and their pride to be involved in a social initiative that confirms their own impact on society. All these rewards encourage us to share our knowledge and disseminate what we consider to be an acceptable solution. But, we learned that the road to sustainability is still long and tortuous. Without the involvement of a strong and dedicated partner, we, as a company, cannot create impact.