Noticias / Sustainability and Circular Economy

Eduardo Martínez, CEO of HIDRIA: “The Circular Economy is a systemic approach that requires time to be fully implemented”

Eduardo Martínez is a Spanish expert with more than 20 years of experience in various disciplines, with a focus on the Circular Economy applied to tourism. He is part of the project “Reactivation of Regional Tourism with Circular Economy” as an external consultant, has shared his experience in the workshops organised by Eurochile in the region of Coquimbo and in this interview, from Spain, he highlights the importance of disseminating this knowledge among the participating small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Publicado el 14/09/2023

Eduardo Martínez is a Spanish expert with a track record of more than 20 years in various disciplines, with a focus on the Circular Economy applied to tourism. He is CEO of HIDRIA, a company dedicated to science, environment and sustainable development. In addition, he stands out as a senior consultant specialising in the direction and comprehensive management of international projects related to sustainability, environment, tourism and human development. Throughout his career, he has led and executed projects in various parts of the world.

Martínez has had the opportunity to work on the project “Reactivation of Regional Tourism with Circular Economy”, executed by the Eurochile Business Foundation and financed by the Regional Government of Coquimbo through the Innovation Fund for Competitiveness (FIC), which contributes to the reactivation and recovery of local tourism through the generation of new sustainable and circular products, thus promoting knowledge and the transition to a circular economy among SMEs in the region.

In this sense, he has been present both at the launch of the programme held on 6 June in the city of La Serena and at the webinar “How to adopt a tourism product to the Circular Economy”, held on Wednesday 13 September. During the latter event, the expert presented various topics related to the implementation of the circular economy in the tourism sector in Chile. These topics included the evaluation of the current state of Chile in terms of circular economy in tourism, self-diagnosis tools available, the relevance of value propositions, strategies to implement effective circular practices and the benefits that the circular economy brings to companies, among others.

In this regard, we spoke with Eduardo Martinez, CEO of HIDRIA, Science, Environment and Development, who told us about the different perspectives that circular tourism can have both in Chile and Europe, the benefits of implementing the circular economy in the tourism sector and the importance of disseminating this information through the workshops organised by the Eurochile Business Foundation in the framework of the project implemented in the region of Coquimbo.

⦁            How is Europe doing in terms of Circular Tourism?

Talking about Europe implies dealing with a very ambitious geographical concept. When we refer to Europe, especially in the central and northern part, we are talking about territories that have always maintained an approach closer to sustainability, green and circular economy. Moreover, as far as the South-Central area is concerned, this region is known for its tourist attractiveness.

On the other hand, there is a strong commitment by governments in this direction. Tourism is mainly driven by the private sector, but the public sector plays an important role in formulating strategies and regulations to steer tourism towards more sustainable practices. However, the private sector is often constrained by public restrictions when trying to move towards circularity in tourism. There are aspects beyond their control, and although they can undertake actions related to the circular economy, these depend on the individual initiative of entrepreneurs and their belief in the differential benefits it can offer.

The speed at which circularity is being adopted in tourism in Europe varies according to region and type of company. Circularity is a complex concept, and the circular economy is a systemic approach that goes beyond simple recycling. It involves profound changes in business processes and practices. This complexity is compounded by the diversity of the tourism sector, which ranges from car rental to accommodation, restaurants and tourism services. Integrating these elements is a significant challenge. Moreover, in the aftermath of the pandemic, most of the tourism sector is still recovering from the devastating impacts on its operations.

It is important to note that tourism will have to adapt to the circular economy or face significant challenges due to increased waste and the need for greater sustainability. Some regions, such as Mallorca, are already implementing regulations that oblige tourism businesses to develop circularity plans, indicating a gradual shift towards more sustainable practices in the sector.

In short, I believe that it will still take several years before the circular economy becomes the norm in Europe and the world. Two decades ago, we started talking about sustainability, and now we are making the transition to the circular economy. Both concepts are valuable but very different. It is a gradual process that is gaining more and more followers.

⦁            What is your perception of the state of implementation of the Circular Economy in the tourism sector in Chile?

From Chile and from the region of Coquimbo, a remarkable initiative is being developed in terms of interest in listening and opening up to the issue of the circular economy. I believe that the regional government of Coquimbo, with its greener and more sustainable approach, has the clear intention to incorporate circularity as a central issue in its agenda.

It is worth noting that more and more tourists are specifically looking for tourism experiences that address circularity as a fundamental aspect. However, I also perceive a shared concern, not only in relation to the initiatives that are being carried out in Chile, such as those promoted by Eurochile, but also internationally through platforms such as LinkedIn and social networks, where movements and actions are being generated.

However, it is crucial to distinguish between ephemeral actions, which could be considered “fireworks” that only last for a short period, and efforts that take a longer-term view. In other words, receiving a grant for projects related to the circular economy is fine, but without long-term planning and sustainable implementation over time, such efforts can be short-lived.

The circular economy is a systemic approach that requires time for full implementation. While small actions can be taken and possibly inspire some entrepreneurs to think differently, it is essential to allow time for these changes to develop. It is not a simple or quick process.

⦁            What are the elements necessary for these destinations to meet the requirements that attract the sustainable tourist?

Many significant initiatives are being developed in Chile, especially in the restaurant industry, to address issues such as food waste. Many companies are beginning to quantify and assess the amount of food that is wasted and are looking for ways to improve their waste management. The circular economy is based on reducing waste, beyond recycling, by transforming energy and material chains into more efficient systems.

In addition to food waste, other key issues in the transition to the circular economy include energy management and mobility. Tourists increasingly value sustainable mobility and spaces adapted to more environmentally friendly practices. The importance of reducing the carbon footprint of tourism experiences is also highlighted, which involves calculating and minimising the carbon emissions associated with tourism activities.

However, implementing circular practices takes time and requires commitment from entrepreneurs. Measuring carbon footprint and water footprint, along with finding ways to minimise them, are key elements in this process. In addition, the adoption of certifications related to carbon footprint and water footprint is starting to become a differentiating and valuable practice in the tourism industry.

Today, “net zero carbon” tourism experiences are booming and are valued by tourists. However, achieving a zero CO₂ balance in tourism activities involving transoceanic flights can be challenging and in some cases impossible.

⦁            How important is the development of these workshops and activities for the participating SMEs?

It is important to understand that circular economy processes in tourism require a collaborative and associative approach. In other words, it is difficult to approach circularity in a business individually, as the circular economy is based on waste minimisation and the transformation of what we would normally consider waste into resources that can be used by others. Managing this dynamic necessarily involves collaborating and partnering with other people or businesses, as what is waste for one may be a valuable resource for another.

For this reason, it is essential to start thinking about how to manage this in an integrated way, which in turn requires us to listen to others, understand their needs and determine how we can contribute. Workshops and meeting spaces such as these are crucial, as they bring together individuals and companies interested in improving and exploring opportunities for partnerships.