Meet the Climate Hub Advisory Panel: Dr Susanne Becken

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Bio

Susanne is an expert in tourism and global change and understands the challenge of facilitating business and community prosperity, whilst minimising resource use and environmental or social impacts. Susanne has published widely and has provided advice to government, industry and international organisations. Her focus of research is on tourism and climate change, resource use, resilience and risk management, sustainable consumption, and environmental policy for tourism. 

Tell us a bit about yourself

“I’m passionate about the partnership between climate change and tourism”

I’m a Professor of Sustainable Tourism at Griffith University and I also work for the Department of Conservation in New Zealand. My role involves exploring how we can minimise the impacts of tourism and turn these into opportunities. I’ve been working in this field since 1997 and I’m currently based in Christchurch.

Tell us about your roles at Griffith University & the Department of Conservation (DOC)?

As a research professor at Griffith University, I seek to combine scientific theory with practical outcomes.

“It’s no use accumulating excellent scientific knowledge if nobody knows about it or uses it in a practical way”

For example, we recently conducted research on a group of people who completed a multi-day trek on the South Island of New Zealand. We asked them how the trek changed their views on nature and whether it made them feel more connected and want to give back to the environment. In most cases the answer was yes. My role is to suggest how we can change operations to encourage these people, who have expressed a passion for the climate, to make a difference. We are looking at ways to re-imagine how we address tourism to make it more sustainable and deliver high quality experiences.

What projects are you currently working on?

One of the projects I’m currently working on is with accommodation providers in Australia. We are implementing a smart technology system into hotels and other accommodation providers which monitors the gas, water and electricity consumption of their guests.

“The system provides each guest with feedback on their consumption during their stay and how their consumption compares with the average guest.”

The hotel gives guests practical tips to be more sustainable such as taking a shorter shower or turning out the lights when they leave the room. We’ve found that people have been really welcoming towards the scheme especially when the accommodation providers share their commitment and make it visible with what they’re doing to help reduce their emissions.

I am also working with the Asia Development Bank on a Building Back Better project that looks at the types of policies that governments could put in place for a more sustainable recovery post COVID.  I can share this report with the Hub to see if any of the learnings can translate to the Whitsundays.

In your opinion, what are the biggest environmental risks to our local tourism industry?

“Australia has been identified as one of the most vulnerable countries in terms of tourism and climate change”

In Australia, and especially the Whitsundays, we are extremely reliant on our tourism industry. Issues such as polluted run-off, poor water quality, flooding risks and the destruction of our coral reef will all have negative impacts on tourism.

What advice can you give local tourism operators who are trying to be more sustainable but are worried about their bottom line?

“Many businesses think that acting sustainably will come at a cost, however there are many instances where being more sustainable can actually save businesses money.”

Ultimately, some sustainable opportunities will have a short payback period and others will be a longer burn - for example solar panels have large upfront costs but in the medium to long run will see return on investment.

It’s really important for businesses to start actively weaving sustainability opportunities into their long-term plans and their everyday operations. For example, if your hotel is only at 50% capacity, consider putting guests in those rooms that you know require less air conditioning or heating, usually a hotel will know if one side is typically hotter or cooler (or smart metering can help to identify this).

Airlines do this really well. One particular airline found that packets of chips were lighter than nuts, so they swapped out their snack options to reduce the weight of their planes and their overall fuel consumption. Simple, right?

What has been the most surprising find during your years of research?

Two years ago, I conducted research into the environmental work from some of the bigger airlines. KLM removed all of the carpets in their planes to reduce the weight of the aircraft. In doing so they are saving in the order of 20,000 tonnes of carbon a year. This sounds impressive but when you dive deeper and compare this to their annual fuel consumption it isn’t actually significant at all. Many airlines are implementing similar initiatives which is fantastic but are still only just scratching the surface.

“Airlines really need to invest profits into developing new technologies and alternative fuel solutions to reduce emissions.  For now though, offsetting may be the only way to mitigate emissions from flights”

How do you think the Climate Hub can benefit the Whitsunday region and beyond?

“The Climate Hub is putting the Whitsundays on the map”

I think the Climate Hub has already greatly helped the local Whitsunday region. It has brought in expertise from all over the country and has attracted important funding. It’s building momentum and creating a positive feedback system.