How to choose an ‘eco-friendly’ tour or hotel. Green Series Part 2.

Welcome to The Green Series Part 2. If you missed last week’s Part 1 on Greenwashing, you can find it here. It was all about how best to identify unscrupulous hotel, tour operators and agents (HTOA) in the tourism industry. This post continues on to differentiate the good from those who are simply commandeering the green label. Let’s go!

Is certification going to be the end of greenwashing?

Firstly, the range of criteria in assessing the sustainability of tourism is extremely broad. The only global issue we have is the effect of carbon emissions. For each country the challenge lies in assessing the most important areas of focus for example: water wastage, plastic consumption/disposal, human and animal welfare and the issue with that is determining who outlines locally significant issues? The tourism industry, NGOs or local government on behalf of communities? It’s a very blurry line.

Certification is great because it looks at a HTOA’s complete supply chain. Similar to the fashion industry, there are a lot of elements involved to produce one garment – the travel industry is the same and a lot of sub-contracting happens.

Without certification, a HTOA has less credibility to their eco-ethical-sustainable claim.

Ecotourism has no marketing utility because people just don’t believe it anymore. Greenwashing comes in various guises. In some cases it can be little more than cheeky marketing.

Source: Harold Goodwin, responsible tourism management at Leeds Metropolitan University

Union Square, New York City
Eco-Art, New York City

How does certification work?

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council promotes certified bodies who you can trust (I’ve listed them below for you). These organisations put tourism companies through a number of rigorous steps before status is awarded. Firstly a HTOA might perform a self assessment, followed by submitting an application. After an onsite audit has taken place an application might not be approved right away and the HTOA may need to take corrective actions to improve their score. After certification is awarded, auditing is in place to review progress and ensure improvements have been made (or maintained). This is required at least every two years.

Businesses also want to know how well other businesses are doing, in part to benchmark their own performance, but also to inform their purchasing decisions in their supply chain.

Source: Harold Goodwin

Are there any grey areas with certification in general?

Yes. What’s hard is that once certification has been awarded there is no visibility on a business’s weaknesses or strengths. No score on what the level of achievement is on water conservation, water re-use, animal welfare or local sourcing. The benefit of a public score keeps businesses accountable. This is where reporting becomes mutually beneficial for company and customer. Otherwise we would see an abundance of certification churning happen industry wide.

The second issue with certification is establishing who has a liability to the consumer if the HTOA has not delivered on their claims. And the problem with that is deciphering who is at fault, is it certifier or is it the business? If the customer is seeking recompense for a supposed wrongly certified business, it begs the question: Who is going to help?

If the company has reported on their sustainability achievements then any false claims are the responsibility of the business. So it’s important to do your research.

On the whole, the more transparency there is within the industry the better, so a certified HTOA is going to be a more trustworthy option.

Jackson Pollock Number 1
This is what my heads looks like on the inside trying to understand tourism certification. Jackson Pollock, New York City

Finding a responsible HTOA is much harder than it sounds. What are your options?

  • Any HTOA certified with the below are reliable as governed by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council

Control union, Earthcheck, Ecotourism Australia, Rainforest Alliance, Travel Life for Tour Operators.

  • Seek a HTOA with B-corp status

What is B-Corp you say? It’s a common framework certification across all industries. It takes years to achieve with multiple submissions. They thrive on this one, simple principle, promoting ‘business for good.’ What’s great about B-Corp is their reporting is the most transparent I’ve seen. In that, the consumer is able to see what the business claims to be doing on particular issues, judge for themselves how much progress they are making and compare one business with another on those issues which particularly matter to the purchaser. For example, here is Intrepid’s score based on their recent certification.

b-corp intrepid

  • TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor are keen to let you know they’re leaders in the eco-tourism industry and they’ve launched a new program to help you find more environmentally friendly hotels. ‘Just look for the green leaf’ they say. TripAdvisor reports that their GreenLeaders program uses transparency, traveler feedback and annual audits. The minimum set of requirements are:

  1. Having linen and towel re-use plans
  2. Tracking energy usage on a regular basis
  3. Recycling
  4. Using energy efficient light-bulbs
  5. Educating staff and guests on green practices
  6. Properly treat waste water (either using an on-site or municipal sewage system)

So while it’s not going to change the world in a day, it’s a small step in the right direction.

It should be stated, just because a HTOA isn’t certified doesn’t necessarily make them a ‘bad’ business, but if they’re claiming to be responsible and that’s something that means a lot to you, you need to ask questions.

New York City
The iconic brownstone, New York City

Lastly, I leave you with this, if you’re one to stay at hotel’s regularly and you’re seeking environmentally friendly franchises, here are some things to look out for:

Do they reduce their energy usage?
Solar power? How’s the insulation? What appliances do they use?

Do they minimise landfill waste?
Do they recycle? Do they offer bulk dispenses for bathroom products?

How do they focus on water consumption?
Flow restrictors in the shower and taps? Environmentally friendly soaps? Do they harvest rain water?

How much of the food they serve is sourced locally?
Do they provide local and/or seasonal and/or organic food? Do they offer vegetarian food?

Do they actively encourage guests to arrive on foot, by bike and by public transport?
Do they provide information for guests on how to arrive by bike and/or public transport? Do they offer a discount for guests arriving on foot, by bike or by public transport?

Tune in next fortnight for The Green Series, Part 3 where I interview one very important person, you do NOT want to miss it. But while you’re here! Subscribe to the newsletter, comment below, share this article or follow me @whoislexiconnors.

Final word: The images used in this blog were taken with an (extremely) outdated Canon digital camera from my 2008 three month stay in New York City. Apologies for the shocking quality.


4 thoughts on “How to choose an ‘eco-friendly’ tour or hotel. Green Series Part 2.

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