Checking whether a business has been awarded an accredited certification scheme is one of the mechanisms that can help you figure out if it is walking the talk on its green initiatives. The most reliable schemes send a trained professional technician out to the business to assess its environmental performance, both in front of house and behind the scenes. Some focus on particular technical aspects, while others grade the business based on a whole gamut of environmental and social responsibility, including waste management, biodiversity conservation and human rights of workers’ conditions.
Below are some well-established schemes you’re most likely to come across when looking for an eco-friendly holiday.
Ecolabels and certifications schemes in the United Kingdom
BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) evaluates all
aspects of a building’s sustainability, from the initial siting and design, to how they are used in the context of local environmental, social and economic issues. It can be applied to individual buildings, such as the Gibson Hotel in the centre of Dublin, to multi-use developments, such as Kings Place on the Regents Canal in London, and to whole neighbourhoods, such as Tivoli GreenCity in Belgium (breeam.com).
David Bellamy Blooming Marvellous Pledge for Nature builds on the David Bellamy Conservation Award (set up in 1997 by the British Holiday & Home Parks Association and the late botanist, presenter and environmental campaigner David Bellamy, which certified holiday parks in Britain) that requires parks to pledge to protect wildlife and to commit to starting at least one of five projects to help nature, from protecting at-risk species to boosting the wildlife value of their ponds and other fresh-water habitats (ukparks.com/bellamy-awards).
Greener Camping Club is a symbol for low impact campsites. The scheme was started by four campsite owners who wanted to bring together a resource for campsites that ‘share a common theme of high quality, environment-friendly camping, in truly beautiful settings.’ They started the scheme in Pembrokeshire but are now expanding throughout Wales and England. There are now over 75 campsites, most are in West Wales but the number of sites in England is growing all the time (greenercamping.org).
Green Tourism (green-tourism.com) is a sustainability grading scheme for the travel and
hospitality industry that awards businesses bronze, silver and gold grades based on how green they perform in its audits. It also offers businesses practical technical advice on how to be greener. Examples of gold businesses are Fenham Farm – a B&B in Northumberland (fenhamfarm.co.uk), and the self-catering River Cabin at Trericket Mill in the Brecon Beacons (rivercabin.co.uk). Guardians of Grub is a certification scheme for businesses that track, measure, save and report on wasted food (guardiansofgrub.com). It’s run by the UK charity WRAP, which promotes and encourages sustainable resource use through product design, waste minimisation, reuse, recycling and reprocessing of waste materials (wrap.org.uk).
The Environmental Quality Mark is a grading scheme focused on businesses in the Peak District and Staffordshire (eqm.org.uk).
Global Sustainable Tourism Council
The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) is an independent accreditation scheme that has established international standards for sustainable tourism certification whose criteria are designed to be adapted to fit the context of local conditions and activities (gstcouncil.org).
Ecolabels and certifications schemes in Europe
Alpine Pearls is a network of 19 alpine villages in Austria, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, and Switzerland,
that promote sustainable transport combined with eco-friendly outdoor adventure (alpine-pearls.com).
Bio Hotels certifies hotels for their commitment to sustainability (energy efficiency, recycling and
plastic reduction), organic cuisine and ‘natural body care’ (biohotels.info).
Blue Swallow (you may see it in German: ‘Blaue Schwalbe’) is awarded by a German sustainability
agency Fairkehr (fairkehr means ‘fair return’). Since 1990, it has been singling out eco-friendly
accommodation (many are family-run businesses) that provides wholefood, organic and regional
fresh food (wirsindanderswo.de).
EU Ecolabel is a European-wide environmental label managed by the EU Commission for a range
of industries, from manufacturing to hospitality, including hotels and campsites. An example of a
business with the EU Ecolabel is the Bamboo Eco Hostel in Turin, Italy (ec.europa.eu).
Nature’s Best is a Swedish certification scheme for eco-minded tour operators. It assesses how the
operators minimize their impact on the environment, support local economies and protect
wildlife across the range of eco adventure activities in Sweden, from dog sledding and driving a
reindeer sleigh with Sami herdsmen, to sea kayaking, white-water rafting, timber rafting, horse
riding and wolf tracking (naturesbestsweden.com).
Sustainable Travel Ireland (previously known as Ecotourism Ireland) is a certification scheme for
accommodation and activity providers in Ireland (sustainabletravelireland.ie).
TourCert is a corporate social responsibility system for hotels to increase their energy and
environmental efficiency (tourcert.org).
Ecogîte is managed by the well-established Gîtes de France, which manages over 70,000 owner-run
B&Bs and self-catering cottages (gîtes). The Ecogîte label is given to about 400 owners who
have demonstrated that part of their ‘way of life’ is based on preserving natural resources, using
renewable energies and using natural, local and recyclable material with no harmful effects on
Flocon Vert has been awarded to mountain destinations, such as The Chamonix Mont-Blanc
Valley and La Pierre Saint Martin, that have demonstrated their commitment to 20 sustainable
criteria, including a year-round strategy for tourism, reduction in greenhouse gases,
supporting local economies and protecting natural resources and ecology (flocon-vert.org).
Gîtes Panda is a scheme set up by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) for about 170
environmentally friendly gîtes that are near walking routes in protected areas, such as National
Parks and Reserves. All are run by owners who care for the environment, provide binoculars,
maps, guidebooks and educational nature guides to help visitors identify, protect and respect local
Fattorie del Panda is the Italian equivalent of Gîtes Panda and is awarded to small farmstays located in or near protected areas (wwf.it).
Legambiente Turismo assesses accommodation, from hotels to B&Bs and agritourism establishments, on a range of criteria, including waste and energy resource management, sustainable transport, accessibility, provenance of food, enhancement of cultural heritage and environmental issues, as well as communication (legambienteturismo.it).
B Corp is a legally bound certification scheme for businesses in general (not just the travel industry)
that vets companies for their social and environmental performance, public transparency
and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. The outdoors adventure company, TYF
Adventure was the founding UK member of B Corp. Since then, the small group adventure operator
Intrepid has gained B Corp membership, so too have accommodation specialists Sawday’s, Lovat
Holiday Parks in southern England, adventure travel specialists Flooglebinder and Joro
Experiences, and Pura Aventura, which organizes holidays in Spain, Portugal and Latin America.
All have collaborated to form Travel by BCorp to share best practice (travelbybcorp.co.uk).
Earth Check is an Australian-based worldwide certification scheme for the travel and tourism
industry, benchmarking sustainability for businesses, from hotels, such as the boutique
Memmo Alfama, Lisbon, to communities and destinations, such as the Snæfellsnes Peninsula
in western Iceland (earthcheck.org).
Green Globe is based in the USA but has local partners worldwide. It has a standard ‘certified
member’ award and two further awards based on length of certification – gold is for those that have been certified for five years and platinum for those certified for ten years (greenglobe.com).
Green Key is an international environmental ecolabel whose global office is run by the
Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) Copenhagen, Demark with nearly 3,000 members
in over 55 countries, from boutique hotels to B&Bs, campsites and visitor attractions. Green Key is
managed in Wales by the environmental charity Keep Wales Tidy. An example of a business with
the Green Key Award is the Larkhill Yurt and Tipis in Carmarthenshire whose owners have been using wind, solar and water power to create electricity for 25 years (greenkey.global).
Green Leaders is Tripadvisor’s badge that showcases the eco-friendly initiatives of B&Bs and
hotels. It’s not an accredited scheme, but the idea is that businesses can list their green practices so you can see what they are doing (or at least claim they are doing), such as recycling, cooking with local and organic food and electric car charging. Those that have the Platinum badge are deemed to be the greenest. (tripadvisor.co.uk).
ISO numbers are international standards for environmental reporting organized by an
independent NGO that was established in 1947. Examples are ISO 14001 – a voluntary technical tool to help businesses reduce the environmental impact of their business, and ISO 21401 – for
environmental management systems (iso.org).
Travelife is operated by the UK Travel Association (ABTA) and operates in over 50 countries
certifying hotels in the mainstream travel industry, so you’re most likely to see its logo in the travel
brochures of the large tour operators, such as TUI, SAGA and Travelbag. In order to be certified, a
hotel will have been evaluated by an independent auditor based on an on-site assessment of a series of criteria, from energy efficiency and conservation to human rights, cultural impacts and animal welfare. Top performing properties are awarded Travelife Gold Certification, which is valid for two years (travelife.info).
Blue Flag is a 30-year-old environmental certification scheme awarded to beaches, marinas and (more recently) boat operators in Europe, Africa, New Zealand, Canada and the Caribbean, which
meet a series of stringent environmental, educational, safety and accessibility criteria. Spain has the most awarded sites, followed by France, Turkey, Greece, Italy and Portugal. Beaches in the UK that have been awarded Blue Flag status include New Quay Harbour in Cardigan and Whitby West Cliff in Yorkshire. Examples of European boat operators that have the Blue Flag are Cabrera Sea Fun, Majorca, and Scorpion Yachting in Greece (blueflag.global).
This is an edited extract from The Green Traveller, published by Pavilion (£18.99).