This Know How Guide offers an introduction to sustainability certification for hotels. It will help you understand why you might seek certification and the key performance areas for sustainable hotel certification, as well as giving an overview of some of the most common certifications. In addition, this guide includes a spreadsheet that allows you to easily identify and compare a range of certifications available.
Hotel certification schemes vary in application, region, complexity, price and more. Most include — to a greater or lesser degree — some focus on energy, water, waste, community engagement, heritage and biodiversity conservation, sustainable procurement, accountability and human resources practices, architecture and design, and some incorporate all these areas.
Certification schemes can be developed by non-profit organisations, private tourism organisations, governments or through multi-stakeholder groups. There are many certifications available, and as such there is debate around which of two methods of ‘performance-based’ and ‘process-based’ is the most effective way to measure impact:
- Performance-based certification schemes focus on progress and compliance with internal and external goals. Businesses are awarded and benchmarked based on their performance rather than their intent to improve.
- Process-based certification schemes are more procedural, focusing on setting up management systems that monitor and improve practices that relate to sustainability impact.¹
Some schemes identified in this Know How Guide incorporate both of these approaches.
In July 2015 GreenHotelWorld.com² published a report on the proportion of hotels with ‘green’ certification. Based on a study of 130,000+ hotels worldwide. 6.2% were certified. The concentration by continent was:
North America 10.1% Africa 3.7%
Europe 6.1% South America 2.7%
Oceania 4.8% Asia 0.9%
With over 140 certification labels globally, it is impossible to summarise all the schemes. This Know How Guide outlines the key points from ten of the most commonly used global certification schemes, and outlines the value of seeking certification from each.
- From ‘A Simple User’s Guide to Certification for Sustainable Tourism and Ecotourism, Centre for Ecotourism and Sustainable Development,
- From GreenHotelWorld.com, ‘Certified Green Hotel Density’ report, 2015
Why get certified?
Certification may help a hotel to:
Independently assess its environmental and social impact
- Identify ways to improve internal management processes
- Shift toward the use of cost saving sustainable technologies or practices
- Gain a competitive advantage through improving efficiencies and reducing operating costs
- Demonstrate compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements
- Satisfy corporate customers who are increasingly requesting information about their suppliers social and environmental initiatives
- Increase sales by appealing to environmentally conscious customers
The benefit of certification depends upon the scheme pursued. For example, some emphasise environmental resource use, others focus on cultural heritage impact.
In order to help you get to grips with the basics of some of the different certification schemes available, see our handy matrix which details costs, the process of certification and other useful information.
Below follows a short overview of some of the most popular certification schemes for hotels. We do not intend to recommend one certification scheme over another, but rather to offer a flavour of the different schemes. As such, we hope that this Know How Guide will help you decide which certification scheme would fit your business and sustainability goals best.
Global Sustainable Tourism Council Criteria for Hotels and Tour Operators
The Global Sustainable Tourism Council  (GSTC) has developed criteria that provide a baseline standard for certification schemes. In October 2016 GSTC will be publishing revised criteria after a public consultation. Until then, the criteria  consider the following themes to be the minimum that any tourism business should aspire to:
- Effective sustainability planning
- Maximizing social and economic benefits for the local community
- Enhancing cultural heritage
- Reducing negative impacts to the environment
GSTC either ‘approves’ or ‘recognises’ certification schemes by these standards. Approval means that the criteria, processes and procedures meets the GSTC as well as other international standards of competency and transparency (which is currently under review) This has been applied to two global and one regional certification scheme to date:
- EarthCheck Company Standard
- Biosphere Responsible Tourism
- Ecotourism Australia
Hotels that are approved by the above standards are able to use the GSTC-Approved logo along with the awarded certification scheme’s logo.
Recognition means that the certification scheme meets or aligns with the GSTC standard. Many more schemes have achieved this with the following at a global level:
- Green Globe
- Green Growth 2050
- Rainforest Alliance
- Travelife Sustainability System
- Green Key
- Green Key Global
- Green Tourism Active
And these at a regional level:
- EU Ecolabel or Eco Flower
- Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST) for hotels – Costa Rica
- Chile Sistema de Distinción en Turismo Sustenatable – Chile
- Eco-Certification Malta
- Ecotourism Ireland Certification Programme
- European Ecotourism Labeling Standard (EETLS)
- Fair Trade Tourism – South Africa
- GREAT Green Deal Certification Program – Central America
- Green Star Hotel Certificate – Egypt
- Hoteles + Verdes (AHT) – Argentina
- Japan Environmentally Sustainable Accommodations International Standard (ESAIS)
The specialised nature of this Guide makes it impractical to reproduce in full here. To read the full Guide to the certification schemes and to see the comparative database, please download the complete Know How Guide here .