Green Stays: The Power of Sustainable Hotel Certifications in Reshaping Hospitality
One of the more common explanation you hear about why not more people adhere to sustainable or responsible forms of travel and tourism concerns lack of information. The intent is there, as countless of reports indicate, but following through and taking action is harder. This discrepancy is one reason I started One Planet Journey, to highlight destinations and establishments that have begun their sustainability journey, and have a story to tell potential customers. In the area of accommodation, certifications play a helping role for travellers booking a hotel in line with their own values. Green and sustainable hotel certifications, or eco-labels, give the public a quick reassurance of quality and dedication, and can be a deciding factor when choosing between similar options.
With their important position in the ecosystem, the next question is, how do the certifications systems work? We reached out to one of the most respected actors in the industry, Green Key, to learn more about how they operate. I’m joined by Finn Bolding Thomsen, International Green Key Director at the Foundation for Environmental Education, to give our readers insights into the world of green and sustainable hotel certifications.
Green Key is a leading eco-label in the hospitality sector. How many accommodations have gone through your certification programme?
At present, around 4.200 certified establishments in 60 countries.
How does the process work? Do you look at factors beyond the environment?
Established as an environmentally oriented label, Green Key criteria cover the entire spectrum of environmental sustainability. To respond to other aspects, we have also incorporated requirements related to the social and cultural dimension of sustainability. For a full overview, please read the Green Key criteria (and their explanatory notes).
How do you guarantee a hotel lives up to the standards over time?
An annual renewal of the certification ensures that establishments continue to comply with requirements.
What are the most challenging criteria to get right? Plastic use, carbon emissions or something else?
It varies from establishment to establishment. For some, the water flow in taps/showers will need to be reduced. For others, it can be training of staff or information to guests. Reduction of plastics or reducing emissions are also challenging criteria. Many times, the challenge is first to break the usual behaviour.
How recognised is Green Key by travellers?
According to research by Booking.com, travellers recognise the need for sustainable practices at the establishments they frequent. Despite Green Key being the largest sustainability label for accommodation, there are probably many travellers that do not know the names of the certification schemes.
Has guest consciousness increased over the last decades? When is sustainability the new normal in the tourism sector?
The same Booking.com study points to an increase in awareness. I believe sustainable travel and tourism will become the norm, maybe in 10-20 years.
What makes Green Key stand out among the sustainability oriented hotel certifications?
Here are some advantages of Green Key:
Transparency: you can read about our requirements and application process online.
Credibility: we check compliance through regular on-site audits and third-party verification of the certification.
Participation costs: run by non-profit organisations, Green Key makes participation in our program lower cost than other for-profit schemes.
Dialogue: We offer dialogue/tools/support to applicant establishments to assist them in their sustainability journey.
National adaptation: We have national offices in 45 countries offering Green Key adapted to the national language and conditions.
Cooperation: Green Key cooperates with many stakeholders at international, national and local levels, including UN organisations, hotel chains, tour operators, product companies, online booking agencies, national authorities, universities, etc.
Learn more about the advantages here: Why Green Key?
Do you foresee consolidation in the industry? Will there be one certification to rule them all?
To avoid greenwashing, there will be increasing emphasis on only using credible certification programmes with acknowledged requirements and processes. As the leading labels have different angles, I believe there is a necessity for a range of certifications. A monopoly with one certification does not normally lead to more sustainability.
Your parent organisation also runs the Blue Flag certification for beaches. What signifies a Blue Flagged beach?
Yes, my organisation, the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), also manages the Blue Flag programme. The award is based on compliance with a range of criteria within the areas of environmental education, management, and information, water quality, and safety and service.
As a final note, what’s your favourite destination?
I am an increasing fan of “staycation”, so I very much appreciate spending my vacation in or around my home country, Denmark.
I concur, staycations have become more popular after the pandemic, and local, or domestic tourism, represent a sustainable travel choice. Thank you, Finn, for the behind the scenes look at a green hotel certification programme. Recognisable and trusted labels play a pivotal role in driving the hospitality industry towards a more sustainable future. Transparent indicators of a hotel’s commitment to environmental responsibility and social stewardship help them minimise their carbon footprint, conserve energy and water resources, reduce waste, and support local communities.
Beyond a positive impact on the planet, certifications can also enhance the guest experience, aligning with the growing demand for eco-conscious and responsible travel options. Moreover, green and sustainable certifications encourage healthy competition among hotels, spurring innovation and driving continuous improvement in sustainability practices across the industry. Follow Green Key on Linkedin for news on hotels and other establishments starting or continuing their sustainability journey.
Have you booked a hotel based on a green label? What certification programmes do you recognise? Tell us in the comment section! Don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter and benefit from tips, interviews, and inspirational examples of sustainable travel and tourism.