Are you going green?

Since its inception in partnership with VisitScotland in 1997, the Green Tourism Business Scheme (GTBS) has been championing the cause of sustainable tourism in the UK, and with over 1,800 members already signed up across the UK it is the most successful scheme of its type in the world. It is the only green grading programme in the UK to be endorsed by VisitBritain and the International Centre for Responsible Tourism. With interest in green issues at an all time high, can you afford not to be involved?
The last 10 years has seen an unprecedented growth in the supply, and purchasing of, products and services that are ‘ethical’ in some respect. This may be in terms of:

  • Being environmentally-friendly (either preventing damage e.g. wood from sustainably-managed forests, dolphin-friendly tuna, or improving conditions, e.g. organic food)
  • Supporting the producer (either by providing a fair price to suppliers e.g. fair-trade coffee, or keeping money within the local area e.g. local food and drink)

Within Britain, surveys show an openness to the idea, even if this still needs to be translated into consumers actively choosing a holiday based on its ethics:

  • 84 per cent would choose an attraction/accommodation that was part of a green accreditation scheme over one that was not
  • 68 per cent would do so even if the prices of the green accredited businesses were slightly higher (English Tourism Council, 2002)
  • 72 per cent would be influenced by a green tourism award (Devon County Council, 2005)
  • 74 per cent said it was important to stay in accommodation with an environmental award (Isles Of Scilly, 2005).

However, there are the beginnings of backlash against green claims and companies are being warned against “greenwashing”. In Britain, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is reporting a boom in the number of complaints about environmental claims. “What we are seeing is claims about being carbon-neutral, zero-carbon emissions and use of words such as ‘sustainable’, ‘organic’,” says Lord Smith, chairman of the ASA. “Many are exaggerated or misleading.”
However, in the tourism industry in England there is now a process to establish the credibility of a green grading system. Initiated by VisitBritain, Xavier Font, a specialist in responsible tourism certification at Leeds Metropolitan University has developed a rigorous validation process.
“We wanted to provide clarity not just for hotel and B&B owners on which schemes to select, but also for consumers to know what to trust,” says Jason Freezer, sustainable tourism manager at VisitBritain.
The Green Tourism Business Scheme is the only eco-label to have been successful in achieving this validation. The GTBS is now fully established as the UK’s national green tourism accreditation scheme and is internationally recognised as leading the field. Previously, the GTBS team has been helping New Zealand Tourism green-up their quality standards.
“Working with the Green Tourism Business Scheme has gained us further insight into what ‘responsible tourism’ really is. We’ve also focused on learning how tourism operators can benefit from introducing business practices that have both environmental and economic benefits,” says Qualmark chief executive officer Geoff Penrose.
Being a GTBS member has a number of benefits, not least that it gives consumers an easily identifiable and credible “green choice” when choosing accommodation – increasingly important with the growing interest in environmental matters.
A standard part of the member-package is promotion on the Green Tourism website which has over 5,000 individual sessions per month, as well as extra promotion through tourist boards and other GTBS partners. Other benefits include help in identifying cost savings whether through changes in behaviour or investing in new technologies – a pilot project with 50 small businesses in the south of England identified cost savings of £50,000 with a two-year payback period.
Members also receive a monthly technical e-update and access to the members area of the website, which includes supplier discounts, technical downloads and a “Ask the Expert” message board. A commission-free booking website for all Green Tourism members has been launched – – and this will be a one-stop shop for consumers wanting to choose green holidays.

Assessment criteria
In order to get an award each member undergoes a rigorous assessment against 150 criteria that cover all aspects of a business’s operation including management, guest communication, energy and water efficiency, purchasing, waste minimisation, travel and natural heritage. Scored out of a maximum of 60 measures in order to get the Bronze, Silver or Gold they have to achieve at least 40, 65 or 80 per cent respectively.
Compulsory measures: The scheme criteria require as a minimum both legal compliance and a commitment to minimising environmental impact. In addition certain key sector requirements may be required such as a separate sanitary waste bin for public toilets. This section also includes a requirement to provide measurements of energy and water consumption for the purposes of benchmarking.
Technical sections are broken down into the following sections with some examples of the measures:

  • Management – record keeping, staff awareness, monitoring
  • Communication – green policy, e-mail, community projects and education 
  • Energy – appliances, lighting, space heating, hot water heating
  • Water – water quality, low water using appliances, showers, water butts 
  • Purchasing – recycled products, green energy, local food, crafts, and chlorine free cleaners 
  • Waste – avoid, re-use, reduce and recycle material
  • Travel – local transport details, cycle hire, walking information 
  • Natural & Cultural – membership of an environmental club, native tree planting, bird boxes.

The grading visit itself lasts about two hours and is made on an appointment-only basis and will be undertaken by one of GTBS’s own qualified grading advisors. The advisor will go through all the relevant criteria, explaining what each measure relates to and scoring the business based on how they perform against each. The visit is also a good time to get advice on everything from energy efficiency and cost savings to guest information and can be a very useful exercise.
Billy Stevenson, senior grading advisor for GTBS, says: “Most people joining the scheme aren’t sure what to expect, and we try to put people fears to rest, preferring the advisor rather than inspector approach. Many of the businesses I visit are surprised that a lot of what we ask is common-sense and that being a member doesn’t involve a lot of up-front costs.”