Scottish sustainability enlightens the world

In the greatest traditions of the 18th century enlightenment Scotland is once again at the forefront of an initiative to change society and the world for the better.

Green Tourism, an independent certification programme devised and pioneered in Scotland, is to expand its global reach with new pilot projects in Italy, Ireland and Zimbabwe in the New Year.

As the first such initiative to be independently validated by the International Centre for Responsible Tourism (ICRT) on behalf of VisitEngland, VisitWales and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, and endorsed by VisitScotland and Failte Ireland, the Perth-based programme is already the biggest of its kind in the world, with over 2,400 members and an influence that reaches from North America to New Zealand.

Started by directors Jon Proctor and Andrea Nicholas almost 20 years ago Green Tourism provides consumers with an independent guide to hotels, bed & breakfasts, tourist attractions and visitor centres which are actively trying to help the environment.

Members get Bronze, Silver or Gold grades based on how environmentally friendly they are through their use of energy saving lights and heating, serving local food stuffs, promoting conservation and other measures.

Independent family businesses and multi-national hotel chains are all graded in the same way with members reporting savings of up to more than £1million a year on energy and costs.

“Scotland was one of the first countries to implement a green business programmee and it’s gone from strength to strength,” said Andrea Nicholas, Director of Green Tourism which now employs a team of up to 20 staff.

”Our system was ahead of its time when it was introduced and has been helping businesses meet visitor expectations by making them more environmentally efficient ever since.

Green Tourism is unique in ensuring that independent auditors visit members at least once every two years to review practices, ensure standards are being maintained and to provide business owners with up-to-date advice on further improvements.

“The aim is to get large and small companies to be more affective.” said Dr Xavier Font of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism.

“If a hotel can save five per cent on gas by putting thermostats in bedrooms so only occupied rooms are heated that is five per cent less on CO2 emissions. If we were all offered five per cent more salary we’d be jumping for joy. Five per cent savings on costs provides the same margins.”

In the last few years GTBS has been instrumental in helping other countries formulate their own environmental quality schemes.

In Sweden, the country that introduced national parks to Europe and has been at the forefront of sustainability ever since, Green Tourism was called in to give advice on how accommodation providers could go green.”Green Tourism has a holistic and practical appproach that suits our needs for helping tourism business in our region,” said Lotta Nibell Keating of the West Sweden Tourism Board.

“Tourism in West Sweden is an important part of our economy, employing more than 26,000 people and generating over 33 billion SEK a year. “We looked around the world for examples of a successful sustainable tourism initiative and felt that Green Tourism would be an excellent model for us to follow.”

A study of the ethics and expertise of 158 schemes used by businesses around the world to boost their environmentally-friendly credentials identified Green Tourism as the best of the best, beating rival contenders from as far a field as South Africa, Romania, Norway, Switzerland, Australia, Japan, Peru and Botswana.

The 50-page Tourism & Greenwash Report, published by independent industry think-tank TotemTourism, claimed that in response to public expectations of greater corporate responsibility all sorts of businesses, from small B&Bs to massive global players – including airlines, hotel groups, OTAs, tour operators and travel agents, have been lining up to highlight their goodness, greenness and fair practices.

However, analysis of the various green certification schemes by independent experts revealed many to be worthless as they rely on self-certification in return for a membership fee or have no third-party verification at all.

Valere Tjolle, publisher of the TotemTourism Greenwash report, said: “Green tourism clearly has massive advantages for everybody – destinations, tourists and the industry – but to be really sustainable it needs to be marketed transparently and honestly.

“The growing practice of Greenwash debases the whole sustainable tourism movement and reduces the opportunities for everybody.”

In addition to advising the Swedish tourism industry Green Tourism has also been called upon to share their criteria with similar programmes in New Zealand, Canada, Ireland and more recently Italy and Zimbabwe.

“The reason these people are coming to us is because we have developed a credible, robust and flexible approach which engages with businesses and really makes a difference,” said Andrea.

“Other programmes are either very bureaucratic with lots of red tape and paperwork, but don’t deliver any significant environmental improvements, or just complete ‘greenwash’ which allow businesses to say they are green without any checks and mislead consumers.

“We are different because we truly believe tourism can be a mechanism for change in the world and help address some of the issues of climate change.

”Sophie Zirabwe, Executive Director of Planning, Research and Development for the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, said that after looking at a number of programmes around the world they had decided to work with Green Tourism because it provided the best path to establishing a sustainable tourism model.

“We want to be pioneers of sustainable tourism in Africa and we believe that with the help of Green Tourism we will be be able to come up with the right guidelines to show the world we are serious about conservation, the environment and combating climate change,” she said.