Low Market Share Diversity of eco-labels


About this Publication
The European Union
Table: core set of indicators
Eco-labelling tourism
The tourism market
The VISIT approach
The VISIT Standard
The VISIT eco-labels
The VISIT message
Easy access to eco-labelled products
The VISIT Association
Outlook 2010
Word of thanks


Eco-labelling tourism

Many certificates – limited effectiveness

In 2000/2001, the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) commissioned ECOTRANS to carry out a global study on voluntary initiatives for sustainable tourism. More than 100 eco-labels, awards and self-committing initiatives were studied in the first comparative analysis worldwide, to assess the history, development, objectives, requirements, procedures and effectiveness of each and every initiative.

The study found that many eco-labels are struggling to survive and meet the promises they made to their certified businesses in terms of significant cost savings and increased consumer demand.

WTO Book “Voluntary initiatives in Tourism, Worldwide Inventory and Comparative Analysis of 104 Eco-labels, Awards and Self-Commitments”

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Diversity of tourism – diversity of eco-labels
Europe has far more “green” certification programmes than any other region of the world. In the 1980s - 90s, an increasing number of tourism associations, consumer groups, and governmental bodies began to pay attention to ecologically sound tourism. In 2004, there are more than 50 environmental certificates and awards in Europe covering all types of tourism suppliers, including accommodation, beaches, marinas, protected areas, restaurants, handicrafts, golf courses, tour packages and various other tourism-related activities. More than 40 schemes certify accommodation services: hotels with or without restaurants, camping sites, youth hostels, farm houses, alpine huts, holiday houses, guest houses, bed and breakfast lodgings and others.

The diversity of tourism in Europe presents, however, enormous challenges for certification initiatives. In developing an eco-label, a number of questions must be asked: Which product groups to select? Which services to include? Which cri­teria should be mandatory or optional? What is the balance between process (environmental management systems) and performance criteria? How to get applicants? How to train and advise them? How to verify and guarantee the compliance of the applicants with the required criteria? How to reach tour operators and individual consumers to generate a demand for the sustainable products?
In principle, a tourism eco-label needs a homogeneous product group with clear and common components or services, to ensure that environmental impacts can be compared and rated. Every tourism eco-label initiative has to face this diverse range of products and issues when defining the product group and developing the criteria for a certification scheme. The ideal eco-label requires a set of criteria for “better environmental performance”, which

  • goes beyond what is required by law (national or regional), and
  • is achievable by a significant proportion of the target group of tourism providers in order to provide a real “better choice” to the consumer.

Low market share
In 2003, tourism eco-labels as a whole certified 4000 accommodation suppliers, which represents less than 1% of the market share. Only a few schemes, for example in Scotland or Denmark can offer a choice of 10% or more. There is significant evidence that many of the participants in these eco-labels successfully reduce their water and energy consumption, waste production, contribute to overcome traffic-related problems and help to preserve the biodiversity and beauty of the surrounding landscape. However, businesses voluntarily enrol in certification programmes on the assumption that consumers will patronise the services that have received an eco-label. The evidence indicates that many of these eco-labelling programmes have not been very effective in publicising their programmes to consumers.

The diversity of eco-labels
Each certificate has its own history. All together they cover an enormous treasure of knowledge and experience with relation to their specific situations and conditions for operating. One can find:

  • Public, private and public-private schemes
  • For all kind of products and services, or only for accommodation
  • Operating since 15, 7 or only 2 years
  • Diverse conditions for their “better than” criteria: differences in climate, environmental needs, national legislation, technical standards
  • Different levels of environmental criteria, bronze-silver-gold systems
  • Many or only few certified products (e.g. 0,5 – 20 % of accommodation businesses in the operation area)
  • Small – large area of operation (regional, national, international)
  • Comprehensive or more simple verification procedure
  • High, medium or low fees for applicants and licensees
  • Comprehensive or very limited marketing activities
  • Excellent or very poor information about the schemes
  • … and many more