Greenwashing in Tourism

How to recognize and avoid it

Many companies like to describe themselves as “green”. But the difference between greenwashing and true commitment is not always easy to perceive, making it quite difficult to recognise the travel companies that are really sustainably commited and those that are not…


The importance of certifications

The most important tip we can give you in order to find truly sustainable tourism businesses, is to look for certifications. This means that labelled companies meet specific standards and that they have been verified by an independant third party.

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) for example, manages the GSTC Criteria, defining global standards and providing accreditation for sustainable tourism. These criteria are very exhaustive, covering 4 different aspects: sustainable management, socioeconomic impacts, cultural impacts and environmental impacts, and rewarding all actors of the tourism industry that make an effort towards sustainability, from the Destinations (policy-makers and destination managers) to the Industry (hotels and tour operators) each having their own set of specific Criteria.

A company that is committed both socially and environmentally should at least have signed the “Tourism Child Protection Code” and offer climate compensation.
Tour operators that have been awarded the “CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) Tourism Certified” label by TourCert are recommended. This certification is awarded to travel companies that really care about the preservation of natural eco-systems, fair remuneration and the promotion of intercultural understanding.

Back to summary

Think critically and ask questions:

Words such as “eco-friendly” and “natural” can mean many things. An honest company will want to be as clear as possible, in order for people to understand what it is doing. On the contrary, if the company has something to hide, they will use vague and ambiguous terms. Ask for evidence and information: if a business really is sustainable, it can easily prove it with facts and figures:
- For how long have they been working towards achieving these sustainability goals? Becoming a sustainable business takes a lot of time and effort, but concrete results should nevertheless be visible after some time.
- Who is the owner of the company?
- A sustainable company will not only focus on offsetting carbon emissions. Sustainability is a whole, which means that subjects such as respect for human rights, food quality or green activities (no jet-skiing or animal shows for example) should also be mentionned in the company´s policy.
Also, if the agency offers an eco-responsible trip with air travel because it is unavoidable and does not compensate for the CO2 emissions of the flight, there is clearly a lack of consistency in the values claimed.

Back to summary

do´s and dont´ts

Don´t forget, truly responsible tourism companies can be recognised by some of these criteria:

  • Beneficial for local people
  • Environmental protection and environmental justice
  • Fair price and value
  • Correlation between distance travelled and length of stay
  • Transparency

Back to summary

For more information:

Global sustainable Tourism Council