Greenwash and tourism a dysfunctional relationship

When we buy an organic pear, we don’t think about it do we? You just assume that it IS organic. The same when you buy a free range chicken or some fair trade coffee. We tend to trust the labels.


And when big companies make claims about their Corporate Social Responsibility or their good works, we judge them by the company they keep.

There is a good reason for this, much work has gone on behind the scenes globally to make sure that these claims are verified IN FACT. Big global certification agencies investigate in depth and at some cost so that the labels are completely factual and along agreed criteria.

The Green market – those people who are committed to good natural buying – is very substantial and growing. And, of course being organic, fair trade and free range etc attracts this big clientele and commands a premium – it’s a big payoff.

Mainly for big companies who can afford the certification, and, of course it shuts out the little providers who can’t afford certification out of the market – but that’s my own personal bug with it. At least you get what it says on the tin.

Anyway, the same drive towards being green and fair trade is happening in global travel and tourism, which was a bit sluggish to spot the opportunity to engage with the green marketplace.

All the big companies are making claims about how lovely they are and what amazing programmes they have – how good they are with their waste, how wonderful they are to their small local suppliers etc etc. Of course they would say that, wouldn’t they?

And, since 1992 when Green Globe was launched by the World Travel and Tourism Council (basically the CEOs of the world’s 100 biggest tourism companies) – there have been a swath of Green travel certification agencies willing to give you a certificate and a logo for your website in exchange for some information about how green are your practices and some money.

Recently, in excess of 150 green travel certification organizations have popped up all over the world. Phew!

Let’s assume that we are even greener than we are. We recycle perfectly, we always buy organic, local, fair trade, we watch our carbon emissions like hawks – in effect we use our purchasing to help make the world a better place.

When we go on holiday we don’t want to let the pressure drop, do we? We don’t want to stay in an hotel that takes no notice of our principles or deal with a tour operator who makes their suppliers suffer, do we?

So we choose a certified establishment or business, probably believing that the same assiduous (and expensive) care has gone in to providing the cherished green label.

Believing that the label is as strong as the label on the organic pear we buy. In other words we believe that at least someone has popped along and checked the production line to make sure that the claims are verified. Right?

Sorry, we’re out of luck. The majority of green travel and tourism certification schemes never seem to need to see the organizations that they certify. Often people who get the prized, money-spinning certificates just apply online and/or fill in a form. Plus they pay, of course.

Is this good enough? Probably not.

And it’s just one of the forms of greenwash currently practiced in travel and tourism in an  attempt to get to the growing green market as easily and as quickly and as profitably as possible. is just finishing writing a report about it in which we rate the certification agencies and look in depth at some of the companies claims.

It makes interesting reading!





  1. Waiting for the report with impatience…

  2. To some extent I agree with you that most green certification schemes are just money making ventures. Maybe its time we set up one global reputable certification agency. Kindly let us know when your report is ready

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