In-credible Green Venues

For too long we have talked the talk without properly walking the walk, yet all the evidence from environmental reporting and climate change points to significant cost savings both to the individual, the business and the wider society. Over the last 10 years we have seen the climate debate move from one of recognition of the problem to a growing realisation that human society will need to adapt to retain any semblance of our present luxurious lifestyles.
   
Are we adapting? And are we adapting quickly enough? Sadly not at this point, and one of the main reasons in the tourism industry is ‘Greenwash’. This is where false claims are made and wording is used out of context in order to help sell a product or service.
   
Historically words such as ‘natural’, ‘recycle-able’ and now other words such as ‘sustainable’ and ‘carbon neutral’ are used to try to extol the virtues of some products or services. These often give a false reading about how ‘green’ a product or service actually is.
   
Sustainability
Sustainability is more a state of mind than a scientific discipline. Everyone thinks they are being relatively sustainable even if their concept is economically rather than ecologically driven.

The science behind sustainability is mired with statistical processes and complicated cradles for calculations and methodologies. Sustainability is in essence about taking enough but no more and this goes against almost all the economic drivers (and measures of value) we use.
   
Of course there are some instruments which try to prevent our excess such as the airport taxes and to a lesser extent fuel tax, but often this doesn’t really make a difference or at least it doesn’t necessarily act fairly.
   
Making things simple
So what’s the solution? We think its about making things simple (and genuine) based upon proven fundamentals and always being vigilant about claims or processes which ‘jump on the band wagon’ in order to gain market share.
  
Over the last 10 years at Green Tourism, we have seen other certifications establish themselves around Bronze Silver and Gold levels some of them are good, others are sadly misdirected.
   
Probably one of the most annoying developments is the use of ‘self assessment’. This is a misuse of the term assessment and should really be ‘self-declaration’ or something similar. Getting something assessed is intrinsically about having another set of eyes look over your work. We all rely on assessments at school but no-one would ever consider pupils self assessing themselves for their exams or coursework. What makes our industries any less important?
   
Audits
For example. very recently we came across an internet giant, wishing to take advantage of the growing green marketplace, telling customers that they do a green tourism audit based upon a self-declaration without even visiting the business. All this smacks of basic ‘Greenwash’ and this is terribly undermining of genuine approaches to be more sustainable.
   
Green Tourism does a site inspection (audit) every two years on all of our properties. This is the only way to police a single and especially a multi-tiered certification programme (Bronze, Silver, Gold).  We are continuously developing and raising standards, in fact, this autumn we are now just about to roll out version 5 of our programme.
   
So, how does Green Tourism prove it is a strong and very genuine programme? One area we have been working on is in carbon dioxide emissions. The UK is very good at carbon reporting and has some great statistics on the average CO2 per kWh for electricity as well as other fuels, even water supply and treatment. We use these figures in a carbon calculator to establish kWh/m2 and CO2 per overnight, per visitor, per delegate and per pitch.
   
Property performance
Along with version 5 of our criteria we are also rolling out version 1 of our benchmarking tool. It is based upon CIBSE (Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers) standards and over 15 years of data collected by Green Tourism on the performance of different property types. Very necessary for us at Green Tourism, as we certify properties from luxurious hotels like the Savoy through to budget and small serviced accommodation self catering properties, youth hostels, camp sites and conference centres – all the way to tiny B&Bs.
   
From this we establish a set of ready reckoners which will allow a customer to calculate the carbon associated with their conference overnights, travel and conference venue. We will also have a travel calculator for tourists. Did you know for example that a return flight to Florida will use as much carbon as staying for over 100 nights at one of our typical properties and closer to a whole years’ accommodation at some of our best sites?

QHotels
QHotels is a relatively small hotel group with fewer than 25 properties. They are a high quality group (4 stars) and are located throughout the UK. They have a strong focus on reducing carbon and were considered the best hospitality business involved with the Carbon Trust as measured through their annual energy use. In addition they have established a partnership with a biomass company, have installed biomass boilers in three of their properties and have electric hook up points for electric cars in most of their portfolio.
   
Philip King, Director of Property for QHotels says: “QHotels have a commitment to the environment and strive to be as environmentally friendly as possible, making sure we provide an excellent guest experience whilst maintaining our Green credentials.”
   
It was back in 2008-9 that QHotels partnered with Green Tourism. Having considered a number of organisations it was felt that they were the most widely recognised and pro active organisation in the hospitality Industry.
   
Staff awareness
Over the years Green Tourism has helped QHotels to embed staff awareness and to create a culture of sustainability through site audits, support and advice. They have shared best practice with us and attended a number of internal workshops and training sessions
 
 QHotels has been recognised for its efforts in sustainability and carbon reduction by being awarded the Carbon Standard in 2010, then AA eco hotel group of the year 2011-12.
 
Some of the measures taken to achieve this have been: targeting and monitoring energy use with staff awareness and training; M&E Planned preventative maintenance programmes ; the sensible use of LED lighting in cost effective applications; boiler installation and optimisation; and waste reduction and recycling.

Premier Cottages & Jurys Inns
Another example is Premier Cottages – a marketing and development group for self catering sites across the UK. Many of their members have fabulous 5-star establishments which combine sustainability into building restorations and renovations. The majority have installed some energy saving practices, a great many with photovoltaic electricity, biomass heating, LED lighting and solar hot water. A few even have wind turbines. 
   
Jurys Inns, another one of our members, is a group of hotels based primarily in city centres. Their main market is corporate guests and have been very focused on energy efficiency. Many of their properties are well insulated and most recently have retrofitted LED Lighting, they take advantage of good public transport options and all have a green table or display to highlight their actions and opportunities for the customer.

Building trust
These above are just a few of our 2,500 plus members, all of whom now use the internet as a primary marketing distribution and communications method. The social revolution which underscores the development of the internet has many positives but also some significant challenges.
   
More than ever before, in this digital age, messages and assumptions gain enormous, widespread distribution – reputations are created in really short periods of time and can be destroyed by opinion in minutes whilst billions watch, and have opinions.

Clearly, real trust is a fundamental and desperately-needed issue. It cannot be created by words alone. Potential clients should be able to make their purchasing decisions on factors that are honest, transparent and unsullied by greenwashing.
   
This is why, at Green Tourism, we undertake the painstaking and thorough work of inspecting tourism properties and auditing their total range of green practices before we issue any certification. Moreover, we are so committed to helping our members to take advantage of green opportunities – we even use our vast professional experience to help and advise them on their journey to maximum economic, social, cultural and environmental sustainability. In effect we take the role of being their professional sustainable tourism partner,
   
It’s simply our contribution to the integrity of worldwide sustainable tourism – delivering the clear, un-greenwashed, undiluted message that helps everybody, tourist and tourism provider alike, to claim the benefits of a healthy, honest green tourism industry.

Hopeful signs
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. I take great inspiration from the speed of communication and the growth of social media and the speed and success of social campaigns. If we can unravel what is genuinely sustainable then we have the potential to make rapid and important changes to the benefit of a sustainable future. For me it is not about if we can live sustainably but when. Lets hope that in our journey we don’t lose too much of the great diversity of cultures and ecology which we have inherited and we learn from the many personal stories of sacrifices made for our future and a peaceful and balanced relationship with our planet.

Further information
www.green-tourism.com

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