Certification schemes assess a companies overall handling of environmental issues. Unlike eco-labels, these schemes do not say anything about the environmental impacts of companies products. Rather, they require companies to follow preset environmental principles and guidelines they set themselves as they conduct business. The requirements in such voluntary schemes are often flexible and open to interpretation and are generally less contentious than ecolabelling schemes (source the Institute for Policy Studies, Glossary).

There are six components that all certification programs have in common.

These are:

1. Voluntary Enrolment
At present, all certification programs in the travel and tourism industry are strictly voluntary. Businesses can decide whether to apply for certification and most often companies pay for the audit and other services. It is likely that in the future, governments will use more 'carrots' such as marketing and promotion and 'sticks' such as denying contracts, particularly in environmentally sensitive areas and to uncertified companies.

2. Logo
All programs award use of a selective logo, seal or brand designed to differentiate their product in the marketplace and to be recognizable to consumers. Most permit the logo to be used only after certification is achieved. Many programs give logos for different levels of achievement, for example one to five suns, globes or leaves.

QualityCoast  (www.qualitycoast.info) is a certification programme for sustainable tourism destinations. It offers different logos for QualityCoast destinations, for those receiving the BasiQ award and for its Tourism Bussiness partners. Destinations can exhibit the logos, flags and banners during 24 months. It moreover offers gold, silver or bronze classifications in the 5 fields of evaluation:

    • Nature
    • Environment
    • Identity & Culture
    • Tourism & Businesses
    • Host community and safety


All programs state, at least on paper, that logos might be exhibited during certain time and moreover will be withdrawn if the company fails to comply with the certification system or if the programs themselves adopt more stringent certification criteria and policing has proved difficult. It is estimated that hundreds of companies that originally signed up for Green Globe membership may be using the logo even though they might no longer qualify.

3. Criteria that comply with regulations or go beyond
All certification programs require, at a minimum, that members comply with local, national, regional, international regulations and many have criteria that require companies go beyond these baselines.

4. Published Commitment to Sustainable Development
All tourism businesses that undertake certification make a broad statement about their commitment to sustainable development, although they can differ widely in what practices they say are necessary for sustainable development. Those involved in tourism certification programs tend to have policy statements that refer only to their internal operations. With a focus on water and air quality, waste and energy use; companies involved in sustainable tourism, will have broader statements that also encompass their impacts on conservation and the host community.

5. Assessment and Auditing
All certification programs award logos based on some kind of assessment. Assessment or auditing can be first-, second-, or third-party, it can be done by the business itself, by an industry trade association or by an independent firm like NGO or even the government.
There are an estimated 200 certifying agencies around the world and most of which are for-profit companies. Some are accredited, they are recognized by a national accreditation body and others are not.

6. Membership and Fees
Many certification programs enrol participants as members and charge a fee to those businesses applying for certification. This money is used to run the program and to support advertising and promotion of the logo and of the companies that are certified. The certification programs, and/or auditing bodies. Also charge fees for the assessments they provide and for auditing services, usually structured according to the size and income of the company. These fees vary widely and tend to be highest for those using ISO 14001 or other types of environmental management systems. To set up an environmental management system, go through a training program for implementing the EMS and finally have a third-party audit can add up to many thousands of dollars. This making cost the biggest barrier to certification for small and medium-sized companies. Some programs — Blue Flag [link to www.blueflag.org], for instance—have received government funding and allowing them to do audits either free or at a minimal cost. However, such government funding may not be available in the long term and financing of certification programs remains a major issue for further discussion.