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How to choose the right eco-accreditation for your business

At a time when proving your commitment to people and planet is becoming ever more important, choosing the right eco-accreditation for your business can seem like a minefield. There are so many to choose from! The Global Sustainable Tourism Council lists 43 recognised standards for sustainability specific to the hotel industry and Google lists a different set of 31 eco-accreditations they recognise as meeting their standards for the hotel industry. You can now use their recognised eco-accreditations to get your business highlighted on Google as “eco-certified” for eco-conscious consumers. But how to choose which one or ones to go for? This post will guide you through a few key considerations to help you choose the right one for your business. Once you’ve made your decision, we can also help you gather and present the necessary ESG data from your suppliers to apply for it and increase your score.

Recognition and perception of different eco-accreditations

How well recognised and perceived is the accreditation? Are your customers aware of it? Are they even asking about it? You will want to ensure that the accreditation you choose is rigorous enough to be credible with customers. If customers are questioning the rigor of your accreditation, that could have a negative effect on their perception on your brand. Ask yourself whether you would trust this accreditation. Is it asking for enough data to provide an accurate picture and ensure things aren’t being swept under the carpet? Choosing an accreditation recognised by Google or the Global Sustainable Tourism Council will give you confidence on this front, and also enable you to benefit from appearing as “eco-certified” in Google and likely other booking platform filters as well.

There could be a difference in recognition of eco-accreditation between corporate customers and consumers, or between different regions and countries. Green Tourism is currently more UK focused, while Green Key and Earthcheck are spread more internationally, with their biggest concentration of members in France and Mexico respectively. Many eco-accreditations will share their member directory, which will give you a good understanding of where they have the strongest geographical focus.

Earthcheck eco-accreditation members map
Green Key Eco-accreditation members by country

Alignment with your ESG values and focus

Does the accreditation align with your ESG values and focus as a business? And do they align with what your customers deem are important? According to research done by Starcount on social media interests for the followers of one particular hospitality group we work with, consumers in Bristol place greater emphasis on carbon emissions compared to consumers in Norfolk, who are more interested in animal welfare. Some accreditations, like Planet Mark, are focused on carbon emissions, but won’t cover some of the more specific issues for food & beverage such as sustainable fish stocking, animal welfare, fair pay, and antibiotic use. If carbon is your focus, working with a specialist accreditation like Planet Mark, will probably give you the best support and help you achieve your goals more quickly. You may also wish to consider working towards a specialist carbon emissions reduction programme alongside an overall ESG accreditation.

BCorp is one of the best recognised accreditations with consumers globally and covers all elements of ESG, but isn’t specific to the travel and tourism industry like Green Key, Earthcheck and Green Tourism are. These schemes will be well aligned to your operations and may be able to share more relevant best practice from other similar businesses. Some accreditations like Planet Mark and Green Key require all members to demonstrate they have made progress in order to retain the accreditation, so it’s important to consider where you can likely make the most progress with your business and align the accreditation you choose with those areas.

Operational challenges for making progress towards ESG goals

If only there was one simple roadmap for all businesses to become more sustainable! Unfortunately, the diversity of operations, geography, regulations, available resources and infrastructure all conspire to make one simple solution impossible. Louise Carr-Merino from Mission Net Zero comments that one of the key operational challenges for UK hospitality businesses in becoming more sustainable is the limitations around managing a historic building. Optimising both water flow and insulation can be a challenge that other businesses in modern buildings don’t face to the same extent. Similarly, your location might make local sourcing more of a challenge. For example, a resort on a tropical island or on a city island like Singapore is going to struggle to source many of its food and beverage ingredients locally, but even in the UK some regions have a greater diversity of local produce than others.

Understanding how realistic certain requirements are for your business before you start out with an eco-accreditation is a key consideration. You might also want to consider whether to start with just one part of your business where you think you can make more progress. This might be easier to do with a scheme like Green Tourism that offers a graded points system rather than a set of imperative criteria to pass like Green Key has.

Educational support and network for sharing ESG best practices

Sarah Duncan, Sustainability Consultant at Sleeping Lion, which is an accredited BCorp, describes how being part of BCorp feels like being part of a movement where everyone is sharing best practices. This can be hugely motivating for your team and help to drive more rapid progress towards your goals if you can also learn from others. Emma Whitlock from Green Key points out that working with an eco-accreditation is a means of bringing the expertise and framework to drive progress into your team, so it’s important to assess how well the accreditation will be able to support you from an educational perspective. How much support do they provide? Do they have educational materials or run educational events? Will they help educate your suppliers? Planet Mark has even lobbied the government on behalf of one business struggling to get planning approval for the installation of their solar panels.

What is the network they give you access to like? How active are they? Is there a formal means of encouraging the sharing of best practices and challenges? Are they all in hospitality or are they multi-sector? There can be benefits to both of these. Sector specific will ensure a high level of relevance to best practice sharing, while multi-sector might give you insights and solutions from other sectors you wouldn’t otherwise have thought about. Multi-sector accreditations might also help you align more easily with suppliers.

Eco-accreditation pricing models

And, of course, as with everything cost will also be a consideration, although Hitesh Patel from Planet Mark thinks businesses should be looking at this more as an investment than as a cost, because operational costs go down as a result. Some of their customers have saved more in energy bills than they spend on their Planet Mark membership. The main difference in pricing is whether the pricing is relative to your revenue or size in terms of rooms, sites or employees, or whether it’s a fixed fee for all businesses. Depending on the size and structure of your business different fee structures will work out more or less cost-effective and suitable for your cash flow.

Green Tourism offers tiered pricing according to your size based on rooms, sites or employees depending on the type of business you are.

Green Key offers the same fixed fees for all businesses.

Planet Mark and BCorp, as sector agnostic accreditations, are priced according to your revenue.                                    

We’ve supported numerous businesses to gather, validate and quantify ESG data from their supply chain for a wide range of different eco-accreditations, so before you get started, drop us a line, as we can probably save you a considerable amount of time and boring work getting hold of the data you will need to achieve the best possible result with your chosen eco-accreditation.

If you’re looking for some free resources to get started. There are plenty available on the Sustainable Hospitality Alliance website and the BCorp impact assessment is free for anyone to use.

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