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A review of the main programmes and certificates for responsible tourism development

What for are all the programmes and certificates?

Sustainability programmes, certificates, and labels can be valuable tools for tourism businesses that want to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability, improve their efficiency and competitiveness, and enhance their reputation with customers and stakeholders. Here are some examples of what you can achieve by obtaining a sustainability certificate and being sustainable in your activities:

You can get competitive advantage by committing to sustainable practices

Sustainability certificates are useful in tourism for a variety of reasons. They are a way to demonstrate your company’s commitment to sustainable practices by providing evidence from a third-party certification. This commitment can help attract environmentally and socially conscious travellers who themselves want to make a difference. Thus, sustainability certificates and labels are likely to give your company a competitive advantage in the market.

Sustainable practices can save money

Being involved in a sustainability programme or having a certificate is bound to improve general efficiency in your enterprise. Getting a certificate very often requires companies to implement more efficient practices, such as reducing consumption of energy and water or production of waste. By considering these measures, your company could save money.

Gives tools for your responsibility communication to build up your company image

Responsibility communication is business development that maximizes the value obtained from your sustainability work. With the help of responsibility communication, one can build an image, improve business processes, and respond to the changing demands of your visitors. A company that creates a sustainability programme has an excellent starting point for communicating about its responsibility as then your goals and measures are already recorded and ready to be put into practice. A certificate by a third-party provides evidence to back up your claims. When you think of it, responsibility communication gives you a real edge in marketing your business as well.

Naturally, responsibility communication includes responsible communication, which means that you need to communicate in an ethical and transparent way, and be considerate to others.

Is a certificate necessary?

You have probably heard that it is a big effort to get a sustainability certificate. In some cases, this may be true and the process may take resources from your enterprise. However, it is something worth considering, especially as some destinations or, for instance, some Visit organisations, may require a sustainability certificate before getting involved in their marketing activities. Nevertheless, your company can act responsibly without any official third-party certification, and also tell about your sustainable practices in your communication. On the other hand, different programmes and certificates are designed to help companies in their path towards more responsible activities. Thus, in any case, they may offer the support you need in achieving your goals.

In the next section, some of the main certificates for sustainable tourism are described. The links to the programmes are under the section Links.

International certifications for sustainable tourism practices

Blue Flag

The Blue Flag programme awards the blue Flag to beaches, marinas and tourism boats when they have complied with a number of stringent environmental, educational, safety, and accessibility criteria. The criteria must be maintained. The owners and operators of beaches, marinas and boats are then awarded the right to display the Blue Flag in their premises.

The Blue Flag programme is run by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) and has its headquarter in Copenhagen, Denmark.

EGLA corporate certificate

EGLA helps organisations to adapt sustainable development practices. It acts as means to improve companies’ operations, and sustainability. It is an independently financed, non-profit, non- governmental organisation that supports the public sector, businesses, financers, and consumers to see that their businesses can thrive.


The EU Ecolabel is the official European Union voluntary label for environmental sustainability. It certifies products with a guaranteed, independently-verified low environmental impact. Goods and services must meet high environmental standards throughout their entire life cycle in order for them to be awarded the EU Ecolabel. In practice, this means the whole cycle from raw material extraction through production and distribution until disposal is under scrutiny. The label encourages companies to develop innovative products that are durable, easy to repair, and recyclable. Through the Ecolabel, industry can offer true and reliable eco-friendly alternatives to conventional products, empowering consumers to make informed choices and play an active role in the green transition.

Green Globe

The Green Globe is an international standard for sustainable tourism. Its certification standard includes 44 criteria supported by 380 compliance indicators. Green Globe has five steps to certification. First you need to register for membership, receive and pay the membership invoice and log in to Green Globe solutions to complete the certification. Finally, after an independent audit, you will receive the Green Globe Certification.

Green Key

The Green Key is a certificate in the field of environmental responsibility and sustainable operation within the tourism industry. The commitment to Green Key demonstrates that the tourism businesses adhere to the criteria stipulated by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE).

The objective of Green Key is to increase the use of sustainable methods of operation and technology in order to reduce the use of resources and raise awareness to create behavioural changes in staff, guests, and suppliers of the hospitality and tourism industry.

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace organization has a mission to provide innovative education, skills, research, and science to help people care for the outdoors. It has seven principles to provide an easily understood framework of minimum impact practices for anyone visiting the outdoors. These principles consist of actions to plan ahead and prepare, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose all waste properly, leave what you find, minimise campfire impacts, respect wildlife, and be considerate to others.

The Nordic Swan Ecolabel

The Nordic Swan Ecolabel is for reducing the environmental impact from production and consumption of goods. The Ecolabel sets strict environmental requirements during a product’s life cycle, sets strict requirements for chemicals used in the labelled products, tightens requirements for goods and services in creating sustainable development, and certifies that all requirements are met before a product is granted the Ecolabel.

The use of the label makes it easy for consumers and professional buyers to choose the environment friendly goods and services.


Travelife is a global accommodation sustainability programme and certification body. Its members use an online package containing practical tools and advice to improve the environmental, economic and social impact of their business. The requirements of the Travelife certificate are comprehensive, covering environmental management, fair labor, human rights, community support, child protection and animal welfare.

UNESCO World Heritage and Sustainable Tourism Programme

The UNESCO World Heritage and Sustainable Tourism Programme is based on dialogue and stakeholder cooperation where planning for tourism and heritage management is integrated at a destination level, the natural and cultural assets are valued and protected, and appropriate tourism developed. The stakeholders share the responsibility for conservation of cultural and natural heritage of universal value and for sustainable development with appropriate tourism management. The programme facilitates the management and development of sustainable tourism at World Heritage properties by fostering increased awareness, capacity and balanced participation of all stakeholders.

National certifications for sustainable tourism practices (Finland)

EcoCompass (Ekokompassi in Finnish)

EcoCompass is an environmental management system (EMS) and a certificate, which helps you in making your business more sustainable, improving your competitive advantage, preventing environmental risks, focusing on some concrete actions, and communicating your environmental performance.

EcoCompass certificate demonstrates commitment to continuous improvement and complying with 10 criteria, which comprise: environmental legislation, appointed environmental manager, environmental impact scoring and a pledge, internal training of personnel, a waste management plan, appropriate handling of hazardous waste, and chemicals, creating an environmental management programme, and reporting annually about taken actions.

Finnish Eco-Agrotourism Association ECEAT Finland

The European Centre for Ecological and Agricultural Tourism, European ECEAT network, was established in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, by several environmental, organic farming and nature protection organisations. Its aim was to support traditional small farmers through tourism and to encourage them to continue their profession and, thereby, protect the environment and valuable cultural landscapes. The ECEAT farms became popular within the western visitors, who wanted to experience authentic and traditional rural culture. The network spread across Europe.

The ECEAT destinations include hundreds of organic and traditional farms and ecological guesthouses, small campsites and environmentally friendly hotels in different countries. The destinations often work to protect cultural heritage. The hosting families have given guests a chance to get to know local people and their culture. Sometimes visitors can even participate in farm work and/or buy organic products. Unfortunately, the international ECEAT-network is not active at the moment, but many European countries have their own ECEAT organisations and projects.

Green Activities Certificate

The Green Activities is a sustainability programme and certificate especially designed for activity programme operators. It is best suited to establishments that offer outdoor activities, and it is the only sustainability certificate in the Nordic countries that includes criteria for ensuring animal welfare in tourism businesses.

A certified company must commit to increasing the environmental awareness of its customers and staff as well as reducing the environmental impact of its activities. The certificate is based on a set of sustainability criteria specifically designed for activity programme operators, and the applicants must commit to meeting and regularly reporting on these criteria. In order to ensure the wellbeing of tourism animals, those companies that use sled dogs and tourism reindeer must meet additional criteria. The programme offers applicants personal consultation, as well as sustainability training and sustainability communication materials for certified members.

Companies that have been granted the Green Activities certificate may use the Green Activities label in their communication. The label confirms that the sustainability-related claims of the establishment have been verified by an auditor and the certificate has been awarded by an independent jury.

The Green Activities certificate has been developed with the permission of FEE.

Roope Services

The Keep the Archipelago Tidy Association (Pidä Saaristo Siistinä ry) maintains the Roope Services intended for those travelling around the Finnish maritime and lake regions. The association is a Finnish environmental organisation for boaters and those who travel around Finnish waterways. The Roope Services are found in harbours, on islands and along waterways. They include appr. 200 Roope waste recycling and disposal stations, 30 dry toilets, floating sewage pumpout stations, the service and maintenance of 139 guest harbours, and separate waste collection campaigns for hazardous waste and rubbish in various locations, for free of charge. The Roope services require the company/destination to be a member of the association. They have the right to use the association’s Seal logo.

Sustainable Travel Finland (STF)

The Sustainable Travel Finland programme provides companies and destinations with a concrete toolkit for sustainable travel, which facilitates the adoption of sustainable measures and choices in the everyday operations of a region or company. The criteria for a company to achieve the label includes implementation of various concrete actions of sustainable practices in its everyday operations. Companies and destinations awarded the STF label have access to a continuous development model, the latest information on the sustainable development of travel, marketing support, and additional visibility through Visit Finland’s channels.

The STF label is free of charge for the entrepreneurs but the companies must go through a 7-step STF programme to get the label. STF has an online platform specifically built for the purpose. The platform is supported with an ‘e-guide’ e-learning environment, accessible only by those accepted to the Sustainable Travel Finland programme.

WWF Green Office

The WWF Green Office is a tool for environmental managements. The green Office guides organizations to act in an environmentally responsible manner. The goal is to reduce the workplace’s carbon footprint, use natural resources wisely and protect natural diversity.

The Green Office work is guided by seven themes that are the most significant sources of environmental impacts in offices: management, communications and engagement, energy and water, procurement, recycling, sorting and cleaning, travel, and food.

The green Office provides a model, diverse tools, engaging communications materials, and support of WWF experts. With the Green Office certificate, the organization builds its brand as a responsible operator. It tells stakeholders that environmental issues are taken into account in the premises, decision-making and operations.

Related to topics

  • Green practices for your initiative
  • Team management and staff
  • Financial savvy
  • Sustainable tourism
  • Circularity
  • Your ecosystem


Blue Flag.

Green Key.

Visit Finland. Sustainable Travel Finland:

Links & publications

Blue Flag.

ECEAT International.

ECEAT Finland.



EU Ecolabel.

Green Globe.

Green Activities Certificate.

Green Key.

Keep the Archipelago Tidy Association. Roope Services.

Leave No Trace.

Sustainable Travel Finland.

The Nordic Swan Ecolabel.


UNESCO World Heritage Convention. Sustainable tourism. WWF Green Office.