Becoming Certified for Sustainability

Sustainability certification is a process in which the operation of a tourism business or other entity is assessed by a third party for its adherence to sustainability principles and standards. The process of becoming certified can be very helpful to businesses in strengthening and benefiting from their sustainability activity.

Reasons for pursuing sustainability certification include:

  • Provision of a sustainability agenda for the business to follow
  • Identification, recognition and credibility as a business addressing sustainability
  • PR with potential business partners and customers
  • Internal staff relationships and satisfaction
  • Access to guidance and other support.

There are many independent bodies that offer certification in sustainable tourism. Most have their own sustainable tourism standard against which the business operation is audited, often with a combination of self-assessment and external auditing and verification.

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) is an independent international body supported by a membership of UN bodies, NGOs, governments and leading travel companies.  It has established and is managing the GSTC Criteria, the global baseline standards for sustainable travel and tourism.  There are two sets of criteria, for Industry (i.e. tourism enterprises) and for Destinations.   The criteria cover overall management requirements as well as addressing socio-economic, cultural and environmental sustainability.  The GSTC promotes good practice in sustainability certification by:

  • Checking the content of standards used by the certification bodies, to ensure equivalency with the GSTC Criteria.  Standards deemed to be equivalent are identified as GSTC-Recognized sustainable tourism standards.
  • Checking the auditing processes used by certification bodies to ensure that it is neutral, competent and complies with best practice. Bodies meeting the requirements are identified as GSTC-Accredited certification bodies.  

A directory of sustainable tourism certification bodies with experience in Africa is provided here, based on information supplied by them to ATTA®.  This includes reference to their status with the GSTC.

Many certification bodies provide helpful guidance and support on making operations more sustainable and in meeting the requirements of their standard.  Businesses seeking certification should contact the bodies directly to clarify the services they offer and the process of application.