Awards, standards and certification – what’s the difference?

          A previously published travel industry report, the first of its kind, reported by GreenHotelWorld.com, showed the density of environmental sustainability certified hotels per continent.
          Results of the study indicate the global green hotel density is 6.2%. The study is based on 130,000+ hotels worldwide that have been cross-referenced with 50 hotel certification eco-labels (out of about a total of ca. 450) through an algorithm, developed in accordance to the criteria set by the GSTC (Global Sustainable Travel Council).

          The “green hotel density” in 2015, by continents, is stated as below:
          North America = 10.1%
          Europe = 6.1%
          Oceania = 4.8%
          Africa = 3.7%
          South America = 2.7%
          Asia = 0.9%
          You might agree, that Asia is one of the leading business-growth areas of the world. After Brexit some insiders believe this will increase even further.
          0.9% of all hotels in Asia with an environmental sustainability certification provide enough potential for improvement should Asia ever feel the need to match or surpass the % level of hotels in Europe or North America.

          The above argument “pro need” might not be agreeable to you. After all, just because Europe and North America have a higher green label certification density, does not mean that Asia has to aim for the same. An interesting observation is, that ASEAN met in the second half of June 2016 in Pakse, Laos PDR. to develop their ecotourism guideline/policy aka.: the Pakse Declaration.

          Additional food for thought is that the Paris Agreement (COP21) is well on its way to confirm the minimal necessary 55 countries emitting 55% or more of all global Greenhouse gases.
          If one then recalls that Asia is also the location of some of the most densely populated countries (e.g. China, India, Pakistan & Bangladesh), receiving close to 500 million international visitors annually in 2014 and expects an annual arrival growth of almost 6%, the argument pro-environmental-sustainability-label, gains importance.

          Award – Standard – Benchmarking – Certification
          Proactive hotel owners or managers who are including the environment in their business paradigm already or those who are starting to contemplate how to address environmental sustainability, are wondering about the cost and effectiveness of their activities. There are 50 – 450 such “green labels” available. Which one to select? What is suitable? An award, a standard or shall we go for a certification?

          Read on to find some clarifications.

          Award
          The criterias to receive an award can be many. Advantages in obtaining an award can be that the invested time, objectiveness and capital are minimal vis a vis the actual cost of effective environmental sustainability activities.
          Disadvantages could include that the methodology & transparency on how the award was assigned is not repeatable. Furthermore some awards are not necessary useful to form and maintain a unique selling point nor do they support a strategy.

          Standard
          A standard is a written down, level of quality or attainment. The manufacturing industry uses many specific standards. The service industry has, only in the past decade, started to develop a trend in applying international standards. There are internationally recognized Quality management system (QMS) standards, (ISO 9001:2008) to note one of the more recognizable one or environmental management system (EMS) standards (GSTC, Green Key, Green Globe, ISO 14001:2015 or EarthCheck). Some standards can be freely downloaded from the Internet, while others need to be purchased or signed up to.
          Advantages to choose one standard over an other can include increased relevance to ones industry, compatibility to other international best practices, increase in continuous improvement, a rise in market share and increased employee motivation and retention, just to mention a few.
          The limited understanding of the different requirements and benefits between an award and a standard can negatively influence the decision process. Specifically i like to note here that those persons who make the purchase decision and the persons who actually have to do the work are rarely the same.

          The result is the absence of an easily calculable ROI, which in turn becomes the reason for regret. Specifically, when a management team has saved money by selecting an easily obtained standard, but than realizes that the knowledge to implement the standard and to create objective evidence is lacking. Getting help can turn out to be difficult and costly.

          Benchmarking
          There are very few awards and standards, which require & are combined with fact-based data collection and benchmarking assessment. Benchmarking is the sign of a stringent, transparent and effective and not to mention, valuable award or standard. Valuable because a benchmark assessment report compares operational performance levels against regional, country-wide, international or industry specific benchmarks.
          One of the main advantages of benchmarking is that said assessment can provide additional information and conversion of operational emissions to Greenhouse gas emissions. Disadvantages observed by me, based on 140+ onsite EMS audits, can be summed up by failing to merge operational management system (OMS) with environmental management systems (EMS) and therefor creating more work.

          Certification
          Certification refers to the confirmation of certain characteristics of an organization, in this aspect a standard. The aforementioned confirmation is most valuable when provided by some form of external review, assessment, or audit.
          The value for a business’ ability to say that they have implemented a standard and comply to its requirement confirmed by an external audit, is undeniable.
          Disadvantages of a certification can be perceived as financial and emotional. Businesses list the financial costs often as a hurdle. However an easy remedy for this is simply replacing ‘cost’ with “investment” and approaching environmental sustainability as a change in direction rather then a finite destination. The energy required, inducing change I describe as the emotional disadvantage.
          The advantages can include higher quality perception, reduced ROI duration for environmental sustainability activities, preparedness for new legislation, the discovery of likeminded organizations in a competitive world and regular external input by an uninvolved party.

          What now?
          Companies interested to embark on a step by step and cost effective way towards environmental sustainability are invited to contact us for a non-committing discussion.

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          Daniel Koeppel

          Daniel is an environmental sustainability specialist with a hospitality background. He is passionate in supporting visionary hotel companies wishing to increase their environmental sustainability know how and solutions. Contact us now for a non-committing assessment!

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