Eco Certification Standards & Measures, What are they?

by | Jul 17, 2017 | Certification, Ecotourism, Resources

Eco Certification Standards & Measures Explained

In Ireland ecotourism is overseen and certified by Ecotourism Ireland, formed and headed up by Mary Mulvey. This organisation audits and certifies a range of sustainable tourism venues and experiences from places like Crann Og Eco Farm to Inishbofin Island.

Ecotourism Ireland is one of 14 companies in the world recognised by The Global Sustainable Tourism Council. The Council provides the framework and criteria for ecotourism worldwide and has formulated these measures to be adaptable to local conditions with additional supplementary criteria for specific locations and activities.

Why Have Standards

Eco Certification Standards exist in order to promote a unified approach to managing sustainability and equitability in tourism development and operation worldwide. In the process to ensure the conservation of natural and cultural treasures while managing one of the fastest growing sectors in the world.

To create a simple recipe for all tourism development internationally that promotes the ethos of education and raising of awareness, informing policy development for governance, enterprise and other interests, monitoring and assessment and as the baseline for certification.

What Are the Standards

The GSTC developed criteria that consist of four main categories covering all aspects related to sustainable tourism that provide the basic framework for detailed measures;

  1. Demonstrate effective sustainable management
  2. Maximize social and economic benefits to the local community and minimize negative impacts
  3. Maximize benefits to cultural heritage and minimize negative impacts
  4. Maximize benefits to the environment and minimize negative impacts

As you can see these are broad categories, each of them incorporating large areas of study, consultation and assessmen

How to make these categories workable and achievable while remaining relevant internationally?

Decades of experience, research and consultation by the Council looked at the range of guidelines and standards implemented around the world by different countries and organisations. Consultation was conducted on every continent and in multiple languages whilst trying to arrive at a set of formulae that could be easily adapted to differing cultures, environments, laws and customs.

…the Criteria was designed to adhere to ISO codes of conduct and the standards-setting code of the ISEAL Alliance, the international body providing guidance for the development and management of sustainability standards for all sectors.” (GSTC)

Detailed Criteria for Certification of Ecotourism

The four main categories identified by the GSTC led to the development of eight detailed Certification Criteria Categories:

1. Environmentally Sustainable Practices

2. Natural Area Focus

3. Interpretation and Education

4. Contributing to Conservation

5. Benefiting local communities

6. Visitor Satisfaction

7. Responsible Marketing

8. Cultural respect and awareness

Each of these categories comprises a number of measures that countries, sectors and operators must attain in order to achieve certification by this system. Together they comprise what is defined as the minimum standard in approaching ‘social, environmental, cultural, and economic sustainability.’

Ecotourism Certification Measures


Environmentally Sustainable Practices

From the adoption of minimal impact codes to regulatory compliance and implementation of Sustainability Management Systems. The use of renewable energy technologies, non-motorised transport and promotion of environmentally friendly transport. Staff training and education regarding environmental impacts, and communication to the public of commitment to sustainable practices. Adoption of an energy and waste management plan, use and promotion of ethical and eco-labelled services and products.


Natural Area Focus

Work with local stakeholders and ensure that local access to sites of environmental, cultural , spiritual and historic sites are not impeded. Implementation of the Leave No Trace Codes of Conduct. That the experience involves personal experience of nature by the visitor while ensuring visitor to guide/staff ratios remain moderate. That a protected natural, cultural or historical area is included as part of the experience.


Interpretation and Education

Educational staff are appropriately trained and experienced. Interpretive experience plans are in place and inform design of the experience/program/product. Specific interest groups and demographics are catered to and interaction with other visitors and interest groups is incorporated into the experience. Information is provided to past and future visitors of improvements.


Contributing to Conservation

Active involvement in a payback schemes involving conservation and membership to conservation groups. Actively involved in local environmental project(s) and information events. Provide information on local flora, fauna and nature reserves. Tree planting programs and creation of natural habitats for endemic species.


Benefiting local communities

Work with the local community and support employment of local guides. Provide access to work experience and involve community members/groups in development of the experience/product. Encourage the purchase of local and organic foods. Membership of local and regional tourism business networks and support local businesses.


Visitor Satisfaction

Comply with all relevant legislation and monitor visitor satisfaction. Review by industry peers and professionals on an ongoing basis. Share insights gathered by visitor satisfaction feedback.


Responsible Marketing

Description and promotion of product is accurate and complete and reflects the nature and feel of the experience. Potential visitors to be informed as to what the experience offers them in terms of connection with nature, education, conservation, recreation and how the experience benefits the environment and local community. Minimise use of paper based promotion and utilise internet based methods or promotion and marketing, exclusively if possible. Develop and enhance networking and promotion of other ecotourism and conservation organisations, venues and networks.


Cultural respect and awareness

Local access to the experience and resources is not impeded by the operation. Information is provided on local heritage and foster where possible cross border and international cooperation with similar operators and networks.

High Level Of Certification Is A Great Achievement!


As you can see meeting all of the measures and criteria, which serve as the minimum standard, is no small or easy task for any operator, region or country

To achieve such standards requires development of a management system that allows for and fosters continued improvement and innovation. This in turn requires comprehensive monitoring and feedback loops across all categories of the criteria assessment program.

How can the small to medium sized operator or a region new to the concept of sustainable ecotourism hope to meet such standards? This is a good question that lands right in the middle of that blurry zone where tourism morphs into ecotourism. It raises lots of questions about what is really sustainable, and from what perspective?

This will be the subject of a Free Resource, designed to help the smaller operator or newcomer fast track to the cutting edge of ecotourism, that will be the subject of another post coming soon!

We will edit this post to add a link to it once it’s ready.



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