Interview with Mr. Finn Bolding Thomsen, Director at Green Key International

1. Green Key is a voluntary international eco-label for hotels and tourism facilities that counts 3200 hospitality establishments in 65 countries. What do you think are the advantages of having this eco-label for hospitality businesses?

Green Key is a long-lived programme with more than 25 years of existence. We are one of the largest eco-labels for accommodations with a worldwide presence. Eco-labels in general serve as an organised step-by-step approach to help an establishment achieve its goals. It is an external verification for customers and partners that an establishment has high sustainability standards. The ecolabel is a motivating reward for the whole team involved in the process, and the award can subsequently be used in the promotion of the establishment.

In the Green Key programme, we place emphasis on providing full transparency of the criteria and the application process for any interested establishment, so an establishment is fully aware of the requirements and process before applying. Our criteria are internationally recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), and we ensure that the standards at the establishments are verified through regular on-site audits and that there is an independent third-party verification of the award.

As Green Key is managed by a non-profit charity, our service fees are lower compared to other for-profit schemes. In general, participation in Green Key can lead to decreased use of resources, and saving water and energy, for example, can eventually lead to cost savings as well.

A point that we hear very often is that Green Key establishments appreciate the personal support that we provide throughout the application process. We are happy to help answer questions about the standards, discuss challenges and best practice examples, and we have a well-developed toolbox that assists the establishments in their work towards achieving Green Key as well as further developing their work with sustainability. As we have national offices in 40+ countries, the support can in most cases be done in the national language and with nationally adapted application forms and support materials.

2. What are the criteria that hospitality establishments must commit to in order to be awarded the Green Key eco-label? How do you establish and maintain them? Do you think it feasible for SMEs and micro-enterprises to accomplish these criteria?

In Green Key, we have 100+ criteria. The criteria fall into 13 sections, where some sections focus on environmental/sustainability management and other sections focus on environmental/sustainability awareness-raising.

The management criteria include requirements concerning the saving of water and energy; the reduction of waste and the use of chemical products; promotion of sustainable and locally produced food and beverage products; requirements on labour, accessibility, and animal welfare standards; engagement of the surrounding community, etc. The awareness-raising criteria include requirements on the training and engagement of staff, information for and engagement of guests, requirements for suppliers and engagement with the local community.

Around half of our criteria are imperative and must be adhered to, while the other half of the criteria are guidelines. Green Key requires increasing compliance with the guideline criteria from 0% the first year and up to 50% after ten years of participation in Green Key. In addition, the Green Key criteria can be slightly strengthened at the national level compared with the international baseline standard.

Together with the criteria, there is a set of explanatory notes explaining the meaning of each criterion and what Green Key will check during the audits.

The criteria are revised around every five years in consultation with the national programme coordinators, the participating establishments, national and international partners (for example hotel chains), a range of external experts and the public. A new Green Key standard is in the phase of being approved and will be in effect from January 2022 to the end of December 2025.

Green Key is available for six establishment categories: hotels & hostels, campsites & holiday parks, small accommodations, conference centres, restaurants as well as museums and other tourism attractions. The criteria vary from category to category. The small accommodations criteria are eligible for small establishments, SMEs and micro-establishments with 1-15 bedrooms.

3. HOTREC fully supports both Green Key and the EU Ecolabel, as we believe that they are relevant initiatives to support tourism’s green transition. How do you envision a possible collaboration with the European Commission?

Green Key is in a dialogue with various other international eco-labels and certification schemes, including the EU Ecolabel. Although the criteria and application processes vary among the different schemes, it is inspiring to learn about each other’s standards. We certainly have various issues in common, for example how we continue to engage the public sector, companies, and the public in choosing sustainable accommodation for their leisure or business travels; and how we promote our standards through online booking websites and travel companies, etc.

In Green Key, it is our hope that the European Commission and national governments in the post-Covid period will show a very strong commitment to implementing sustainable tourism policies within the European Union, as well as play an active role in promoting concrete ways that EU citizens can be responsible tourists, for example by choosing internationally recognised eco-labels such as the Green Key.