Standard Criteria and Indicators

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A. Sustainable Management

A.1 Implement a Sustainability Management System

Criteria: The Business has implemented a long-term sustainability management system that is suitable to its reality and scale, and that considers environmental, sociocultural, quality, health, and safety issues.

The first step toward embracing sustainable business practices entails creating a sustainability management system (SMS) that includes transparent, documented policies and procedures, implementation and communication plans. A well written sustainability policy will define and clearly communicate organizational goals and objectives as they relate to the business‚ environmental, socio-cultural, and economic performance. The primary purpose of the sustainability management plan is to guide decision-making, management, and the daily operations of the business in a sustainable manner.

A.2 Legal Compliance

Criteria: The Business is in compliance with all relevant international or local legislation and regulations (including, among others, health, safety, labor, and environmental aspects).

International and local legislation and regulation address many of the social and environmental negative practices associated with tourism operations. These include major labor conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO) covering freedom of association, no child labor, no forced or bonded labor, no discrimination, health and safety, work hours and minimum pay. This criteria is not an alternative to government regulation and national labor legislation, rather it is a complementary instrument that fills voids in the application, adherence and enforcement of critical social and environmental protections.

A.3 Employee Training

Criteria: All personnel receive periodic training regarding their role in the management of environmental, sociocultural, health, and safety practices.

The success of the business’ sustainability management system depends on the effective integration and internalization of the system by employees at all levels. A defined training program for all employees on the SMS aspects will enable employees to understand the business’ goals and objectives, why they’re important, and how they can positively contribute to the business’ efforts in each of their individual roles.

A.4 Customer Satisfaction

Criteria: Customer satisfaction is measured and corrective action taken where appropriate.

The customer is the central focus of the tourism experience. Their satisfaction should be eagerly sought in order to foment continued travel to a destination through return visits and word of mouth communication. Additionally, the customer provides a unique vantage point on the business’ operations that the management and business employees may not be able to provide. The business tools used to monitor customers’ satisfaction with internal operations, relations with the community and other stakeholders, and the effectiveness of sustainable programs enable the business to make improvements on a regular basis.

A.5 Accuracy of Promotional Materials

Criteria: Promotional materials are accurate and complete and do not promise more than can be delivered by the business.

Ethics in marketing dictate that all promotional tools should provide an honest representation of what services the business provides. In addition, they reflect the responsible and sustainable strategies that the business undertakes. Accurate information improves customer satisfaction by ensuring that expectations can be met.

A.6 Local Zoning, Design and Construction

A.6.1 Design and Construction – Compliance with Legal Requirements

Criteria: Comply with local land acquisition and land rights legislation and local zoning and protected or heritage area requirements.

Land used for buildings and operations should be acquired respecting traditional rights and local legislation. Local zoning defines how activities can be carried out in a community reflecting the community’s social, economic, and environmental needs, balanced with long-term sustainability. Alteration of protected and designated heritage sites is regulated through local zoning and legal requirements (local, national, and international conventions). Tourism operations must consider these zoning and area requirements to optimize community development plans, while minimizing impact.

A.6.2 & 3 Sustainable Design and Construction of Buildings and Infrastructure – New and Existing Buildings

Criteria: Use locally appropriate principles of sustainable construction and design while respecting the natural and cultural surroundings.

Local environmentally and economically sound design and development techniques should be integrated into the design and construction phase of the tourism operation for minimizing natural resource impacts as well as consideration of the potential socio-cultural and economic benefits.

This includes:

  • Locally appropriate tools and materials that minimize environmental impact
  • Locally appropriate technologies that is used in buildings and for construction, including indigenous materials and technologies
  • Development of local capacity – education, knowledge and experience – to use the materials, technologies, tools for sustainable construction
  • Local involvement of all concerned stakeholders in the process of adoption and implementation of sustainable construction principles.

Enhancing the aesthetic, cultural, historic, and natural assets of a destination as well as ensuring that built structures and operations do not negatively impact adjoining lands and people is also an important factor in sustainable design. Businesses must also ensure universal access to its facilities and services to people with special needs.

A.7 Interpretation

Criteria: Information about and interpretation of the natural surroundings, local culture, and cultural heritage is provided to customers, as well as explaining appropriate behavior while visiting natural areas, living cultures, and cultural heritage sites.

Interpretation of the natural and cultural environment is not only important for educating visitors and protecting heritage, but a key factor for a high quality tourist experience marked by a high level of satisfaction (criterion A.4 addresses the need to measure it). Providing information to the customer to educate and inform about the surroundings is a key factor for tourism businesses.

A.8 Communications Strategy

Criteria: The Business has implemented a comprehensive communications strategy to inform visitors and guests on its sustainable policies, programs and initiatives.

A well written Communications Strategy will clearly communicate organizational goals and objectives as they relate to the business’ environmental, socio-cultural, and economic performance. It is important that all stakeholders including management, employees, customers and the local community understand the business’ goals and objectives, why they’re important, and how they can positively contribute to the business’ efforts in each of their individual roles.

A.9 Health and Safety

Criteria: The Business ensures compliance with all relevant health and safety measures to ensure the well-being of its customers, staff and local community.

International and local legislation and regulation address many of the health and safety obligations associated with tourism operations. This criteria is not an alternative to government regulation and national health and safety legislation, rather it is a complementary instrument that fills voids in the application, adherence and enforcement of critical health and safety protections. The health and wellbeing of all stakeholders is a prime responsibility of all tourism businesses.

B. Social/Economic

B.1 Community Development

Criteria: The business actively supports initiatives for social and infrastructure community development including, among others, education, health, and sanitation.

Linkages to the local community should exceed employment and economic growth through the development of the business. Opportunities should be undertaken on a regular basis to provide resources, education, training, financial assistance, or in-kind support for initiatives in accordance with community priorities to improve the local livelihoods, thereby engendering community support for operations and creating a better customer experience.

B.2 Local Employment

Criteria: Local residents are employed, including in management positions. Training is offered as necessary.

Local hiring and training is the key to maximizing community economic benefit and fostering community involvement and integration with the business. In addition, the tourism operation establishes a long-term stable labor relationship while enhancing the local authentic character of the tourism service and product. Providing jobs at all levels of management ensures that the local population does not feel disenfranchised and can provide a sufficient dialogue between the business’ ownership and the community. The business should support programs – internal or external – that will allow employees to develop beneficial skills for upward mobility.

B.3 Fair Trade

Criteria: Local and fair-trade services and goods are purchased by the business, where available.

Using goods and services produced locally or with “fair-trade” principles have numerous social, economic and environmental benefits:

  • Supports local businesses and provide jobs;
  • Higher percentage of the price paid is transferred directly to the provider of the goods and services which is then re-circulated several times in the community;
  • Reduced ecological footprint due to fewer greenhouse gases being burned in the transportation of the goods;
  • Fair prices and wages are received by the producers;
  • The visitor experience is enhanced; and,
  • Local goods and services can substantially lower costs with fewer middlemen and transportation costs.

B.4 Support Local Entrepreneurs

Criteria: The business offers the means for local small entrepreneurs to develop and sell sustainable products that are based on the area’s nature, history, and culture (including food and drink, crafts, performance arts, agricultural products, etc.).

Programs that expose customers to the local culture and encourage the purchase of local crafts, goods and services help increase positive economic benefits to the community while engendering a sense of pride in cultural heritage. Working with local small entrepreneurs can help diversify the product, thus increasing spending and length of stay. In some cases this can include designating a specific area on the premises for use by local entrepreneurs or promoting local cultural activities that are open to the public.

B.5 Respect Local Communities

Criteria: A code of conduct for activities in local communities has been developed, with the consent of and in collaboration with the community.

Respecting and preserving the traditions and property of local populations is an important aspect in terms of today’s globalization. Codes of conduct for tourism activities that are developed in concert with local communities, respecting the principle of prior informed consent and the right of communities to say “no” to tourism activities is key to the long term viability and sustainability of the community and its environment. Tourism businesses should develop a plan to maintain regular and open communication with community officials to create a cooperative agreement that accounts for tourist interaction with the peoples and passage through the local communities.

B.6 Exploitation

Criteria: The business has implemented a policy against commercial exploitation, particularly of children and adolescents, including sexual exploitation.

Children, adolescents, women and minorities are particularly vulnerable to abusive labor practices, including sexual exploitation. Weak law enforcement, corruption, the Internet, ease of travel, and poverty have created an underground industry which creates devastating immediate and long term community impacts in terms of disease, pregnancies, trauma, ostracism and even death. Many codes and international initiatives within the tourism industry have appeared in recent years as a result of this growing threat. Tourism businesses can play a key role in ensuring the protection of local populations at destination by not buying products produced with child labor; not allowing use of tourism premises for sexual exploitation of minors and denouncing these practices to local authorities.

B.7 Equitable Hiring

Criteria: The business is equitable in hiring women and local minorities, including in management positions, while restraining child labor.

While major international labor conventions and norms address discrimination and child labor, women and local minorities often have unequal access to job opportunities, particularly in management, and child labor is still pervasive in many areas. Equality in hiring policies encourages an equitable distribution of wealth and closes income gaps along gender and ethnic lines. Adherence to international guidelines concerning the employment of children ensures their education, enabling them to be future productive members of their community and enhances their quality of life.

B.8 Employee Protection

Criteria: The international or national legal protection of employees is respected and employees are paid a living wage.

Treating workers humanely and fairly makes good business sense by establishing stable labor relationships. International and national regulation and conventions (including ILO) establish the minimum baseline for respecting worker’s rights. Wages that allow employees to afford – at minimum – provision of basic needs such as food, health care, shelter and education is critical for alleviating poverty and improving the quality of life in the local population as well as increasing productivity and employee retention.

B.9 Basic Services

Criteria: The activities of the business do not jeopardize the provision of basic services, such as water, energy, or sanitation, to neighboring communities.

Tourism businesses can alter, disrupt or strain community infrastructure and basic services, adversely impacting local users and communities. In some cases, service providers, such as utility suppliers may favor businesses over local populations. Regular communication with local communities is required to ensure that normal business operations enhance the socioeconomic and environmental character of the destination, do not reduce services available to the community or increase their cost.

C. Cultural Heritage

C.1 Code of Behavior

Criteria: The business follows established guidelines or a code of behavior for visits to culturally or historically sensitive sites, in order to minimize visitor impact and maximize enjoyment.

Respect for local cultures and historic locations must be observed. Businesses must also understand and actively seek to minimize the impact on built and natural environments caused by increased visitor activity. Education about local people’s cultural customs, mores, and beliefs as well as appropriate verbal and non-verbal behavior will contribute to overall appreciation of the site and local community pride.

C.2 Historical Artifacts

Criteria: Historical and archeological artifacts are not sold, traded, or displayed, except as permitted by law.

Sustainable tourism aims to protect and embrace the uniqueness of a destination. Norms, regulations and conventions exist to protect historical and archeological artifacts from international trade exploitation. With lax enforcement and interested markets, tourism businesses are critical in protecting these artifacts while promoting the area’s heritage.

C.3 Protection of Sites

Criteria: The business contributes to the protection of local historical, archeological, culturally, and spiritually important properties and sites, and does not impede access to them by local residents.

Cultural and historical heritage are an important component of a destination’s attractiveness and should be conserved to ensure their enjoyment for future generations. Collaboration with local residents and preservation bodies ensures that tourism-related activities do not damage sites or prevent local people from visiting or using them. Preservation and enhancement of local cultural and historical assets increase the tourism experience and make the product offering stronger.

C.4 Incorporation of Culture

Criteria:The business uses elements of local art, architecture, or cultural heritage in its operations, design, decoration, food, or shops; while respecting the intellectual property rights of local communities.

Utilizing aspects of the local culture wherever possible increases ties to the neighboring community and promoting the destination’s unique character provides an incentive to preserve unique skills that may otherwise vanish. The communication between community leaders and companies is the key point to ensure a respectful use of local culture (e.g. sacred elements) and avoid possible wrong interpretations, conflicts, and undesirable commoditization.

D. Environmental

D.1 Conserving Resources

D.1.1 Purchasing Policy

Criteria: Purchasing policy favors environmentally friendly products for building materials, capital goods, food, and consumables.

The economic leverage of purchasing by a tourism business can produce positive impacts by encouraging sustainably produced goods and services. Responsible purchasing is a powerful means to reduce negative environmental impact. This can be done by favoring certified environmentally friendly products and/or regularly evaluating providers that seek to conserve energy, utilize recycled materials, responsibly manage waste, and minimize greenhouse gas emissions.

D.1.2 Consumable Goods

Criteria: The purchase of disposable and consumable goods is measured, and the business actively seeks ways to reduce their use.

Responsible consumption and frequent monitoring of waste can help businesses achieve cost savings as well as minimize environmental impact of the waste streams produced.

D.1.3 Energy Consumption

Criteria: Energy consumption should be measured, sources indicated, and measures to decrease overall consumption should be adopted, while encouraging the use of renewable energy.

Energy use is one of the most damaging activities on the planet with adverse impacts degrading air, water, soil quality, human and ecological health. Energy efficiency through sustainable technology and effective waste management is a key strategy to reduce the negative impact. The greatest environmental and financial benefits related to business operations are achieved by frequently monitoring utility bills, effectively training and providing incentives for staff to implement energy efficiency programs, and routine preventive maintenance of mechanical equipment. By applying energy efficient practices to the operations and investing in renewable energy technologies (e.g., solar, wind, micro-hydro, and bio-mass), the Business can help conserve natural resources, promote energy independence, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

D.1.4 Water Consumption

Criteria: Water consumption should be measured, sources indicated, and measures to decrease overall consumption should be adopted.

Water is precious and, in many regions, an increasingly scarce resource with many countries facing moderate or severe water shortages. Year round or seasonal water shortages are expected to increase with climate change. Overall water consumption should be reduced to the minimum possible level necessary for adequate operation. Reducing water consumption also has financial and environmental benefits for tourism businesses.

D.2 Reducing Pollution

D.2.1 Greenhouse Gas

Criteria: Greenhouse gas emissions from all sources controlled by the business are measured, and procedures are implemented to reduce and offset them as a way to minimize climate change.

The principal emissions from tourism businesses are from transportation (especially by air), heating, cooling, electricity use, and methane emissions from sewage and organic wastes. Except for air transport, most of these emissions can be directly reduced by actions from the business. Those emissions that are not reduced can be offset using properly regulated projects. Proper emission management practices will help reduce global warming, promote energy independence from foreign non-renewable sources, and may substantially reduce operational costs.

D.2.2 Wastewater

Criteria:Wastewater, including gray water, is treated effectively and reused where possible.

Wastewater management reduces aquatic pollution, protects aquatic ecosystems, and reduces risks to human health. Reusing waste water increases the availability of potable water for human consumption (see criterion D.1.4) as well as reduces a business’s sewage and treatment costs.

D.2.3 Waste Management Plan

Waste has become a major pollutant affecting both environmental aspects (land degradation, water quality) and socio-economic factors such as health and public dumps. Reducing potential waste streams, reusing what cannot be avoided and recycling what is not reusable is critical factor in sustainable tourism operations. Minimizing the amount of solid waste that goes to landfills and incinerators helps reduce negative environmental impacts. Additionally, minimizing waste reduces the need for virgin materials and limits the amount of greenhouse gases that are released throughout a product’s life cycle (i.e., extraction, manufacturing, distribution, use, and disposal). A lifecycle approach to waste management begins with the purchasing practices (D.1.1 and D.1.2) through coordination with local authorities on appropriate disposal.

D.2.3.1 Plan and Reduce

Criteria: A solid waste management plan is implemented, with quantitative goals to minimize waste that is not reused or recycled.

D.2.3.2 Reuse

Criteria:A comprehensive strategy of reuse exists to reduce waste to landfill.

D.2.3.3 Recycle

Criteria: A comprehensive recycling strategy exists to reduce waste to landfill.

D.2.4 Harmful Substances

Criteria: The use of harmful substances, including pesticides, paints, swimming pool disinfectants, and cleaning materials, is minimized; substituted, when available, by innocuous products; and all chemical use is properly managed.

Chemicals and other non-organic materials slip into the environment during application and storage via evaporation, run-off, spills, leaks and over application. Such practices lead to air, soil and water pollution, adversely affecting the local environment, harming flora and fauna, contaminating water supplies for local communities and causing serious health problems. The misuse and improper handling of potentially toxic substances creates additional threats to the environment and human health. Many “natural” substitutes exist which are not only less impact on the environment and human health, but are often cheaper. Technology has also developed various alternatives. Where no alternatives are possible, the proper storage, handling and use of chemicals will reduce potential impacts.

D.2.5 Other Pollutants

Criteria: The business implements practices to reduce pollution from noise, light, runoff, erosion, ozone-depleting compounds, and air and soil contaminants.

Environmental pollution can occur from several sources and have long-term, damaging effects on local ecosystems and human populations. The business should regularly perform site audits to identify sources for potential pollution while educating and empowering staff to identify potential pollution during daily activities. Particular attention should be paid to special local conditions, such as damage to coral reefs from sediments, eutrophication of rivers and lakes from runoff, melting of permafrost, and light pollution of marine nesting sites, among others.

D.3 Conserving Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and LandscapesD.3.1 Wildlife Species

Criteria: Wildlife species are only harvested from the wild, consumed, displayed, sold, or internationally traded, as part of a regulated activity that ensures that their utilization is sustainable.

Tourism businesses sometimes use precious woods, palm thatch, or coral for buildings, furniture, or exhibition. Shops often sell items harvested from the wild, such as black coral or carey (from endangered sea turtles). Restaurants may serve food harvested from the wild. These and other uses may be sustainable or not. Non-sustainable consumption should be avoided and other uses should be in accordance with local regulations and conservation practices.

D.3.2. Wildlife in Captivity

Criteria: No captive wildlife is held, except for properly regulated activities, and living specimens of protected wildlife species are only kept by those authorized and suitably equipped to house and care for them.

In general, tourism businesses should not maintain wildlife in captivity – for example as pets or in cages – unless these activities will enhance conservation. In that case, the activity should be in accordance with local regulations and international conservation.

D.3.3. Landscaping

Criteria: The business uses native species for landscaping and restoration, and takes measures to avoid the introduction of invasive alien species.

Native flora is adapted to local conditions (drought, temperatures, etc.) and local pests, reducing the need for irrigation (reducing water use D.1.4) and chemicals (criterion D.2.4). The character of the natural environment can be preserved by utilizing sustainable landscaping techniques that incorporate local flora. Non-local species that are used should be screened to avoid introducing potentially invasive plants and animals, which have negative impacts on the biodiversity and local ecosystems.

D.3.4. Biodiversity Conservation

Criteria: The business contributes to the support of biodiversity conservation, including supporting natural protected areas and areas of high biodiversity value.

Tourism activities outside of urban areas generally depend, directly or indirectly, on natural resources. Even those in urban areas can benefit their society by indirect support of their country’s natural areas or urban parks. Contribution can range from active participation in projects to financial contributions.

D.3.5. Interactions with Wildlife

Criteria: Interactions with wildlife must not produce adverse effects on the viability of populations in the wild; and any disturbance of natural ecosystems is minimized, rehabilitated, and there is a compensatory contribution to conservation management.

Tourism activities outside of urban areas frequently interact with plants and animals in the wild. These activities can be passive, such as building construction or trail use, or active, such as hunting and fishing. In all cases, the disturbance created should be minimized and rehabilitated. In addition, compensatory conservation activities should be supported.