BookDifferent is the first booking site that makes it easy to find and book eco-certified hotels. We're proud to be partnered with some of the world's best sustainability certification organizations. One of them, Green Key, has been around since 1994 and has spread from Denmark to 44 countries and counting. We recently spoke with Finn Bolding Thompsen, the international director for the Green Key program, about how his organization helps lodgings, tours and attractions to become more socially and environmentally sustainable.
Photo of Wadi Rum, Jordan, via Flickr user Lawrence Murray.
What does Green Key do?
The Green Key is a voluntary eco-label for hotels, tours and other tourism facilities, based on compliance with a certain set of criteria. The program is managed internationally by a charity called the Foundation for Environmental Education. It has already been implemented in about 2,400 hotels and other sites in 44 countries. Green Key provides a tool for hotels and other sites to reduce energy waste, water waste, and their ecological footprint, as well as to raise awareness among guests and staff.
What kind of criteria do you use?
There are a range of different criteria groups. One is involves education and awareness raising among staff and guests. There are also criteria for saving water, minimizing waste and saving energy, among others. The criteria are divided into two categories: most of them are imperative, meaning that you have to comply with them, as well as some suggested guidelines.
Who sets the criteria?
The criteria are decided upon by the FEE and the original founders of the program. We also listen to hotels on what is feasible, to our national coordinators in the many countries we have, to scientists, and to what other eco-labels are doing.
What sets Green Key apart from other hotel certification schemes?
We are managed by a charity, which means we are completely independent from the hotel sector. The fact that we are an NGO means that we don’t have to earn a profit, so we operate more economically than other eco-labels. We pay close to having criteria that are difficult to implement, but that are very practical. I think a lot of hotels are happy that our criteria are practical and hands-on. While it’s a lot of work, getting a Green Key is not bureaucratic or overly complicated.
How does Green Key vary from country to country?
We have national coordinators in many of the different countries we cover. They are better situated to take local conditions into consideration. The international criterion are minimal criteria – they have to be obeyed. On top of that, national Green Key organization are free to add additional criteria or to strengthen existing ones.
Does Green Key make a noticeable difference in how hotels operate?
I’ve been very impressed to see what kind of difference can be made in Green Key hotels. We all know about ‘don’t throw the towel on the floor if you want it to be reused’, which is now the standard everywhere. The additional efforts on saving water in the showers, avoiding single-use packages of shampoo, and selling local food in the restaurants, are part of what makes Green Key special.
Any specific success stories?
The Wadi Rum area in Jordan [pictured above], has had problems maintaining its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The general management of the site was under threat because the stakeholders operating there were degrading the environment. The eco-camps there joined Green Key in order to lower their ecological footprint. At the end of the day the committee behind the World Heritage site was happy to see the improvement, and allowed Wadi Rum to keep its special status.
What are some reasons a hotel might want a Green Key?
It varies from hotel to hotel. Some really want to make a difference, some want to save money. Maybe there’s some pressure from the outside from guests or tour operators. It’s really a combination of all these things.
What are Green Key's plans for the future?
For the rest of the year, we are continuing to look at our criteria to see if they are up-to-date. We have a policy of revising our criteria every third year and discussing them with the stakeholders. Hopefully we will have a new set of criteria in place by the end of the year, which then will have a year to be implemented. We are also continuously looking at development of new categories beyond hotels, from attractions and conference centers to campgrounds.
On top of that, we have to manage the growth of the program. We are cooperating with two major hotel chains, the Rezidor and the Starwood Hotel Group. There are numerous hotels within these chains that are eager to join Green Key.
Any thoughts on Green Key's partnership with BookDifferent?
We are extremely happy to have this cooperation agreement with BookDifferent! It’s a win-win situation because it’s wonderful to have more and more hotels and destinations asking for Green Key certification, and to have more travelers choosing Green Key sites.