Certification of sustainable tourism



Certification of sustainable tourism is very popular nowadays, but what does it means? Certification is a mechanism to ensure that particular company, product or service comply with specified requirements. In the case of sustainable tourism, certification means that a company adopt sustainable practices or has a sustainability management system.

In the last 15 years a lot of certifications schemes about sustainable tourism has been developed. Today is easy to find more than a 100, but most of them fall into two groups: the first focused on attesting that the company has certain sustainable practices and the second that the company has a sustainability management system implemented and effective. The main difference between this two groups is about sustainable practices where the first take in consideration specific and predeterminate sustainable practices and the second looks for the business management and results.

To achieve certification, the company must demonstrate that it meets the requirements. Obviously, to begin this process, the company needs to do its homework, initially knowing the requirements that base the certification desired, going through a self-assessment of its business and, mainly, implementing measures to meet these requirements. Thus, the company will increase the chance of being certified and may use certification as a marketing and communication tool with the market in which it operates or intends to act.

The certification is performed by an independent organization, called certification body, whose business is assessment and attest to the market that the company is sustainable.

However, it is important to note that certification should not be an end in itself, but rather the natural consequence for the company that meets the requirements and therefore can be called sustainable. In fact, meeting sustainability requirements has the power to transform the company and bring benefits far beyond the certificate itself.

Examples of certification benefits:

  • Improved image
  • Brand Strengthening
  • Improved business management
  • Strengthening partnership with stakeholders
  • Spontaneous media
  • Increased customer satisfaction
  • Increased employee engagement
  • Reduction of operating costs
  • Improved results

Another relevant aspect of sustainability certification is that invariably the company has a very positive influence on the territory in which it is operating. Thus, sustainability ends up creating a network, where all stakeholders gain, be they collaborators, local community, suppliers, tourists, NGOs, local public power, among others.

A business certification process involves, in general, the following steps:

  • Request for certification
  • Sending company documentation
  • Technical analysis of documentation
  • Conducting an audit
  • Analysis of results
  • Grant of Certificate
  • Maintenance audits (during the period of validity of the certificate)

There are many types of certification in sustainable tourism and the company must evaluate which certification adds value to your business and helps in communication with the market and clients.

Certification of Accommodations

The certification of accommodations has the function of ensuring that the accommodation has a sustainability management system implemented and effective. This certification is valid for any type, size and geographic location of hosting medium and is based on an international standard, ISO 21401: 2018 – Sustainability Management System for Hosting.

By implementing the requirements of this standard, the accommodation will have the benefits of strengthening its business and improving the decision-making process, which will be done in a more modern and complete way, simultaneously looking at the three dimensions of sustainability (environmental, socio-cultural and economic).

A sustainability management system assumes the development of sustainability policy and objectives, based on the internal and external contexts of the enterprise, stakeholder needs, risks and opportunities and based on the negative and positive aspects and impacts of the business. Obviously, this should be led by the top management of the accommodation, which should demonstrate its commitment, provide resources, define responsibility and authorities, and plan sustainability actions in an environmentally responsible, socially just and economically viable way.

In addition, the Sustainability Management System must include the competencies of employees, the implementation of work process controls, communication methods and the development and evaluation of suppliers. It is essential for it to be used effectively, documented and has classic monitoring, analysis and continuous improvement elements in management systems: performance evaluation, internal audit, critical review, non-compliance and corrective actions.

An accommodation managed through a Sustainability Management System will allow the development of a truly sustainable business and adapted to the current challenges of tourism.

After the implementation of this standard, the accommodation that wishes to be certified will pass an audit process planned by the certification body, which will send auditors to assess the compliance of the management and the practices adopted in relation to the sustainability requirements.

Certification of adventure tourism providers

For adventure tourism companies it is possible to be certified based on the international standard ISO 20611: 2018 – Good practices of sustainability. In this case it is not necessary to implement a complete management system, but rather to demonstrate that it adopts sustainable practices in its operation for the three dimensions: environmental, social and economic.

Practices should be adopted with the objective of reducing the impacts generated by the company’s tourism operations, such as:

  • Environmental dimension – use of natural resources, water and energy consumption, protection of biodiversity and natural habitats;
  • Social dimension – respect for employees and the local community, promotion and respect of local culture, working conditions;
  • Economic dimension – adoption of fair trade practices, management of financial risks of the business, generation of work.

A roadmap to Sustainability Management System for accommodation establishments: Part I

Road map Diagrama para ISO 21401.002

How to implement a Sustainability Management System based on ISO 21401?

First of all it is important to say that a road map present here is not the only way to implement an Sustainability Management System, but this logical structure could be a path to align and transform sustainable practices to improvement competitiveness in your business.

  1. Context internal and external

Start with analysis of the context considering need and expectations of interested parties, identifying key factors related with Marketing, legal, technological, cultural, social, environmental and economic aspects. It is important to understand the context, including how these key factors and interested parties influence your business.

  1. Aspect and impacts

According the type, size and geographical location an accommodation establishment has many aspects to be considering in a Sustainable Management System and each aspect produce one or more impacts in the three dimensions of sustainability (environmental, social and economic). So it is fundamental to analysis the works processes, identifying aspects and evaluate his impacts, specially the significant impacts which it will be control.

  1. Risks and opportunities

Based on the two topics above is possible identifying and understand what are the risk and opportunities for the business. The Sustainable Management System should be able to minimizing risks and maximizing opportunities and help to achieve the business objectives.

  1. Scope

Establish the Scope and define the boundaries and applicability of the sustainability management system.

Note: Besides the first four topics above has been organized in a logical sequence it is useful to understand that all issues are connect.

  1. Policy

A policy for sustainability management system is a kind of declaration made by the top management and needs to be appropriate to the purpose of accommodation establishment and provide a framework for setting sustainability objectives.

  1. Sustainability objectives

Considering all topics bellow now it is time to define objectives which shall be used to become the business more sustainable. Whenever it is possible the objectives should be measurable and it shall be establish plan about how the objectives will be achieve, including activities, responsibilities, resources and deadlines.

(soon part II)

Sustainable Management of accommodation establishments according ISO 21401: 2018 – Sustainability management system for accommodation establishments

novo Infografico para norma ISO 21401.004

The client experience in an accommodation establishments is built through a series of events that begin with selecting the hotel, going through booking and hosting to the relationship with activities pos sales.

As shown in the diagram above part of the construction of this experience can be observed when the client accesses the reception to check in, using the infrastructure and the services available until the check out process. Thus the reception, accommodation, food and beverages and leisure processes are those where there is direct contact with the client. However, many other fundamental processes for the operation of accommodation establishments occur behind the scenes such as: commercial, cleaning services, maintenance, reservations, F & B, procurement, for example. This whole set must be managed with a focus on the business objectives and aligned with the strategy and in compliance with established policies.

The sustainable management of the business involves considering the sustainability aspects, represented in the diagram above, during the processes of take decisions. It is important taking actions to achieve the objectives, minimizing the negative impacts of sustainability for each one of these aspects.

ISO 21401: 2018 (Sustainability Management System for Hosting) describes the elements of a Management System focused on transforming the accommodation establishments into a truly sustainable business.

ISO 21401:2018 – Sustainability management system for accommodation establishments – Requirements

Novos Infograficos para norma ISO 21401.002

ISO 21401:2018 – Sustainability management system for accommodation establishments and Sustainable development Goals (SDG) from UN (United Nations)

infografico para norma iso 21401.005

In 2015, the UN defined the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which have been adopted by Member States and include relevant issues such as human rights, health and safety, environmental protection and the development of local communities and local economy, among others.

The fulfillment of these objectives are part of governmental commitments that obviously also involve the private initiative, because the sustainable development will be through the engagement, participation and contribution of all the interested parties.

ISO 21401: 2018 (Sustainability Management System for Accommodation Establishments) is aligned with Agenda 2030 and its implementation will help organizations achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, essentially managing the main aspects and impacts of sustainability related to the business .

In addition, the accommodation establishments will have as benefits, the strengthening of its businesses, the increase of competitiveness and the improvement of its decisions.

Some examples of connections between ISO 21401 and Sustainable Development Objectives (SDG) are:

ISO 21401 SDG

Environmental Dimension

Natural areas, biodiversity, flora and fauna

preserve its own natural area by implementing conservation practices and take measures to promote flora and fauna conservation.

Solid waste, effluents and emissions

measures to reduce, reuse or recycle solid waste and measures to minimize the impact caused by liquid effluents to the environment and to public health.

Energy efficiency

measures to minimize energy consumption, particularly from non-renewable energy sources.

Conservation and management of water usage

control and record the consumption of water from external sources and from its own sources.


Social Dimension

Local communities

develop or be engaged in voluntary actions or initiatives promoted by communities, governmental and non-governmental organizations, with the objective of contributing to the development of local communities.

Work and income

be committed to the use of local people and production, encouraging local associations, quality and sustainability.

employ, to the greatest extent possible, workers (employees, subcontractors or freelancers) from local or regional communities.

Work conditions

ensure that wages at least meet the minimum wage for the category and that employee facilities meet the minimum conditions of hygiene, safety and comfort.

Cultural aspects

initiatives to promote knowledge, preservation and respect for local culture.

Native population

measures to ensure respect for the habits, rights and traditions of the native population, promoting their effective participation in the management activity process in their land or region, where applicable

Economic Dimension

Economic viability of the organization

implement its activities and services, considering its economic sustainability in the short, medium and long term.

Quality and guest satisfaction

implement products and services considering guest profile and expectations. Planning of products and services shall prioritize social traditions and local hospitality.

Health and safety of guests and workers

establish procedures for continuous risk identification, risk assessment and the implementation of necessary control measures.



ISO 21401:2018 Tourism and related services — Sustainability management system for accommodation establishments – Requirements: A modern vision for management of Accommodation Establishments

site ISO opção 3

The global interest for environmental and social themes increases the desire of people to experience more sustainable services and products. The client, the tourist, is becoming more and more conscious and responsible and would like to enjoy tourism sustainable experiences.

ISO 21401 standard that has just been published was developed to meet the demands of sustainable tourism development and can be used by any type, size and geographic location of accommodation establishments.


This standard will promote the sustainability agenda and will therefore address issues such as human rights, health and safety, environmental protection and development of local economy.  Essentially, by managing accommodations establishments sustainably there will be a huge value to society.

ISO 21401 define a sustainability management system, including the main aspects of sustainability that should be managed by the accommodation establishments, such as:

  • environmental dimension: water consumption, energy, waste generation and protection fauna and flora;
  • social dimension: the generation of work and income, the valorization of culture and the development of the local community;
  • economic dimension: the prevention of accidents with customers and employees, customer satisfaction and the economic viability of the enterprise.

An sustainability management system is a modern way of doing business. Its implementation allows the accommodations establishments to make its strategic decisions based on information and data related to the positive and negative impacts of the environmental, social and economic dimensions. The adoption of this form of management strengthens the decisions made, contributes to business objectives, reduces costs, improves supplier and community relationships, maximizes guest experience and satisfaction, and improves the image and reputation of the business. business.

Accommodation establishments that implement of the Sustainability Management System based on ISO 21401 will be able to attest to its guests and to the whole market that they are sustainable enterprises. Besides that it will bring benefits to all stakeholders, such as:

  • Community
    • Minimization of negative environmental and social impacts at destination;
    • Increase work and income for the community
    • Improvement in the relationship with the accommodation establishments;
  • Employees
    • Improvement of professional qualification and recognition;
    • Increase engagement and satisfaction;
    • Improvement of the quality of the work environment;
  • Suppliers
    • Increase partnership
    • Development of local suppliers
    • Strengthening the local economy
  • Guests
    • Maximization of satisfaction
    • Increased quality of services
    • Improvement of the tourist experience
  • Local Government
    • Development of destination
    • Strengthening the image of destination
    • Gain competitiveness for the destination;
  • Accommodation establishments
    • Decrease in operating costs
    • Strengthening Business Management
    • Improvement of operational controls
    • Reduce risk and increase opportunities
    • Improvement of the brand image
    • Certification of the Sustainability Management System

The management of the sustainability of Accommodation establishment is the most adequate solution to face the current challenges and to take advantage of the opportunities of the market. To start applying the ISO 21401 standard, it is recommended:

  1. Get to know your Hotel from the point of view of sustainability

Make a diagnosis of the sustainability practices adopted, the current model of business management and how sustainability is applied.

From this, carry out a mapping of the main activities developed in the enterprise, relating the aspects and impacts related to sustainability involved with these activities, always thinking about the three dimensions involved: environmental, social and economic.

  1. Implement Sustainability Indicators

You should quantify the performance of current sustainable management practices. For this, choose and implement a set of sustainability indicators related to the aspects to assess if the practices are actually reducing the negative impacts. This will increase the quality of management decisions to be made.

  1. Define sustainability goals

After identifying the impacts related to the operation of the Hotel and measuring by means of indicators the results it is time to define sustainability goals. Such as reducing water consumption by 10% or increasing guest satisfaction to 90%.

  1. Implement the Sustainability Management System

Implement the requirements of the Management System (ISO 21401) to connect the business strategy with the identified aspects and impacts, objectives, indicators and sustainability practices.

  1. Improve Hotel Performance.

Based on the results obtained and considering all aspects and impacts of sustainability related to your business, plan and implement new sustainable practices and produce improvements in the management of your business.

Have a sustainable management! Make your Hotel environmentally responsible, socially just and economically viable!

A brief history of the ISO 21401 standard for Sustainability Management System for Hotels

WG13 23th

This year was approved for publication in the ISO/TC 228, the future standard ISO 21401 – Tourism and related services – Sustainability management system for accommodation establishments – Requirements.

This will end one more phase of a 20 years history.

Phase 1 – The bases for Sustainable Tourism (Brazil)

In 1999, a movement led by WWF-Brasil and the SOS Mata Atlântica was created in Brazil to promote more sustainable tourism.

Between 2000 and 2002, a series of workshops and public consultations was carried out by the movement, producing the Principles of Sustainable Tourism. After that the Brazilian Council for Sustainable Tourism (CBTS) was created to develop a strategy for the certification of sustainable tourism in Brazil and to establish socio-environmental quality standards appropriate to the Brazilian reality.

Phase 2 – Means of hosting as a focus for Sustainable Tourism

In 2003, the Institute of Hospitality (IH) was created a Sustainable Tourism Certification Program (PCTS), which produced a series of tools for the development of sustainable tourism. The strategy was to start with medium and small hotels as a way to increase competitiveness and create the bases for sustainable tourism in 19 Brazilian destinations simultaneously. Between 2003 and 2004, based on the Principles of Sustainable Tourism, a standard called NIH – 54: Sustainability Management System for hotels was created with the participation of all interested parties (CBTS, NGOs, Private Sector Entities, Employee Representatives, Government, Specialists and representatives of local communities).

To support that strategy, a technical assistance program was developed for the hotels, which included methodology for implementing the standard, 19 courses for the training of 375 consultants and the preparation of 7 guides and manuals to support the implementation of the established methodology. This program was applied in 365 hotels in 19 distinct destinations in Brazil between the years of 2004 and 2007.

Phase 3 – Recognition of the Certification of Sustainable Hotels

In 2005 was created by ABNT a Brazilian Standard Commission for Sustainability of Hotels, which produced based on the NIH – 54 standard, the Brazilian standard NBR 15401 Sustainability Management System for Hotels.

Between 2007 and 2009, the Certification Program of Sustainability for Hotels was established within the Brazilian Conformity Assessment System and the certification of Hotels started to be recognized by Inmetro (Brazilian Accreditation Body). During this period, more than 100 auditors was training to audit an Sustainability Management System.

Phase 4 – Sustainable Tourism at an international level

Inspired by the Rio + 20 event, held in Rio de Janeiro, the Brazilian Standard Commission for Sustainability of Hotels was reactivated and the process of updating the NBR 15401 began. During this process, the members of the ABNT Committee decided send this document as a suggestion for creating an international standard.

In 2014, Brazil started the process in the ISO/TC 228 and two years late (2016), the member of ISO approved a creation of working group Sustainable Tourism (WG 13). After two years and half and 5 meetings (May/2016 – Kuala Lumpur, October/2016 – Rio de Janeiro, May/2017 – Panama City, October 2017 – Madrid and May/2018 – Buenos Aires) with participation more than 60 experts from 26 different countries, the work has been completed.

Phase 5 – The future

Now a new phase will begin with publication the ISO 21401. I hope that other countries can be inspired and use this future international standard for the sustainable development of tourism.