There's been some exciting news coming out of Barcelona this week, as over 8,000 of the world's leading environmental decision-makers, including heads of states, Nobel Prize winners, philanthropists, and business leaders, have gathered there for the ICUN World Conservation Congress. One big announcement yesterday came from Ted Turner, founder and chairman of the United Nations Foundation, who unveiled the world's first Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria program which outlines a bevy of best practices that will serve as "common framework to guide the emerging practice of sustainable tourism and to help businesses, consumers, governments, non-governmental organizations and education institutions to ensure that tourism helps, rather than harms, local communities and the environment."
The Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria stems from the work of 30 international organizations, including National Geographic's Center for Sustainable Destinations, and together, this group aims to address the four major areas of interest for sustainable tourism: effective planning; maximizing social and economic benefits to local communities; and the reduction of negative impacts to both cultural and environmental heritage sites. Enumerating key points like water conservation and energy efficiency, fair labor standards, and local sourcing of food items, the criteria will serve as a tool to instruct businesses, tour operators, NGOs, and, of course, travelers on how best to find and support sustainable practices.
For Erika Harms, the executive director of Sustainable Development at the United Nations Foundation, the creation of the guidelines was a natural process that stemmed from one question: What exactly is sustainable tourism? Reached by phone from Barcelona, she explained to me that up until now, everyone you asked that question might have a different answer. And many groups were working to respond to public demands for more responsible tourism by creating their own sustainable credentials.
"We looked at anywhere from 75 to 130 certifications around the world, some of which were regional – but none were global in nature," Harms says. She explains that the launch of these international guidelines are the first step in the process. In a few years, they hope to have a recognizable accreditation process (think of a Good Housekeeping seal) that the public will be able to easily identify. "This is all done under the U.N. umbrella – which gives it that global focus – and this is critical to us," she says. "Through the U.N. we access the governments, and through governments we access the people, and that's how we'll make it happen."
We're happy to hear about this important first step.