TripAdvisor GreenLeaders Programme: game changer for tourism certification?

tripadvisor launches greenleaders in europe

I think so. In a number of different ways. When TripAdvisor launched its Green Leaders Programme in Europe on Monday, March 19, there was so much interest that their site crashed. Not perhaps surprising since all the certification schemes have struggled to put the green credentials of the businesses they certify before the travelling public, whether travelling for or leisure.

With 260 million unique monthly visitors in 2013, and more than 150 million reviews and opinions covering more than 3.7 million accommodations, restaurants and attractions the green credentials of businesses will be out there in the market place. That is a game changer. Achieving scale and reaching the biggest possible market matters.

The TripAdvisor Green Leaders Programme is free and it will have market reach – this will pose major challenges for existing schemes, some will probably cease to trade. Those that offer real benefits for the business from the advice and audit process will continue to provide a valued service. Their clients will be able to secure a much bigger market reach, they can list themselves on TripAdvisor at no additional cost, and with the security that their experts can substantiate their claims. Potentially a win win.

There are some major businesses already engaged: Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide, Red Carnation and Macdonald Hotels. There will be more. The Greenleaders programme launched in the USA in April in 2013 and it already has 3,700 accommodations with TripAdvisor GreenLeaders status. A game changer in volume and reach – but much more besides.

The GreenLeaders programme is also transparent. Businesses will have to provide a full, publicly-viewable, detailed list of green practices currently in place. Travellers will be able to see exactly which green practices they can expect to see and experience at the property. There is a detailed survey guide available online.

Responsible Tourism values transparency. It is about businesses taking responsibility for addressing the triple bottom of line of sustainability and being clear about what they are doing to reduce their negative impacts and enhance hear positive ones.

Transparency is important for three reasons:

1. The consumer is able to choose between businesses knowing what responsibilities they take, knowing what they are doing to reduce water consumption or buy locally and the consumer can select to purchase from the business that is doing the things they want them to do. And where there are metrics, for example on water use per guest room, the consumer has the information they need to make a responsible choice.

2. The transparency ensures that the responsibility message carries meaning; it engages the consumer and educates them. When Justin Francis and I established, tourism businesses were challenged to tell consumers what they were doing to take responsibility for sustainability; and why it mattered to them, local communities and their environment.

3. Here is the bite. Whatever the business claims it is doing, has to be done – every day. If the business makes claims which are false then the consumer has the remedy of demanding recompense for breach of contract if the purchaser can establish that they chose the accommodation or operator because of their claims. That has not been possible over certification – the consumer has no contractual relationship with the certification body – the certifier cannot be held accountable for false claims. Individual businesses can and should be.

TripAdvisor has worked with the Carbon Trust, the International Tourism Partnership, EnergyStar, the UK Green Building Council and UNEP to develop the programme in Europe. TripAdvisor’s criteria are clear and transparently available to the consumer. They are encouraging consumer feedback and complaints and they’ve made it easy.

Many will protest that the GreenLeaders programme lacks integrity. I remain to be convinced of that. There will be independent audits of businesses that trigger customer complaints – and it is easy to complain on TripAdvisor. The businesses that make claims do not need to worry about the 90% of customers who are not knowledgeable enough to know whether a shower is aerated or the lights are eco-friendly. They need to worry about the 1% who do, and care enough to complain and possibly demand monetary recompense.

The terms and conditions are tough: I quote from their site.

We are committed to ensuring the integrity of the GreenLeaders Programme using three methods:

Transparency: Travellers can see a full list of practices by clicking on a property’s TripAdvisor GreenLeader badge or icon. This ensures that travellers can see exactly which green practices they can expect at a business.

Traveller feedback: We place great value on the opinions of travellers. Travellers will be invited to comment on the green practices of TripAdvisor GreenLeaders and GreenPartners. They will also be able to report on false information, in instances where a traveller’s experience does not match a property’s claims. This feedback will be monitored by the TripAdvisor Responsible Travel team and, if necessary, will trigger a third party audit.

Audits: GreenLeaders Programme has partnered with an independent expert sustainability organisation, The Cadmus Group, to conduct audits of the GreenLeaders Programme. In addition to audits triggered by traveller feedback, there will also be a set of random audits conducted every year of participating properties.

Have I got this wrong? Challenge and comment below….


Leadership, Linen & Lightbulbs: Tripadvisor’s Greenleader certification


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Harold is WTM’s Responsible Tourism Advisor, he puts together the flagship Responsible Tourism programme at WTM London which attracted 4000 participants in 2020 and the programmes run at WTM Africa, WTM Latin America and Arabian Travel Market. Harold has worked on 4 continents with local communities, their governments and the inbound and outbound tourism industry. He is Managing Director of the Responsible Tourism Partnership and chairs the panels of judges for the World Responsible Tourism Awards and the other Awards in the family, Africa, India and Latin America. Harold works with industry, local communities, governments, and conservationists and undertakes consultancy and evaluations for companies, NGOs, governments, and international organisations. He is also a Director of the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he is an Emeritus Professor, and Founder Director of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism promotes the principles of the Cape Town Declaration which he drafted.


  1. Jeremy Smith says:

    I welcome anything that raises the bar and spreads awareness, and there’s no doubt Tripadvisor are the people to do this. And the move from a top down, ‘we send the auditors’ round form of certification to a crowdsourced ‘social auditing’ concept, is inevitable and brilliant, mostly because it achieves the one thing most certification schemes fail at, which is connecting the auditing with marketing benefits for those who do well (and negatives for those who fail).

    I still question the bar being set so low (30% for Bronze GreenLeader) although Tripadvisor’s Jenny Rushmore spoke recently and said it was v hard to get these standards, and that as more people achieved them, they would move the bar higher. I support that approach, but my concern it most of the public will never look into how the grades are given, and thus will see any form of greenleader badge as a mark of quality, when really at the bottom it is little other than a mark of acceptable behaviour.

    My main issue is that the scheme inevitably focusses on technical, measurable data like electricity use and waste, and thus implicitly reinforces the image of green / responsible tourism as being all about minimising negatives, and does nothing to present the essential argument that it is also about making experiences and places better.

    Fair enough, how do you measure community engagement, experiential richness, the quality of the memories made, but in the end it feels to me like it’s a very cutting edge way of measuring a rather old notion of what being sustainable / responsible / green is all about.

    • Jean-Moussa says:

      Hi Jeremy,
      I fully agree with you that the Greenleaders Programme (as any other certification scheme) is based on quantifiable facts and does not show the direct link with the customer’s experience. However, in my opinion, the first benefit is that it will as Harold said, widen the awareness amongst the general public and hopefully push hotels to at least start to do something about it. Especially when they realize that it does actually affect the client’s purchasing decision in a measurable way. Those sustainability efforts will strongly vary but it’s a foot in the door. And secondly, the clients will be the very one to establish this link through their own comments. If it was previously difficult to assess the link between sustainable practices and an improved customer’s experience for lack of data and isolated cases, it will now be interesting to see through the (incredible amount of) feedbacks whether the customers’ satisfaction increases along with the trip advisor sustainability grade system. Eventually, it is down to the hotels themselves to make the connection between facts and the customers’ experience and reflect it in their own marketing communication.

  2. d.j.white says:

    We still await the launch of the above programme for Asia.Which is now long overdue ! It could indeed be a great asset to smaller authentic, and as we are ,founders of such beliefs. As long ago as 16 yrs operating out here in Thailand!

    • Jason says:

      Foxes watching the foxes and scratching each other’s backs in the process:

      Tripadvisor is using Cadmus Group for their auditing. On Cadmus Group’s board is a VP of CM2Hill — google them along with “scandals” and “cronyism.” Three other board members are executives of the company. The fifth member is president of Nature Generation, and board members there are from 1) Booz Allen (Carlyle Group), 2) the corporate hotel industry, 3) the surveillance and war industries feeding heavily off the government trough (SRA International, Cap4 Mobility, Tetra Tech), 4) Cadmus Group, 5) the biotech (GMO) industry, 6) the nuclear industry (CALIBRE), 7) NSA surveillance partner (Verizon), the carbon “offsetting” scam industry (ClearCarbon By Deloitte), and 8) council for the war industry (Kelley Drye & Warren).

      If you want to stop those who want to stop you from raping the planet and killing and ripping everyone off, just pretend to be them, keep watching them, and continue the killing and theft business as usual!

      • d.j.white says:

        On the plus side,? a quick reality check ! Trip Adviser is certainly benefiting the awareness of the travelling public. There is no disputing it’s reviews are all the true personal opinions of the writer & therefor obviously up to us as individuals to judge which are the views of 5 star seekers prepared only to pay a 1 star cost! there is no better up to the minute accurate fact finder supplying us all with information from us the public to the public on any proposed accommodation world wide, Regardless of their connections. Long may they continue to do so..

  3. The entry point for schemes is always debatable but it is still worthwhile to distinguish between those whose behaviour is acceptable and those who behaviour is not. The broader triple bottom line agenda is important top me too, there is cope to cover and comment on the economic and social aspects on tripadvisor and we should always beware driving out the good in pursuit of the perfect. Two cheers for tripadvisor – it is an important game changer.

    If you doubt they are serious take a look at

  4. Is TripAdvisor’s GreenLeader Scheme a game changer? Yes and No.

    Yes – because it offers a way in which businesses confident in their green credentials can reach a broader consumer market.

    No for four important reasons:
    1. You need to be very confident as a business to make explicit statements about you green credentials if you are to risk claims for refunds by consumers who feel you’ve not delivered as promised. Being identified on TripAdvisor as having made claims which cannot be substantiated will be painful. Any business which is fingered for false claims by a consumer on TripAdvisor will be expected to deliver a paper trail which demonstrates the veracity of their claims. Surely the best way that a business can substantiate its claims and defend itself, in the small claims court or to TripAdvisor, will be through independent audit, provided by flagship programmes like Travelife and GTBS – both based in the UK and the leading international exemplars of best practice in certification.
    2. It is not just about the green agenda – there is more to Responsible Tourism and sustainability than that – the social and economic issues matter at least as much, and to many consumers more. Travelife and GTBS both address the broader agenda.
    3. Travelife and GTBS are both successful programmes, they both have recognition in the market place – it will be good to see businesses making more of the their graded and certified status on TripAdvisor – one of the ways to benefit from Travelife and GTBS will be to get it mentioned on TripAdvisor. Travelife brings recognition from the tour operators – a TripAdvisor rating will not carry weight with them
    4. The most important part of the audit carried out by established programmes like Travelife and GTBS is the process of preparing for the visit and the learning that comes from it.

    So two cheers for TripAdvisor’s Greenleaders, and three cheers for the credible certification and grading programmes; TripAdvisor will help raise awareness amongst consumers and provide an additional means for certificated and graded businesses to communicate their achievement. I see TripAdvisor as an additional opportunity for businesses graded by credible established programmes like Travelife and GTBS to gain recognition with consumers and to have the confidence to talk about their achievements.

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