Navigating Sustainability Claims: How the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, EU Green Claims Directive, and Canadian Sustainability Disclosure Standards will Impact the Tourism Industry

GreenStep’s team has just returned from the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) conference in Stockholm, Sweden. A significant focus of discussion at the conference was the pending changes happening at the European Union (EU) level, and how this will impact the green claims of tourism businesses and destinations marketing to a European audience.

The Need for Transparency and Rigour 

In a world increasingly attuned to environmental concerns, the need for transparent and accurate information regarding sustainability claims has never been more critical. Recognizing this imperative, both the European Union (EU) and Canada have recently introduced measures aimed at regulating green claims and enhancing sustainability disclosures. The GSTC has followed suit, updating the requirements for organizations providing sustainable tourism certification based on a GSTC-Recognized standard. These measures will impact how tourism businesses and destinations communicate their environmental sustainability achievements and goals. All of these changes represent significant steps toward fostering trust and accountability in environmental marketing and reporting. Let’s delve into each of these initiatives and explore their implications.

EU Green Claims Directive

Research by the EU shows that greenwashing is rampant. 53% of green claims give vague, misleading or unfounded information, 40% of claims offer no supporting evidence, and half of all green labels offer weak or non-existent verification. 

The EU Green Claims Directive, adopted in November 2021, seeks to curb greenwashing by establishing clear criteria for environmental claims made by businesses. The directive outlines principles for substantiating such claims, emphasizing accuracy, reliability, and comparability. It will require businesses to provide evidence supporting their environmental assertions and prohibits misleading practices that could deceive consumers. 

Moreover, the directive empowers national authorities to enforce compliance and impose penalties on companies, including those in Canada marketing to European customers, found to be in violation. By promoting integrity and consistency in green marketing, the EU aims to foster consumer confidence in sustainable products and drive meaningful environmental progress.

Canadian Sustainability Disclosure Standards

In Canada, the push for enhanced sustainability disclosure has led to the development of the Canadian Sustainability Disclosure Standards (CSDS). These standards, launched in 2022, provide a framework for companies to transparently communicate their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance.

The CSDS encompasses a wide range of disclosure requirements, including greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, water usage, and diversity and inclusion metrics. They are designed to align with international reporting frameworks such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), enabling comparability and consistency in reporting. While these standards won’t immediately be required of small tourism businesses, they do represent best practices that all should aspire to. By raising the bar for sustainability disclosure, Canada aims to foster transparency, accountability, and informed decision-making in the business community.

Global Sustainable Tourism Council

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) has announced changes to its GSTC-Recognized standard owners, such as GreenStep, that have developed standards in alignment with the GSTC criteria. As currently announced, these changes will require that standard-owners confirm their intention to provide a GSTC-Accredited Industry Certification, by December 31, 2024. GreenStep is fully committed to pursuing this pathway, in order to maintain the credibility of our Certification programs, and other Certification providers will be faced with the same decision. 

Moving Forward

All three of these initiatives represent significant advancements in the realm of sustainability governance. By setting clear standards and expectations, they provide a roadmap for tourism businesses and destinations to navigate the complexities of sustainability reporting and communication, and reflect a growing recognition of the importance of transparent and accurate information in driving sustainable practices. By establishing robust frameworks for green claims and sustainability reporting, these initiatives contribute to building a more sustainable and responsible tourism industry for the benefit of present and future generations.

GreenStep helps tourism businesses, destinations, and industry associations looking to take meaningful and measurable action on sustainability and climate change. Reach out for a free consultation to learn more.