Ecotourism Certification Standards: Deconstructing Adventure Green Alaska

Alaska is the personification of travel adventure, community support, and respect for environment and cultural heritage. Two years ago, in response to consumer confusion about the term green travel, the Alaska Wilderness Recreation & Tourism Association (AWRTA) created the voluntary certification program for tourism businesses that operate in Alaska and meet standards of economic, social and environmental sustainability”. Based upon principles placed by Sustainable Travel International as well as other state-wide environmental efforts, the AGA certification is administered by Adventure Green Alaska, Inc., which is a non-profit charitable, educational, and scientific corporation advised by organizations such as the National Wildlife Federation and The Nature Conservancy.

There are three levels of AGA certification:

  • Bronze level: Meets basic standards of sustainability (280 points)
  • Silver level: Meets basic standards and shows a commitment to a higher level of sustainability (320 points)
  • Gold level: Leader in the tourism industry; this business may implement new technology, develop innovative sustainability practices, or help partner businesses implement sustainable practices (360 points)

Award process:

There are five steps for a tour operator to be awarded the AGA certification:

  1. Completes a general information application and conducts a self assessment to determine compliance with U.S. environmental, consumer and labor laws
  2. Submits a two-year operating history and proves membership in a tourism association
  3. Provides two references that can verify the quality, stability and sustainability of the business
  4. Submits the application fee based on the number of full-time employees
  5. Submits application it to the AGA board of directors who makes the final evaluation and approves certifications

Points are awarded toward the level of demonstrated best practices of a tour operator’s:

  • Compliance with U.S. laws
  • Financial commitment to the local economy such as local employment, purchasing supplies from local companies, and encouraging customers to visit local attractions
  • Conservation effort involvement
  • Customer support policies and safety procedures
  • Sustainability policies
  • Employee training and tourist interpretation policies with respect to the environment, wildlife, and Alaskan cultures
  • Waste management and pollution minimization practices
  • Energy efficiency and conservation practices
  • Climate change audit results

To renew the AGA certification, a tour operator must submit a new application and pay the application fee. In addition, “a tour operator must complete an annual report showing what sustainable practices it has adopted since the previous application period. The annual report must state future goals in order for the business to demonstrate continuous improvement. While it is the responsibility of the business to ensure that all program requirements are met, AGA staff and board volunteers do monitor program compliance through random spot checks and customer comments. A condition of certification is that a company agrees to allow site visits and solicitation of customer comments.”

Lastly, the AGA provides best practice guidelines for avoiding impact on plant and animal species, wildlife viewing, the preservation of land through education, energy efficiencies, and climate change audits

Click for more information as well as a list of AGA Certified Businesses.

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