Deconstructing Norwegian Ecotourism Certification Standards

In line with its deep traditions of environmental consciousness and sustainability, Norway has many environmental and quality labels for the travel and tourism industry including Green Key for lodging and restaurants, the Blue Flag for beaches, and the Nordic Swan for consumer products. I still remember seeing in the outskirts of Oslo beautiful green turf roofs on relatively new homes that helped to maintain interior temperature during all seasons. With all that, only in January 2008 did Norway formalize ecotourism with its own ecotourism certification standard.

According to Innovation Norway, which administers the certification, the ecotourism concept stands out by not being just an environmental or quality label, but rather a total concept that focuses on offering memorable experiences and good eco-friendly tourism to visitors, staff, the environment and the local community alike.

Based upon principles placed by the International Ecotourism Society (TIES) and the United Nations Global Compact, the Norwegian Ecotourism Certification was developed in conjunction with the Green in Practice (GRIP) foundation that promotes sustainable consumption and production, Innovation Norway, the Directorate for Nature Management, the Directorate for Cultural Heritage, and other stakeholders. There are seven basic principles to ecotourism in Norway in that an ecotourism business:

  • Is nature and culture based and has ecotourism as an underlying philosophy for all its business activities
  • Contributes actively to nature and culture conservation, is aware of its own effect on the environment and always practices a precautionary attitude
  • Is run as sustainably as possible, constantly balancing ecological, cultural, social and economic considerations
  • Contributes positively in the local community, uses the local workforce, local products and services, works for increased collaboration and shows a general responsibility towards the community
  • Contributes to preserving listed buildings and has local adaptation, local architectural style and distinctiveness as a general goal in its choice of materials and solutions
  • Places particularly high demands on hosts and guides, and communications and interpretation is a central part of the product
  • Offers memorable experiences and creates meeting places that give employees and guests insight into local culture, community and environment

There are 4 steps for certification:

  1. Self-assessment survey on the use of resources and how business activities affect nature and culture
  2. Application including fee and documentation of survey results
  3. On-site inspection in order to review and verify survey results and conduct interviews
  4. Notification of approval or what needs to be improved

Companies are evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • Quality and management including risk analyses and readiness plans, follow-up and reporting measures, product development planning, and local knowledge and training
  • Ecotourism business operations including use of resources, purchasing eco-friendly products and services, energy and renewable energy consumption, use of chemicals, waste reduction measures, transport methods
  • Nature and culture including interaction with landscape, wildlife, and degree of harvesting
  • Profile of business including use of local employment, branding and marketing, hosting and services

Once approved, certified ecotour businesses can use the quality label for up to three years. To renew the certification, a tour operator must submit a new application, pay the application fee and undergo an additional site visit.

Click for more information and for a listing of Norwegian Ecotourism certified businesses.

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