Difference Between Rainforest Alliance Verification & Certification

One of the primary aims of Greenloons is to educate consumers to understand both the similarities and different nuances among the various tourism certifications that exist across the globe today.

While we have offered an easy reference guide to help consumers, it can still be confusing. So much so, even tourism suppliers themselves, who are only trying to operate their businesses in a responsible, ethical and environmentally-friendly manner, can be puzzled by the distinctions.

Lately, I have received a few questions about the difference between Rainforest Alliance verification and certification, which has prompted this posting.

First, the Rainforest Alliance does not certify tour operators or hoteliers. They certify products, such as fruit, chocolate, coffee, tea, and flowers. Instead, the Rainforest Alliance only verifies that tour operators and hoteliers are implementing various social, economic, and environmental criteria that are based on the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria.

The verification is considered a second-party validation meaning that the Rainforest Alliance has its own auditors conduct the assessments.

There’s a mutually beneficial business relationship in place between these organizations beforehand, and although there is nothing ethically inappropriate with that relationship, it is not a completely independent verification either. And, there lies the distinction with certification.

Nevertheless, the Rainforest Alliance verification mark can be an excellent stepping stone for tourism suppliers that:

  • Operate in a country without an eco-certification standard in place
  • Are unclear about their baseline sustainable operations and activities
  • Need some mentoring assistance in the form of best practices and connections with other verified tourism suppliers
  • Will benefit from preparing for a certification process in their home country that they may want to submit to in the next two years

In addition, the Rainforest Alliance verification process is rigorous. Based on the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria, the verification criteria cover business, socio-cultural, and environmental principles. Examples of business criteria include sustainable management planning, quality and safety management, human resource and supplier management, communication and marketing, food and beverage services, and sustainability education.

Socio-cultural criteria include the contribution to local development, ethics of labor practices, respect to local cultures, and protection of historical or cultural heritage.

Lastly, environmental criteria include whether the business has implemented solutions that adapt to climate change, use of water and energy efficiently, protect biodiversity and conservation areas, integrate solid waste management practices as well as employ mitigating measures against pollution.

The Rainforest Alliance makes it very clear on their website that verification is not a substitute for certification. Rather, it is a tremendous resource for tourism suppliers endeavoring to become more sustainable while also acting as an identifiable brand for eco-conscious travelers.

View South America Trips


2 Responses
  1. Avatar
    Steve Nomchong

    A valuable post Irene. We (Yacu Amu Experiences) are one such operator in Ecuador that has been Rainforest Alliance Verified and awaiting the availability of a suitable certification that will enable us to take the next step and be eco-certified.

  2. Avatar
    Andres Hammerman

    I have always been skeptical about certification and therefore have shied away from it. Understandably it can be a learning tool for bettering eco practices and improving environmental conservation standards, but I have chosen to try to make those very improvements without having a paid third party.

    The true test is seeing the environment improve and how clients feel about participating in the process. Tourists can easily see through green washing, certified or not.

    I know that this organization, Greenloons has an alliance with Rainforest Alliance, but I adamantly dislike eco or sustainable certification programs especially when based on global standards.