Your guide to becoming a green tourism business

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What do you think when you consider Scotland as a tourism destination? Visitor surveys conducted over the years by VisitScotland repeatedly identifies landscape, heritage, culture and people/welcome as key motivational elements in selecting Scotland as a tourism destination. Fresh research has found that Generation Z – today's twenty-something – recognise the damage mass travel can do to the environment, having seen first-hand the overcrowding which plagues tourist hotspots.

What's more, the growing importance of green issues, and the pollution that comes with long-haul air and road journeys, has convinced them to take things slowly, either on foot, by bike, or by using public transport. Now the challenge for tourist bosses is to ensure that visitors to the country are greeted with a joined-up network which allows them to see the sights without impacting on their surroundings and taking nothing but time.

Why is sustainable tourism important?

Tourism has a unique dependency on quality environments, cultural distinctiveness, social interaction, security and wellbeing. We believe that the success of Scotland’s tourism industry rests on protecting and enhancing the Scottish environment, society and culture, which are vital to the brand, the tourism industry and sustaining Scotland’s economic growth. Expressed simply, sustainable tourism as defined by the United Nations World Tourism Organisation as “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and the host communities”.

A sustainable approach to tourism growth is the only way to ensure long-term success of tourism in Scotland. Visitors benefit from a sustainable approach to tourism through better links with local communities, a high-quality tourism experience and a natural and built environment that is cared for. Becoming more sustainable can give businesses a competitive edge by generating greater community support for tourism, achieving cost savings and creating new marketing opportunities.

Key Things To Consider

Greener transport

Transport is central to tourism, but it also puts pressure on our natural resources and makes a contribution to our global environmental impact. Measures like encouraging visitors to use public transport and innovations in cleaner forms of transport will help in this area.
For tourism, it is about promoting sustainable options to visitors. It is also about sharing inspiring journeys that sustainable travel will enhance. The following section looks at some of the options available and the examples of where it is working for tourism today.

Smart travel – planning travel using public transport can be a daunting prospect for visitors. Understanding what services are available, where do they go and how much they do cost can understandably result in preference to use personal transport like car hire or your own vehicle. Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is a concept to deliver easy, digital access to travel information, so travellers can be better informed as to the different ways to undertake their journey. Solutions can include personalised travel requirements in a single travel app for example.

Slow travel – this trend is all about decreasing your carbon footprint, whilst enjoying a deeper sense of place when you travel. Many travellers are looking for simpler, lower-impact ways to make travel more sustainable. Taking public transport or active travel (walking or cycling) allows the traveller to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of a destination without the pressures of operating their own vehicle.

Active travel – is when journeys are made by physically active means, like walking or cycling. Clearly, reducing the number of car miles will benefit the environment and reduce congestion at popular visitor locations. To benefit tourism, it can be delivered in several ways.

Visitors may still need to undertake the longest part of their journey (from home to their accommodation provider) using their own vehicle, but preferably using public transport. Once arrived at their destination they can minimise ongoing transport costs by walking or cycling to visitor attractions, activity providers or any other destination within their location.

Tourism providers can appeal to the active traveller by promoting the services walkers and cyclists need as part of their journey by participating in schemes such as the Walkers and Cyclist Welcome Quality Assurance schemes. But for visitors, there are wild camping and bothy experiences that can become part of the overall experience that perhaps Scotland can excel at such as rural Dark Skies, regional food and drink delicacies and the wealth of cultural and heritage that can make exploring Scotland so attractive to the active traveller.

Greener business

It is easy to be green in Scotland. Being eco-friendly no longer means getting off the grid and bathing in rainwater - unless you want to that is! Green accommodation in Scotland is easy to find, it is a high rate growing market. All businesses work towards being more sustainable, taking a range of actions to reduce their resource use, support their local communities and enhance their customer experience.

Some basic considerations when purchasing products:

Quality: Chose the highest quality products you can afford, whether for furniture, appliances, or uniforms; have them repaired or serviced when necessary – it’s generally more cost- effective than replacement and reduces the use of materials and waste.

Energy efficiency: Choose the most energy-efficient lighting, heating, air-conditioning, and appliances and electronics. These may cost more initially but, will produce savings in the long term because of lower operating costs. Look out for energy rating labels on appliances or electronics you buy.

Hazardous materials: Avoid products containing toxic substances. Purchase non-harmful alternatives, including non-toxic, water-based, hypoallergenic and biodegradable cleaning products and toiletries, and zero VOC (volatile organic compound) paints for example.

Recycled or recyclable: Buy products made from recycled or reclaimed materials (for example 100% recycled paper products, recycled plastic garden furniture, recycled content carpet) and/or those products that can at least be recycled or reused. This helps to reduce the use of virgin materials and closes the loop with the materials that have been recycled.

Avoid disposable products: Unless they are biodegradable or can be recycled, they add to the accumulation of landfill so choose an alternative with a useful lifespan. Where this cannot be avoided, high-quality ranges of compostable food packaging and catering disposables are available, for example from companies like Vegware and Biopac.

Buy local: By buying food or arts and crafts produced in your local area or region, or using services provided by locally-owned businesses, you can help keep money in your local community, support specific skills and services and provide guests with an authentic and unique experience of your destination, as well as reduce carbon emissions through reduced transport.  Natural and organic: Choose certified organic food and drink products and cotton where possible.

Choose Fair Trade products: These certified items, including tea, coffee, sugar and chocolate, promote sustainable development by ensuring producers around the world receive a fair price for their products, enabling them to trade their way out of poverty. For information on products and suppliers check out the Fair Trade Foundation and the Rainforest Alliance Group. To make it easier to start considering environmental and social responsibility as a factor in your purchasing decisions start with small steps and progressively incorporate more where you can. Start with a few products and services where the environmental impacts are well known and alternatives are readily available, like recycled paper, non-toxic cleaners, local/regional food, energy-efficient light bulbs.

Inclusive tourism

Inclusive Tourism aims to create products and experiences where everyone feels welcome and included. Examples of some customers who typically benefit from inclusive tourism are customers, such as:

Making holidays accessible to everyone should be one of your business priorities! Scotland is a naturally welcoming destination – a fact we’re incredibly proud of. Inclusive tourism is a hugely important part of this. VisitScotland runs several programmes that advise and provide support for inclusive practices which benefit the widest range of customers possible, as well as the businesses that cater to them.

Benefits of inclusive tourism
Customer satisfaction
Becoming more inclusive can make life easier for a wide range of customers, including people with hearing loss, mental or visual impairments, wheelchair users, senior travellers and families with young children
Increased revenue
Disabled travellers and senior travellers spend significantly more when they go on holiday than other market groups

Increased loyalty
Inclusive businesses have higher occupancy rates and a more loyal customer base who is keen to recommend them to their family and friends
A growing market
The market is set to increase as the UK’s population ages and the benefits for businesses and destinations catering for inclusive tourism are growing.

Even visitor distribution

A more even spread of visitors reduces pressure on natural and built environments and on communities and maximises the economic benefits across Scotland. We encourage a spread of visitors throughout the year and around the country through a range of activities.

Understanding the impacts

We work with partners to measure the environmental and social impacts of tourism so we can ensure that tourism development brings a positive experience for local people, tourism companies and visitors themselves while protecting the environment we all rely on.

Reducing dry recyclable packaging waste
One of the best ways to start reducing your waste is to make sure you know what your main types of waste are (e.g. cardboard, plastic, glass, paper), how much of it you have and where it occurs (e.g. kitchen, office, bedrooms). By following this process, you will be able to identify your main recyclable and packaging wastes, understand their source and consider options for reducing them. Some ideas for reducing packaging waste include:

Example: The Tayside Hotel in Perth returns all packaging material back to suppliers, avoiding the need for the Hotel to manage it on the premises.

Reducing food waste
If you serve food as part of your offering to customers, one area for significant cost savings is preventing food waste. Food waste is more than likely one of the heaviest and largest items in your bin and costs a lot for disposal. Every ton of food waste produced costs your business in the region of £1,700. If you are a restaurant, hotel or leisure facility, this is likely to be in excess of £3,500. The true cost of food waste is not just the cost of disposal, but includes the money and time spent buying, storing and cooking it.

Getting a better understanding of where food waste occurs in your business, such as through spoilage in storage, during preparation and from plate waste, and how much (weight) food waste you have, gives you a good starting point to identify opportunities for waste reduction. A lot of waste can be avoided by reviewing the following areas: purchasing practices, portion sizes, menu planning, storage methods, food preparation practices and packaging. Once you have identified where and why waste is occurring you can change your practices. For more information and ideas on reducing food waste visit:

If you are a smaller business check out Love Food, Hate Waste – a not-for-profit organisation brought to you by Zero Waste Scotland, and providing recipe ideas and hints and tips for preventing food waste and reusing leftover ingredients.

If you have a commercial kitchen operating as part of your business, check out Unilever Food Solutions – they run a Wise up on Waste service that aims to help chefs and cooks run their kitchen more efficiently, reduce waste and, importantly, save money.

How To Market Your Green Tourism Business

Green tourism certification - VisitScotland

Green Tourism is an accreditation organisation founded in Scotland, originally developed through a partnership between VisitScotland and Green Business UK, who continue to develop and operate the scheme. Green Tourism is a well-recognised award as well as being an important part of Scotland’s future towards a sustainable tourism destination.

Becoming a Green Tourism business is a great way of reducing not just your carbon footprint, but also utility, water and waste bills too. Plus, visitors are increasingly seeking out businesses and destinations with excellent green credentials, so what better way to display them than by joining Green Tourism and going for Gold?

Businesses are assessed by a qualified grading advisor against a set of criteria, covering a range of areas, including energy and water efficiency, waste management, biodiversity, community involvement and more. Businesses receive a Bronze, Silver, or Gold award based on their level of achievement.

How to apply for the Green Tourism Scheme

Tourism facilities are also assessed under the Green Tourism Scheme, the leading sustainable tourism certification scheme in the UK.
The scheme assesses members against a rigorous set of criteria. The range of areas examined includes:

Every business should undertake sustainable practice where possible across all activities in their estate. A green visitor file would be ideally available for guests, visitors and tourist when visiting your facilities. This is full of useful information to help visitors make the most of the local environment.
The file may contain details about:

To go one step beyond, visitors should be able to comment on your environmental efforts using the feedback form provided in the file.

Maximising your sustainability

Other reasons to become more sustainable:

Planning ahead for climate change

The weather, especially extreme weather events, can have an impact across a range of business areas. Weather-related events like floods or storms could cause damage to your business premises. They could also disrupt transport, power, and communication systems, which could not only impact upon your business directly but also your customers, staff and the supply of goods and services. This damage or disruption could have a significant impact on your bottom line.
Maybe your business relies on certain weather conditions, which may change in the future, like the skiing industry relying on consistent snow? By adapting and diversifying into other activities that are not dependent on certain weather, or by preparing for extreme weather, you can protect your business from unexpected events. Planning ahead is likely to be a more cost-effective way of adapting, than trying to respond to changes when they happen. Adaptation is a continuous process of building resilience, which can be integrated into business planning, such as risk management and business continuity planning, and should take place alongside mitigation (emission reduction). There are various actions that can be taken in order to adapt to a changing climate and build resilience to extreme weather events. Different tourism businesses, sectors and destinations will face different threats, so a strategy has to be developed on an individual basis.

Community engagement

Be active in supporting other local businesses and initiatives and in keeping the community clean and safe. A vibrant and healthy community results in an attractive destination for visitors.
There are some simple actions you can take to benefit and support your local area, which in turn can benefit your business.

Be active in supporting other local businesses and initiatives and in keeping the community clean and safe. A vibrant and healthy community results in an attractive destination for visitors.
There are some simple actions you can take to benefit and support your local area, which in turn can benefit your business.

Make sure you shout about it! Tell customers, staff and the community about the work you are doing. Have information on your website or even get a story in the local paper on any activities or achievements. This not only benefits your business, but also the cause you are supporting.

Share your story

Get customers involved Customers are increasingly looking for businesses that are acting responsibly and are looking to increase the positive impact they have. Many businesses are already making invaluable contributions to their local environment and local community but, are not telling anybody about it. Don’t be shy!

Let your customers know about the efforts you are making to be more sustainable. Share your successes, but also be honest – share those stories where you tried something new or different, but it didn’t work out as expected. Once you let customers know what you are looking to achieve, it is also easier to get them involved as well.

Share your business’ ‘green’ story: what you have been doing and why. Include information on your website for example. Make it fun and interesting.

Through positive and engaging information, you can achieve a number of business benefits:

Sustainable marketing

Targeted marketing You can promote your sustainability credentials through general channels, as well as those that specialise in sustainable travel. For example, some specialist marketing opportunities are: Green Traveller, Responsible Travel, Organic Holidays.

Today’s visitors are increasingly looking for sustainable products and services that maximise community benefits and reduce their environmental impact. If you have been implementing a number of sustainable actions in your businesses, you should be sharing your stories with your customers to help turn that good work into commercial advantage. Here are a few tips on how to start promoting your sustainable business: Highlight the sustainable aspects of your business on promotional material and provide a link to your environmental policy on your website

Consider advertising in specialist or niche market publications dedicated to sustainable or green lifestyles Work with and promote other green and sustainable products in your local area • Avoid ‘Greenwash’ in your marketing promotions – any unsubstantiated environmental claims or irrelevant content. Be honest and make sure there are no obvious mistakes or overstate what you do.
Gain certification from a sustainable grading scheme and display the logo on all your promotional material. (See below for more information). Make sure your promotional materials are sustainable too. Use recycled paper, recycle ink cartridges, source low polluting vegetable-based inks and environmentally responsible designers and printers.

Promoting your sustainable credentials

A sustainable or green certification scheme independently verifies your business’ green credentials. This can provide your business not only with a credible way to illustrate your sustainable practices and the confidence to access a growing market, but also offers guidance and support on what sustainability activities you could undertake.

Sustainability certification schemes, or Eco Labels as they are also known, vary significantly, from simple self- assessment approaches to third party certification, where an assessor will conduct an on-site audit of your premises. Each can help a business understand what is involved in ‘going green’ but the assessed varieties are the best in terms of giving additional advice and providing credibility and confidence to market a business as being sustainable to consumers.

Tracking seasonality

Scotland is committed to becoming a year-round destination and promoting the wide range of activities and attractions available outside the summer season. Remaining open for a longer season benefits your business financially, provides year- round employment and helps to make the local community and economy more sustainable. Here are a few tips to help you extend your business throughout the year:


Why should you hop on these changes?

Remember the advantages of sustainable purchasing:

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