The 2024 Sustainability Certification Shift:
UCSL's Guide to Industry Revolution

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How OTAs Policy Changes and EU's Regulatory Adjustments Spearhead the Global Fight Against Greenwashing

The proliferation of so-called "eco" labels and certifications has muddied the waters of sustainability, making it increasingly difficult for consumers and businesses to distinguish between genuine and superficial efforts. But the revolution is happening now. The landscape of sustainability certification is undergoing a radical transformation, fueled by a confluence of initiatives from leading online travel agencies (OTAs), EU's regulatory bodies, and Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), each contributing to a seismic shift in how sustainability is measured, reported, and verified.

At the forefront of this revolution are's strategic pivot towards third-party sustainability certifications, the GSTC's enforcement of standards, and the European Union's comprehensive directives aimed at combating greenwashing. These initiatives are not isolated movements but interwoven threads in a broader tapestry of change, heralding a new era of genuine sustainability and integrity in environmental claims. Other OTAs and governments will join in soon.

Third-party certification in the context of the hospitality industry is an assessment where a tourism enterprise undergoes an audit to verify its compliance with a global standard for sustainable tourism. This audit is carried out by an independent accredited certification body, distinct from the entity that owns the standard, ensuring an unbiased evaluation of the enterprise's adherence to sustainability practices. This approach guarantees that the certification is both credible and impartial, reflecting a genuine commitment to sustainability within the tourism sector.

In this article, UCSL explores how third-party certification by an accredited body gets vital at all levels in hospitality, highlighting the industry's battle against greenwashing in sustainability certification and the triumph of the highest standards.

Deep Dive:'s Pioneering Shift

© anyaberkut from Getty Images officially broke the news: they are moving towards prioritizing properties with third-party sustainability certifications, underscoring its role as the gold standard in hotel evaluation. The titan of the travel industry has embarked on a pioneering journey to redefine the benchmarks for sustainable travel and takes a definitive stand against greenwashing. These significant changes align with the growing trend towards environmental consciousness, as highlighted in's 2023 Sustainable Travel Report, which reveals that a striking 76% of travelers express a desire to pursue more sustainable travel options.

In response to forthcoming regulatory adjustments, is shifting its focus towards third-party certification starting March 25, removing the Travel Sustainable brand and levels to emphasize the importance of third-party certifications. advises accommodations: "Becoming third-party certified demonstrates your commitment to sustainability, boosts your credibility, and aligns with travellers' growing preference for sustainable properties. Certifications will also ensure you follow sustainability practices that can help you conserve resources, such as energy, water and waste, helping you save on costs over time." will prominently feature accommodations that have obtained third-party certification with a distinct label. Consequently, other accommodations will no longer be listed at as sustainable. This move aims to provide consistency and clarity, simplifying the process for travelers to make more sustainable choices as they will be able to use a filter to specifically search for properties that hold a third-party certification. Detailed information about a hotel's certification and the certifying body will be provided on the hotel's page on to reassure eco-conscious travelers. The platform has already began phasing out its Travel Sustainable badges and levels, which scoring system was quite opaque.'s shift has far-reaching implications for the hospitality industry, serving as a catalyst for accommodations worldwide to pursue accredited sustainability certifications. This move not only enhances the visibility of genuinely sustainable properties but also sets a new standard for the industry, encouraging a broader adoption of sustainable practices. For travelers, this transition promises greater confidence in making sustainable travel choices, knowing that the accommodations they select are verified by credible, third-party entities.'s pivot underscores a broader industry trend towards transparency and accountability. It sets the bar high, leading OTAs in championing the fight against greenwashing and the pursuit of true sustainability. Other OTAs follow the lead as they are currently working on taking sustainability validation to the next level as well.

Learn more here: moves towards prioritizing third-party certifications

Sustainability programme evolution FAQs

GSTC's Rigorous Standards and the End of 'GSTC-Recognized' Status for Non-Accredited Schemes

The GSTC's stringent criteria serve as a bulwark against the tide of greenwashing, ensuring that sustainability certifications are backed by rigorous, third-party verification. Hence, obtaining certification from a GSTC-Accredited auditing company stands as the apex of hotel certification, affirming your hotel's adherence to the supreme global standards in hospitality and sustainable practices.

To combat potential greenwashing and stop the misuse of 'GSTC-Recognized' status, GSTC has introduced strict measures, urging other sustainable tourism standards owners to pursue accreditation. By announcing that, as of January 1st, 2025, the 'GSTC-Recognized' status will no longer be available for non-accredited schemes, GSTC is significantly raising the bar for what constitutes genuine sustainability in tourism. This decision clarifies a common misunderstanding: the 'GSTC-Recognized' status, previously perceived as an endorsement of both a program's standards and its auditing process, actually pertains solely to the standards themselves, not the certification process. Certification by a 'GSTC-Accredited' auditing company, therefore, signifies compliance with international standards of transparency, impartiality, and competence, making it an essential credential for hotels seeking genuine sustainable certification.
© The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC)
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Withdrawal of the 'GSTC-Recognized' status from the schemes which will not be accredited by 1st of January 2025

The European Union's Directives: A Legislative Leap Forward

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The third monumental shift comes from the legislative corridors of the European Union, where new directives have been introduced to combat greenwashing and enforce transparency in sustainability claims. The so-called Green Claims directive complements the already-approved EU ban on greenwashing. The aim of the Green Claims Directive (GCD) is to prevent false or misleading advertising from hindering the green transition.

The newly introduced regulations specify the information that must be disclosed to both authorities and the public prior to making any explicit environmental claims, establishes comprehensive criteria for the endorsement of environmental labels, mandates third-party verification of these claims, and outlines penalties for non-compliance. According to the GCD, only businesses that have had their environmentally friendly assertions verified may benefit commercially from making environmental claims.

Environmental claims and labels will also be subject to third-party verification. EU Member States will be expected to set up procedures for verifying the substantiation and communication of explicit environmental claims against the requirements of the GCD. The certification bodies will provide companies with a certification of conformity, confirming that the claim or label complies with the regulation.

On March 12, 2024, the European Parliament outlined its stance, detailing its perspectives on the scope of claims addressed, expectations for the operationalization of the rules, and a timeline for implementation. Following the European Parliament elections in early June, the CDG will undergo further consideration. Should an agreement be reached between the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, EU Member States will then have 24 months to transpose the directive into national legislation and an additional 12 months to enforce the provisions.

The EU's Greenwashing Directive, alongside with the new Green Claims Directive, represent a legislative advance in ensuring that sustainability claims made by businesses are not only transparent and truthful but also substantiated by rigorous, third-party verification. By setting clear guidelines and standards for environmental claims, the EU is fostering a marketplace where sustainability is a measurable, verifiable practice. Thus, opting for a certification led by non-accredited schemes will be considered as a contribute to greenwashing.

The EU's directives are set to have a profound impact on businesses across hospitality sector, encouraging OTAs and accommodations to engage in genuine sustainability practices. For businesses, this represents both a challenge and an opportunity: the challenge of adapting to stricter standards and the opportunity to differentiate themselves in a market increasingly driven by sustainability-conscious consumers. Steering clear of greenwashing claims can assist businesses in preserving their corporate image, enhancing consumer confidence, and fostering responsible and sustainable operational methods.

Learn more here:

New law banning greenwashing

'Green claims' directive: Protecting consumers from greenwashing

Conclusion: Charting the Course for a Sustainable Future

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This overview of the interconnected shifts shaping the sustainability certification landscape aims to inform, inspire, and mobilize stakeholders across the industry to actively participate in the global movement towards sustainable practices. As we witness these monumental shifts, we are reminded of the power of collective action. From OTAs to certification bodies, from legislative bodies to individual businesses, the call to action is clear: embrace accredited certifications, uphold the highest standards of sustainability, and pave the way for a future where sustainable travel and business practices are the norm. The synergy between's strategic pivot, GSTC's rigorous standards, and the EU's legislative framework marks a watershed moment in the global sustainability landscape.

As of March 25, has already begun to prioritize third-party certification, with a new sustainable label being awarded exclusively to properties that have such certification. Collaboration with a GSTC-Accredited certification body becomes not just beneficial but essential for those serious about sustainable practices and seeking recognition on major OTA platforms.

As we mentioned, all sustainability certification Standard Owners that will not proceed to accreditation or enter into the arrangement with GSTC whereby they act as a "Certification Scheme" by December 31, 2024, will lose their GSTC-Recognition status. Consequently, they will no longer benefit from the participation in GSTC Market Access Program. These changes can eventually result in that for January 1st next year or later, properties certified by such certification schemes, will no longer be listed at and other top OTAs platforms as sustainable. We are witnessing a significant shift in approach, and we will closely monitor how OTAs adapt to and implement the new regulations in the nearest future. Either way, collaboration with a GSTC-Accredited auditing company ensures hotels maintain their sustainable status on OTAs and aligns with EU legislation.

As we at UCSL pride ourselves on meeting the highest GSTC requirements and being among the few GSTC-Accredited certification bodies, we stand at the forefront of this transformative journey. We are looking forward to a future where all sustainable claims are backed by credible, third-party verification. Let's continue to champion genuine sustainability and integrity in environmental claims together.

Learn more here:

UCSL to Certify Hotels & Tour Operators after Achieving GSTC-Accredited Status

GSTC Market Access Program

Becoming Certified as a Sustainable Hotel/Accommodation
Published on 12/04/2024