Certifications, ecolabels and effective consumer communication of product characteristics play a key role in supporting the tourism industry to decarbonise and mitigate its climate impact.
7 July 2020
  • Consumer Information for SCP
  • Sustainable Tourism

Top Five Insights:

  • Emissions from the tourism sector highly impact climate change
  • Consumers can play a role in mitigating the climate impact of tourism
  • Platforms highlighting sustainability aspects of trips or hotels are examples of useful consumer information tools
  • Sustainability certifications and ecolabels should be harmonised and comparable
  • Sustainability certifications and ecolabels in the tourism sector are proven to be more effective in driving consumer behaviour when they highlight quality attributes of the product

The Climate Impact of the Tourism Sector

Accounting for 8% of humanity’s contribution to energy-related CO2-eq emissions, the tourism sector heavily influences climate change. This percentage is equivalent to 4.5 GtCO2-eq per year and emissions are expected to increase as tourism is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world. Before the world was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) had estimated that there would be 1.8 billion international tourist arrivals in 2030. Although this estimative has yet to be revised in light of the pandemic, it is clear that, if the sector continues to operate with business-as-usual, its emissions are expected to grow by 135% until 2050 [ETC 2018]. However, if businesses commit to implementing more ambitious carbon reduction targets, these numbers might look better in the future.

Mitigation of Climate Impact

Decarbonizing the tourism industry and mitigating its climate impact require fundamental changes in the global tourism system because the tourism value chain is very complex. Each trip involves different activities and actors, many of them having their own respective value chains. These include transportation, accommodation, leisure activities and food. Among the tourism activities, decisions concerning transportation have the highest impact on climate change, followed by accommodation. To give an example, even a short flight can exceed a single person’s sustainable emissions of CO2 per day by more than 30 times. Taking this into account, consumers can only influence limited parts of the tourism value chain as many decisions regarding climate change are made by other actors. This includes decisions made by tour operators or accommodations for example.

Consumer Information Tools in the Tourism Sector

Considering these complexities, certifications, ecolabels and effective consumer communication of product characteristics play a key role in supporting informed decision making with respect to climate change impacts.

Tourism certifications and ecolabels can either cover several aspects of a trip or be specifically focused on individual elements of a holiday. Even though many different tourism certifications have existed for decades, research shows that they still have a very limited market share and fewer than 2% of tourism businesses are currently certified. It is important to understand that many sustainability aspects depend on local conditions and vary greatly geographically. This leads to certifications and ecolabels often not being comparable for consumers. Overall, more businesses should be involved in certification schemes and the number of different certifications and ecolabels should be reduced or harmonised to better inform consumers. The recently published report “Consumer Information Tools and Climate Change – Facilitating low-carbon choices in Tourism, Buildings and Food Systems” showed that certifications should be linked to different factors depending on the sector they intend to inform about. For tourism, this means that certifications should be aligned with notions of higher quality and personal benefits for the consumers to be effective.

Empowering Consumers

Recently, several online platforms, encouraging travellers to make more environmentally friendly choices, were set up. These platforms offer consumers the possibility to compare sustainability aspects of accommodations or transportation modes before making a purchase. Emissions for hotels are, for example, calculated by taking into account how food is sourced or how buildings were constructed and how much energy they use. Online platforms calculate climate impact scores based on these aspects and rank accommodations accordingly. This empowers and enables consumers to make a decision based on the sustainability impacts of their trip giving them the possibility to influence the climate impact of tourism value chains.


To learn more about the importance of consumer information tools in tourism, download our infographic!

The Consumer Information programme has prepared six infographics which summarise some of the key findings of the report “Consumer Information Tools and Climate Change – Facilitating low-carbon choices in Tourism, Buildings and Food Systems” related to different topics. Share these infographics to promote the findings of the report and help us spread the word!

The Report

The report is an output of the Consumer Information programme of the One Planet network and was developed through a collaborative effort among the Consumer Information, Sustainable Buildings & Constructions, Sustainable Food Systems and Sustainable Tourism programmes. The effort was led by the United Nations Environment Programme.

The report details how the use of consumer information tools can support greenhouse gas emission reductions in three sectors – Tourism, Buildings and Food. It serves as a guidance for policy makers and business leaders.

You can download the full version of the report here.

  • Consumer Information for SCP
  • Sustainable Tourism
Certification, Climate Change, Eco-labels, Tourism