The vacation rental industry is waking up to the competitive advantage of sustainability and the easiest way to comply is to have a third-party validation
We have shown many times that travellers are looking for more sustainable places to stay. As consumers, we are already adopting sustainable practices in our daily lives such as recycling, saving energy and choosing more environmentally-friendly products.
However, people are often being misled by unsubstantiated claims and, as such, have little trust in eco messaging. This is the reason why the EU is introducing a new law to stop companies making unclear claims about their environmental credentials.
The easiest way for a property manager or owner to stay on the right side of the law is to choose a sustainability validation like Sustonica.
1. What counts as greenwashing?
You have probably heard the phrase ‘greenwashing’, particularly if you work in a marketing department. It has always been illegal to make claims about a product or service which are false and cannot be proven. However, as sustainability is still a fairly new concept, claims about environmental impact are less understood. Understandably, companies want to be seen to be doing the right thing in the fight against global warming but often do not know the best way to communicate this.
In 2020, the EU undertook an assessment of 150 claims about products’ environmental characteristics. They discovered the following:
- over half (53%) provided “vague, misleading or unfounded information”
- over 40% had no supporting evidence for their claims
- 50% of all “green” labels offered weak or non-existent verification
Very few businesses actively set out to mislead or confuse the consumer and usually commit greenwashing by not providing the evidence needed to back up their claims.
2. Examples of greenwashing in the tourism industry
Companies are already being called to account by advertising authorities in individual countries. For example, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), a UK government regulatory body, introduced its ‘Green Claims Code’ in 2021 to help businesses understand the claims they could legitimately make.
Here are some examples of greenwashing in the tourism industry so that you can get an idea of how the campaigns are misleading the consumer.
TUI’s Fair Travel campaign was deemed misleading by the Dutch Advertising Code Committee because it highlighted only some of their green initiatives. The campaign did not acknowledge the highly polluting services of selling (long haul) holidays.
B) 17 airlines
The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) is the umbrella group in Brussels for 45 independent consumer organisations. BEUC, has reported 17 airlines to the European Commission for making “misleading climate-related claims”.
The organisation accused those airlines of factually incorrect claims in regard to carbon offsetting. It argued that the investments made into planting forests or supporting renewable energy could not be substantiated. Whereas the carbon emissions from air travel are certain.
This is a very specific example of an airline who made sweeping claims with this strapline ‘Connecting the world. Protecting its future’. It is a phrase that is very easy to identify as greenwashing, even for a lay person. This campaign was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK. Lufthansa told the ASA that its environmental claims were based on aspirations, including becoming carbon neutral by 2050 and halving carbon emissions by 2030. Unfortunately, aspirations do not equate to scientific facts about steps already achieved.
Not surpisingly, there are many more examples of brands in other industries such as food, beauty and fashion. In the same way, they have been called to account for making unsubstantiated claims.
3. What is the new EU greenwashing regulation going to involve?
So now you have got an idea of what greenwashing involves. What will the new EU greenwashing regulation be looking out for?
Overall, the regulation will allow consumers to make better informed purchasing decisions. We already know that travellers want to make sustainable choices from the Booking.com Sustainable Travel Report 2023. 65% of respondents would feel better about staying in a particular accommodation if they knew it had a sustainable certification or label.
The EU also believes that the regulation will boost the competitiveness of businesses who are genuinely striving to increase their sustainability.
The European Parliament and Council have reached a provisional agreement on new rules to ban misleading advertisements and provide consumers with better product information. The vote by MEPs is expected to take place in November. When the directive comes into force, member states will have 24 months to incorporate the new rules into their law. So, it makes sense to get ahead of the game now.
Here are the main rules about what will be banned which are relevant to vacation rentals:
- generic environmental claims, e.g. “environmentally friendly”, “natural”, “biodegradable”, “climate neutral” or “eco”, without proof of recognised excellent environmental performance relevant to the claim
- claims based on emissions offsetting schemes that a product has neutral, reduced or positive impact on the environment
- sustainability labels not based on approved certification schemes or established by public authorities
If you would like to find out how to adhere to the EU greenwashing regulation in your marketing strategy, get in touch with our sustainability marketing partner, Nikki Mattei.
4. Get legal with Sustonica badge for short-term rentals
Reading the above may have worried you a little. The regulation has been created for a clear reason. To help guests make informed choices when they choose a place to stay. The last thing you want is to make certain environmental claims and then find that you are challenged about their validity.
The third point in the section above stipulates that sustainability labels must follow approved certification schemes. In addition, requirements for these claims and labels must be checked by an independent and accredited verifier. Therefore, it will be deemed illegal if a company creates its own sustainability label or icon.
When our founder and CEO, Vanessa de Souza Lage, researched sustainability certifications in the tourism industry, she discovered there were more than 200 for hotels. There was nothing for the vacation rental industry. This was when she decided to launch a validation specifically for vacation rental owners.
She was particularly mindful that the Sustonica badge should be the most thorough process:
Sustonica has successfully aligned its criteria with key sustainability and operational standards including the UN Sustainable Development Goals, International Organisation for Standardization (ISO), the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, and Travalyst. Moreover, the Sustonica audit process has been verified by the external conformity assessment body, Bureau Veritas Iberia, S.L.
“Property managers and owners want to meet the demand for sustainable travel. However, trying to set up your own label or standard is likely to be seen as greenwashing – by travellers and regulators”, explains Vanessa. “It’s also a very difficult process and I should know!”
Consequently, applying for the Sustonica validation is such an easy solution for property managers and owners. All the hard work has been done for you and the badge will clearly show would-be guests that your property has been validated by a third party.
5. How does Sustonica validate the data supplied by property owners?
As you would expect, the Sustonica validation process is very rigorous. However, it is also very simple and affordable. It has been designed to be easy for property owners, managers or other team members to complete the necessary steps in a purpose-built app.
Here is how it works:
- take the test for your type of property and check you qualify by achieving 20%
- create your account in the Sustonica app and purchase your property credit
- upload documents like electricity bills and invoices
- do a property tour using the app to take the photos
Once you have completed the process above, your submission will be checked by a remote external auditor and you will be informed of the result. If you have achieved the required minimum 20% achievement of the criteria you will receive your badge. To ensure against fraud, all information is linked to your account ID and location and is recorded on the Ethereum blockchain.
You can now proudly advertise your badge on your website, your social networks and inside your rental! With no concerns about greenwashing or making false claims.