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Green Leaf Foundation

Dr.Tanawan Sintunawa 
Green Leaf Foundation

A bulk of the change in the tourism is being driven by financial self-interest rather than genuine environmental concern. Perhaps more than any other industry, tourism depends on a clean environment. Declines in environmental quality can hit industry pocket books directly. On the other hand, more environmentally sensitive practices can boost the profit of tourism businesses.

Many of the world’s larger tourism companies, from hotels to tour operators, are taking formal steps to restructure their management and operations along environmental lines including reducing consumption of water, energy, and other resources and improving the management, handling, and disposal of waste. Changes in the hotel industry can be particularly fruitful, not only because these facilities consume large quantities of resources but also because they can have enormous influence over the broader habits and practices of their guests, employees, and suppliers. A simple step such as outfitting rooms with cards that encourage guests to reuse linen and towels when they are staying more than one night can conserve an average 114 liters of water per room each day, plus energy at a daily cost savings of at least US $ 1.50 per room.

Leading this movement in Thailand is the Green Leaf Foundation (GLF), which works with hotels, hotels association, suppliers, governments and NGOs to encourage environmentally and socially responsible business practice. Founded in 1998, GLF has more than 200 hotels participating green leaf certification program. Many hotels are embracing a wide range of environmental and cast-saving actions, from installing energy efficient lighting and appliances to purchasing biodegradable house keeping supplies.

GLF has a long history back in 1991 when a lecturer and researcher from the Faculty of Environmental and Resource Studies, Mahidol University worked together with a hotelier of The Dusit Thani Hotel in Bangkok to minimize waste and increase resource efficiency in hotel. Several visits to different hotels were made in 1992 as well as meeting were organized to learn and understand what needed to be done to raise staff participation in greening the hotel business. Active members of green leaf core group in 1992 expanded from three persons of the Association for the Development of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and Thai Hotel Association (THA) to include representatives from the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT), Metropolitan Waterworks Authority (MWA) and Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). Collaboration with United Nations Environment program (UNEP) took place in the second half of 1994. Two year experience of working jointly with hotels, and authorities the body of knowledge in sustainable hotel business was expanded. A series of seminars and workshops on waste minimization, resource efficiency and green hotel operation were organized extensively in conjunction with EGAT’s Green Building Program in 1993 and 1994. In late 1995, six organizations namely THA, ADEQ, EGAT, MWA, TAT and UNEP jointly established a working committee called the Board of Environmental Promotion of Tourism Activity (BEPTA) to raise fund from both domestic and international sources. The Asia Foundation, the Global Environment Facility of the World Bank, UNEP, TAT and the Electricity Generating Public Company Limited (EGCO) have been prime financial sponsors to BEPTA and GLF since 1995. Information and knowledge on resource efficiency, waste minimization and handling, and environmental protection were disseminated through Green Hotels Fair and seminars organized several times throughout the country by BEPTA during 1995-1997. These educational activities were aiming to boost understanding and awareness of hoteliers to help preserve a quality of environment, appreciate the value of energy and natural resources and minimize impact to the environment from their hotel operations. More than 1,000 hotels nationwide attended these awareness raising activities organized by BEPTA during 1995-1998. BEPTA became the Green Leaf Foundation in March 1998 and continued to encourage active participation from hotels to contribute to the promotion of sustainable hotel business in Thailand. An environmental standard certification was initiated in 1998 to institutionalize environmental best-practices for all hotels, as well as to promote the efforts of those who already contribute to the protection via efficient management of energy, environment and natural resources. This was also designed to help lower operational costs and pass those cost-savings on to the customers, too. Indeed, the program also encouraged participatory activities by customers in saving energy and natural resources. GLF’s dissemination and technical consulting activities were increasingly expanded to several countries; the translated environmental standard is accessible at the secretary office in Bangkok. Several promotional activities are conducted to cover important objectives as follows.

  1. Raise environmental awareness to hotels and general public to promote sustainable tourism.
  2. Encourage continuous improvement of resource efficiency in hotels and tourism business.    
  3. Raise environmental standard in tourism business through the development of green leaf certification program.
  4. Increase competitive advantage for regional tourism business. 

As a consequence of BEPTA and GLF activities and studies, Green leaf environmental standard has taken into accounts all aspect of sustainability: environmental, social and economic. Many criteria and standards of green leaf certification program are designed to work in parallel with government health and safety regulations, environmental laws, and other related regulations. GLF uses green leaf certificate as a tool for motivating tourism business to improve their environmental performance, while rewarding them for doing so.


Benefits at large 

  1. Efficient use of resource and energy in tourism business protects both the environment and the social structure of local communities.
  2. Sustainable tourism develops better relationships with local, respects local cultures and provides economic and social benefits for it.

Benefits for certified tourism business

  1. Average occupancy rate rises after joining green leaf certification program and implementing green hotel guidelines.
  2. Green leaf participating hotels became knowledgeable on the elements of sustainability in their operations and can focus their attention on the changes they needed to make in their business.
  3. Participating hotels benefit from cost reduction through improved resource efficiency.
  4. Certified hotels gain competitive advantage in the highly competitive market.
  5. Financial and technical assistances become more accessible to green leaf hotels.

Benefits for guests

  1. Encourage consumers to activity participate green hotel operations in resource efficiency, wildlife protection, energy efficiency, and local community support.
  2. Provide additional alternatives to consumers to choose to stay at conventional or green hotels and to stay at which level of greenness hotels.
  3. Proud to be able to contribute to the betterment of the environment during their holiday vacation.

Government efforts to hotel’s environmental standard

  1. Both in kind and financial supports to GLF development and activities have been made through government’s participating organizations such as EGAT, TAT, and MWA in GLF.
  2. Introduction and promotion of One Tambol and One Product (OTOP) program, Thai government has recently begun to in corporate small-scale community based initiatives into sustainable tourism development efforts.

Participating hotels receive a rating of 1 to 5 “Green Leaves”, based on the results of the audit, every two years. GLF provides ongoing training for hotel administrators and staff to learn and share comprehensive environmental strategies. That involves low or no capital investment and promotes collaboration among hotel staff, suppliers, guests, and the community in environmentally-friendly practice. 

Much of the Green Leaf ethos evolves around “going local”. Hotels are encouraged to present a “Green Menu” using locally-grown, seasonal ingredients to reduce energy resources needed for transporting and storing imported food. Rather than importing high-end toiletries from Europe, Green Leaf recommends local Thai products that are friendlier on the environment and more appealing to guests. Architecturally, hotels are urged to utilize traditional Thai building, such as a slanting wooden roof which prevents direct sunlight to enter the room and lessens the need for air-conditioning. These practices also boost the local economy through increased local revenue and job creation.

Green Leaf also provides significant economic motivation for hotels. Potential cost savings from implementing the program are at least $20,000 annually. Furthermore, the Green Leaf certification provides hotel guests with the ability to make informed decisions, thereby creating a market advantage for hotels to attract business visitors and tourists who are increasingly concerned about their environmental impact.     

GLF initially developed the Green Leaf certification project for the hotel industry. Due to their significant environmental impact, tremendous growth, and competition for clients, the hotel industry provided a key opportunity. Now, the Green Leaf certification system has begun to be utilized by spa and is being adapted for use in schools and hospitals, to promote sustainable consumerism in other service sectors.  

The effort to promote a sustainable economy in tourism and other areas is growing. In Thailand, organizations such as the EGAT, MWA, THA, TAT, ADEQ and the UNEP are all involved in these efforts. However, other actors typically focus on a singular aspect of the problem, such as public awareness, waste treatment, sourcing issues, or business promotion.  GLF has an integrated approach which pulls together all of these aspects of the solution to mobilize change across the entire system.  By focusing on the interrelated nature of business efficiency, cost effectiveness and environmental sustainability, and by drawing together multiple collaborative parties in mutual pursuit of these goals, GLF is able to mobilize long-term behavioral change.  This preventive approach is far more cost-effective than alternative projects which aim to intervene once the environmental damage has been done.  

Furthermore, the Green Leaf certification is superior to other certification schemes because it is based in local culture and wisdom. The relationship of water, energy, food, space, nature, intention, and well-being are explored and measured in the Green Leaf certification process in a manner consistent with Thai personal and business custom. Participating organizations appear to prefer the Green Leaf program because it is a Thai-sourced and educative process, that is, not an internationally-standardized rote measuring device. When replicated in other countries, the local context greatly informs the certification process.  

Here is what participants and experts have to say about the success of the certification strategy: 

 “Green Leaf Standard and Green Leaf approach are very successful in Thailand” Judy Kawarcki, Small Planet Consulting, Canada.

“Green Leaf Certification should be shared by many countries” K D Bhardwaj, Program Officer, Industrial Department, Asian Productivity Organization

 “Green Leaf Standard is very appropriate and practical for many countries” Alice Crabtree, Green Globe, Australia

“Green Leaf approach is really good for energy saving and environmental protection” Professor Tor Hundloe, the University of Queenland, Australia.