We arrived in New Zealand on December 27th and very excited to be here. New Zealand has always had that clean green reputation and I wanted to see if this was true. New Zealand is also one of the only countries that have an environmental certification, Enviroawards, that is managed through their quality assurance certification program, Qualmark. Even though experts and industry alike have identified that the Enviroawards certification through Qualmark is weak, I always found it exciting that New Zealand supports and encourages environmental action in their tourism industry. They were also the early adopters of Green Globe and as a tourism industry encouraged their tourism providers to participate in environmental certification. As one of my passions is the greening of hotels, I was excited to come to a country that has a commitment to sustainable tourism.

Sumner Beach in Christchurch

While in Sumner, which is a darling little beach suburb of Christchurch, I met with David Simmons, VP of Research from Lincoln University. In my digging for a place on AirBnB in Sumner, I came across a couple whose house I really wanted to stay at…alas, all the great places are booked quickly. What I did find out about this host after a bit of chit chat via messaging on AirBnB is that her husband is also an academic and works at Lincoln University. A bit more back and forth and we figured out that her husband, David Simmons, is an expert in sustainable tourism and completed his Ph.D. at the University of Waterloo with my supervisor, Geoff Wall. What are the chances in this big big world that I run into a fellow colleague with Air Bnb! Anyhow meeting with David was a treat! He filled me in on Earthcheck, a program for tourism that certifies environmentally and socially sustainable operations.

Now normally I am skeptical about certification, seeing as there are so many in the tourism industry and how many are based on a very low standard of greening and generally just confuse people. I just co-authored a book chapter with Dr. Rachel Dodds on Certification and Labeling for the new Routledge Handbook of Sustainable Tourism (Edited by C. Michael Hall, Stefan Gossling and Daniel Scott). This chapter discusses several certification programs and generally concludes that a program that is based on hard targets, and one universal program is needed.

Needless to say, Earthcheck, under the supervision of many credible academics, has focused on creating a certification program that is target oriented and is based on actual reductions in environmental impacts (not just the change your sheet and towel programs and what else do you plan to do, as is the case with other certification programs). What I love about this program however is that it has taken eco-labeling to another level and has made it easier for people to find green hotels while traveling! Finally! Their online reservation website, Bookdifferent is like any other hotel booking site. However when you book with Bookdifferent you can also search for hotels that are committed to environmental management (as indicated by the leaf beside the hotel) plus Bookdifferent has also added a carbon footprint rating for each hotel on their website! This rating gives an indication of the amount of CO2 emitted during your night in the hotel and gives an indication of the environmental impact from staying in that room. The best part however is that Bookdifferent donate 50 percent of their commission to the charity of your choice. That includes any local charity that you may love. This is a win win in all occasions and the only booking site I will use from now on! Check it out!

I support initiatives that are easy for people to make green choices. With something like this there is no reason you cannot choose green when choosing your next hotel..and as I have said before change happens from the ground up, so share this site and most importantly ask hotels, restaurants, airlines, golf courses, tour operators, cruise lines, whatever you use in your travel what their green practices are. If people ask, they will listen and think about what they are doing to reduce their impact! Also share with them the Earthcheck certification. If everyone works collectively we can make change happen in the world.

As for my time in Christchurch, we loved it. The downtown is still demolished from the earthquakes and it is really heart wrenching to see all the closed up shops and demolished buildings. However, there is a certain life that has popped up from the rubble. From a mall made out of shipping containers to a cathedral constructed from cardboard, the city is really trying to see the positive in a very bleak situation. Sumner Village however is one of my favourite spots to date in New Zealand. I loved the beach and the great cafes and the wonderful people. I look forward to seeing what Christchurch will turn out to be in the years it will take to rebuild the city, however, it is a worth a visit to see how innovative people can get be to make the best of a terrible situation.