Going green is expensive-Why does the perception persist?

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More than 15 years ago, when i worked with experts and Kenya’s tourism fraternity to set up the eco-certification scheme for accommodation facilities in Kenya, cost of going green is one concern that emerged during every stakeholder consultative meeting. We stuck to one argument that going green was an investment and that it made “sense and cents”. We had few reference documents. We were passionate. The key reference publications at that time were a few from International Ecotourism Society. They were very useful.

We finally got over this huddle by drawing synergies between green investments and product development. It worked. Next was managing another perception. Cost of being certified is prohibitive. An operator asked- “why would i make an effort to go green and then pay someone to confirm that i am agree”. They wanted it to be a free service or paid for the certifying body or other organisations. This would be an incentive, the industry argued. We nearly lost the case for paid certification. . However, the industry empathised with the fact that Ecotourism Kenya needed funds to manage the new certification scheme. Ecotourism Kenya and the industry settled on a token fee of US$ 150 for certification. The applying facilities would cover the cost of accommodation for assessors. Over the years, Ecotourism Kenya has faced challenges when revising the fee upward.

From 2015, i became  involved with another process to develop green guidelines for tourism destinations in Kenya. The same debates have emerged. The destinations perceive that it will be costly to comply with the proposed guidelines. The cost of certification is yet to be discussed. But I am sure it will be contested. Is this a Kenyan problem?

In 2016, like in 2002, i am trying to reflect on the arguments presented by operators against paying for certification and those who perceive green investment as costs, to understand where the challenge lies. I can resonate with the question raised in 2002 by the Kenyan operator who did not see the logic of being charged for assessment of their green investments. Of course nothing is free, if the operator does not pay for it, someone else must pay for it. Who is this someone else? Government? Development NGOs? Environmental rights organisations? UN Organisations? All these have been floated as potential financiers. Are there examples where any of these organisations that are meeting cost of green certification in tourism?

The persisting perception that going green is a cost and not an investment remains disturbing. What is the source of the concern? Is it how we frame the certification tools? Or is it the checklist of best practices? Or standards? In 2002, i believe the concerns were fuelled by how we we framed the questions in the certification tool. The questions expected specific responses, not a range of actions.  There were also few examples of best practices, so the checklist was borrowed from developed world. It was even more challenging to point to standards. Kenya had just enacted its first environmental law (EMCA1999) and there were no local standards for water use and management in hotels, or electrical equipment like washing machines and air conditioners,  or black water management and many more. Much has changed since then and opportunities for going green are many  and clearer. This is supported by research and technology. But the issue of cost persists. Is it the nature of tourism investments? Maybe not.

Tourism in Kenya is dominated by many small and medium enterprises. Trends show that there is growing participation in certification and awards. As such it can be argued that the growing participation in certification schemes and awards are driven by these small and medium enterprises. Does that mean they can afford to invest in green? Or are they getting their way by tapping into ‘low hanging options” for green.    There must be two categories. Those who invest and those who “innovate investment in green”.

What is the challenge?

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