Potential negative environmental and social impacts that can result from tourism activities include:
- scarring of landscapes and damage to wildlife habitats through off-road driving and careless behaviour;
- the unsustainable use of scarce resources (e.g. water and wood);
- pollutants from sewerage, domestic waste, chemical cleaners and litter;
- Intrusions on local cultures and values, and
- economic distortions.
The Eco Awards Namibia programme was initiated in 2003 as a part of the Namibian Tourism Development Programme. The concept then, and now, was to establish a programme to promote, encourage and recognise sustainability of tourism throughout the country.
The World Tourism Organisation, 2002
Several similar internationally recognised programmes were studied and assessed. These included Kenya, Scotland, New Zealand, Australia, Green Globe and a prototype programme in Namibia. The best criteria were selected, amended to fit the Namibian environment, and encapsulated in the programme which was formally launched in 2004. It was decided to concentrate initially on the accommodation sector, but the criteria are worded in such a way that they can be easily adapted at a later stage to cover other tourism sectors such as tour operators, car hire and safari operators.
Any hospitality establishment - hotel, lodge or guest farm - that is registered with the NTB can apply to be voluntarily assessed by Eco Awards Namibia. Candidates are assessed according to defined criteria.
The criteria cover four specific environments:
- Freehold land,
- Towns and Settlements,
- Communal Areas, and
- Protected Areas and National Parks.
... and eight specific areas:
- Water management,
- Energy management,
- Land use and conservation,
- Construction and landscaping,
- Waste and sewerage disposal,
- Staff development, and
- Social responsibility and human welfare.
The emblem of the Eco Awards Namibia is the desert flower which symbolises roots, earth, water, leaves and the sun of Namibia. Enterprises qualifying for an Eco Award Namibia are rewarded with between one and five desert flowers.
For one desert flower the applicant, ranging from hotels or lodges to community based camps, has to achieve at least 50 per cent compliance with the relevant criteria, while five desert flowers are awarded when the candidate attains 90 per cent or more. The Eco Award is effective for two years, after which the candidate can apply to be evaluated afresh. Any award is open for review at the request of the establishment or the Eco Awards Namibia Management Committee.
A range of establishments has already been awarded with the Desert Flower emblem, indicating that they are working successfully in accordance with sustainability principles.
Eco Awards Namibia is also involved in the development of a regional, SADC wide program towards a Southern Africa Regional Sustainable Tourism Network.