ICT’s Five Leaves of Sustainability

Turimo Sostenible

Turimo Sostenible

Instituto Costarricense de Turismo

Instituto Costarricense de Turismo

Costa Rican Institute of Tourism (ICT for Instituto Costarricense de Turismo) has a five-tiered metric for qualifying tourism businesses in terms of their degree of sustainability.

Rather than use the term “tiers” or “levels,” the ICT has designated these as leaves.  There are as many as five leaves that a business or destination can be awarded to characterize the degree of environmental friendliness and sustainability shown.  Rewards for high placement, other than the environmental recognition itself, includes greater promotion by ICT itself for businesses at those levels, and greater recognition nationally.

The different number of leaves correspond to differing degrees of mastery and completion of five fundamental aspects of sustainability in the ecotourism industry.   These five fundamental areas are defined below:

  • Physico-biological environment: This revolves around the linkage between the commerce and environment directly and the degree of relative sustainability in this relationship.
  • Physical Plant (for lodges and hotels): This refers to waste management, recycling, the source of water and materials and efforts made in the physical operation to boost sustainability.
  • Tourism services (for agencies and tour operators): This metric governs the degree to which tour agencies design activities and packages that concentrate on activities and destinations actively engaged in sustainable practices.
  • Client: This metric revolves around the degree to which the lodge, agency, or operator involves the client himself and raises awareness of the client’s role in sustainability.
  • Socioeconomic Environment: This metric concerns the business’s commercial relations and the degree to which these are focused on business to business partnerships with companies already actively engaged in sustainable business practices.

The ICT questionnaire extensively addresses these five points, and a business’s response and documentation for the replies given are graded by the ICT according to the degree of sustainability as measured in percentage points of a hypothetical perfect score.  The number of leaves granted the business varies according to the score on the exam as follows:

Number of Leaves Score
0 < 20%
1 20-39%
2 40-59%
3 60-79%
4 80-94%
5 > 95% five leaves


Following a company’s initial replacement and award of leaves, it is eligible to increase its standing by boosting its environmental sustainability score.  Results from its testing must be analyzed and improvements made in areas not rewarded.  Upon upgrade to corresponding standards, inspection and confirmation by ICT allows a tourism organization to achieve as many as 5 leaves, i.e. the highest sustainability tier.

On the Osa Peninsula, businesses that have achieved 5 leaves include Lapa Rios, Nicuesa Beach and Rainforest Lodge, El Remanso Beach and Rainforest Lodge, Luna Lodge, and Osa Wild Travel Agency.


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