Blue Flag – Educating to protect

The Blue Flag program

A world-renowned eco-label trusted by millions around the globe, the Blue Flag program is operated under the auspices of the Foundation for Environmental Education and is headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark. The Blue Flag voluntary eco-labels are awarded to beaches, marinas, and sustainable boating tourism operators.

We recently caught up with Sophie Bachet Granados, International Blue Flag Director. To learn more about this movement, its reach and impact, keep reading.

Blue Flag program impact

What the Blue Flag label represents….

The iconic Blue Flag is one of the world’s most recognised voluntary eco-labels awarded to beaches, marinas, and sustainable boating tourism operators. To qualify for the Blue Flag, a location must meet and maintain a series of stringent environmental, educational, safety, and accessibility criteria. (Watch this video to know more)


For a full list of criteria used in labeling a beach, click here


Here’s how an application works

blue flag program application procedure


The follow up and subsequent monitoring

The International Jury awards the Blue Flag to a beach, a marina or a sustainable boating tourism operator. Then the information is given to the Blue Flag national operator and to the awarded sites to kick-off the Blue Flag season. At least, once per season and often more, announced and unannounced control visits are organised by the national operator. This process is valid in any country, where the Blue Flag flies.

In addition, Blue Flag International organises announced and unannounced international control visits. As a result, we make sure that all awarded sites demonstrate the same level of excellency worldwide.  

If during a control visit the site shows major non-compliances, it can lose its flag for the rest of the season. However, if the issues are minor, such a missing information, the site has a timeframe to fix them.

Finally, we also believe that the eyes of the public on our sites can be a tool to monitor quality. So we have a process to look into and answer each complaint that we receive nationally or internationally.


The reach globally

In 2018, more than 4500 sites were awarded the Blue Flag in 44 countries which have implemented the program. More than 50 countries are taking part in the Blue Flag network, already running or implementing the Blue Flag program.

Every year is a celebration of a long application process with a tremendous effort on the ground to get the sites ready to kick off the touristic season! One year at a time, the Blue Flag sites work on improving their environmental standards, educational components, management and services for the past 30 years with a vision for the next 30 years. The Blue Flag is a reward for the amazing work from the whole community on the ground. But it’s not an end. In fact, it’s the beginning of a long journey with us, where we work as partners.

Ensuring continuous development

The Blue Flag program is a continuous process of strict criteria to meet imperatively and a continuous source of inspiration for the sites. Guidelines criteria are added on a regular basis. To ensure we keep up with the research and new trends, we review our criteria and stay up to date with what we ask our sites to complete to be awarded. Furthermore, we accompany them towards trends of the future to make sure they continuously improve and are aware of new possibilities.

We also have developed the Blue Flag further from beaches and marinas to boats from sustainable tourism operators in 2016. By doing this, we believe that we can enhance Blue Flag’s positive action on the coast. We can ensure it is a good management tool for integrated coastal zone management. In fact, all boat activities, from nature watching and diving to recreational fishing, have an impact on the ocean. Similarly, beaches and marinas receive many visitors, which we can educate. By educating more people, we want them to understand the tight ecosystems which the coastlines represent and care about them.

Finally, we educate the staff and managers. However, we also reach the visitors of the beaches, marinas and boats, through environmental education activities. We estimate that in 2018, we have reached approximately 160,000 people ,who took part in one of our worldwide education activities.


An overview of the education programs managed

Above all, we believe in the power of change. This is the best gift we can give to future generations. The most valuable legacy we can leave behind, is a world of educated and environmentally conscious people, equipped to live a sustainable life.

Eco-Schools, LEAF and Young Reporters for the Environment. Blue Flag education

Our educational programs, Eco-Schools, LEAF and Young Reporters for the Environment, use a solution-based approach to empower young people to create a more environmentally conscious world. For instance, our Green Key and Blue Flag initiatives are known across the world for their promotion of sustainable business practices and the protection of our valuable natural resources.

In addition, Blue Flag is recognised by UNESCO as a world-leader within the fields of Environmental Education and Education for Sustainable Development. Our strength comes from our members. They share our convictions and execute our programs with great efficiency on a daily basis. Hand-picked for their dedication and outstanding ability, it is these local organisations, who make the Foundation for Environmental Education the much respected, admired and trusted entity that it is today.

Educational Principles 

The Foundation for Environmental Education, has agreed upon eight Educational Principles. These principles guide our work towards excellence in Environmental Education/Education for Sustainable Development. We express our commitment to follow and champion these eight principles in our programs.

  1. Ensure that participants are engaging in the learning/teaching process
  2. Empower participants to take informed decisions and actions on real life sustainability issues
  3. Encourage participants to work together actively and involve their communities in collaborative solutions
  4. Support participants to examine their assumptions, knowledge, and experiences to develop critical thinking, and to be open to change
  5. Encourage participants to be aware of cultural practices as an integral part of sustainability issues
  6. Encourage participants to share inspirational stories of their achievements, failures, and values, to learn from them, and to support each other
  7. Continuously explore, test, and share innovative approaches, methodologies, and techniques
  8. Ensure that continuous improvements through monitoring and evaluation are central to our programs


Which locations do you consider among your top successes?

After 30 years, all Blue Flag awarded sites are a success locally. Moreover, the number of sites is increasing year after year. The amount of successes are infinite, and it’s hard to list only a few. In the early 2000’s, the Blue Flag program started in South Africa. It was the first country who joined our network from outside of Europe. At the time is was a huge difference with the European countries’ standards. People in South Africa were very critical that our program could not work there.

Our national operator, WESSA, did a tremendous work. We saw the influence of our program. Not only has the local environment improved, but there also are economic and social impacts now all along the coastline. This is thanks to Blue Flag’s development in the past 20 years. For example, the South African standards for Bathing Water Quality have been derived directly from the Blue Flag Bathing Water Quality criteria, as they had none at the time. The recent Blue Flag Tourism project is an example of how our program adds value to the local communities and youth.


Looking for a Blue Flag beach? Check it here

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