SSAS Alumna Contributor

  • Blue Flag eco-label demonstrates the holistic nature of sustainability science

    By: Kelsey Scarfone

    Kelsey is a Master of Sustainability alumna and the acting Water Programs Manager for Blue Flag Canada. Blue Flag is an international eco-label for beaches marinas and sustainable tourism boats, operated in Canada by Environmental Defence.

    One of the first things I learned in the Sustainability Science and Society (SSAS) graduate program was that true sustainability is holistic and multi-faceted, and calls on a wide range of disciplines. This could not be truer in practice.

    In my first career position after the Master of Sustainability program, the Blue Flageco-label has exemplified the concepts of sustainability learned through the graduate degree. Blue Flag began in Europe 30 years ago, created and fostered by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE).  Today, 46 countries have adopted the Blue Flag program and there are over 4,000 beaches, marinas and sustainable tourism boats flying the prestigious flag. In Canada, there are 27 beaches and 8 marinas flying the flag, and the program is operated by Environmental Defence.

    In order to be awarded a Blue Flag, criteria in four main categories must be met. These categories are: environmental education, safety, water quality and environmental management. In the case of beaches, for example, there are 33 criteria in total that are evaluated first by a National Jury, then by an International Jury. This process re-occurs annually, meaning that even if a beach has been certified for 20 years they are still submitted to this rigorous and thorough evaluation. The process lends to the legitimacy of the Blue Flag certification.

    Imbedded into the Blue Flag award is the concept of sustainability science. If one of the four components are not being met to the highest standard, the beach, marina or sustainable tourism boat is failing not only to achieve Blue Flag, but also in the overarching goal of sustainable management. In order to operate to the highest environmental standard, Blue Flag sites need to have swimmable clean water, environmental education programs and management committees, lifeguards and/or safety equipment, and robust emergency response plans.

    In my position as the acting manager for this program, I’ve learned how to be agile between these core concepts of beach, marina and tourism sustainability. Of course, the environment is at the heart of my role, but I’ve also had to integrate the perspectives of public health, waterfront safety and rescue, and tourism development into my decision-making and program management. The SSAS program prepared me well for this and taught me how to bring these classically separate disciplines together in the goal of a truly sustainable tourism product.

    Blue Flag beaches and marinas are among some of the most popular in the world. However, due to the strict and holistic criteria of the program, these tourism destinations are protected against overuse, misuse and environmental degradation. The success of this program lends itself to the same view of sustainability that the ESRC and SSAS hold: that it will take all disciplines and a multitude of approaches in order to achieve sustainable societies. The opportunity to apply this approach and see it mirrored in international environmental programming is a testament to the SSAS program and its ability to prepare students for the sustainability science field in practice.

    Photo of Blue Flag

    Photo by: Environmental Defence Canada

    Photo of Blue Flag

    Photo by: Environmental Defence Canada

    Categories: Blog, SSAS Alumna Contributor, SSAS Program