The Greening of Spas
by Rhana Pytell
The term “green” and all of its variations—”going green,” “green building,” and “greening your home”—was so ubiquitous in 2008, it received the most nominations for the “Words Banished From the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse, and General Uselessness” list. At first this accolade might appear to be bad news, but such recognition indicates that the concept has reached significant market penetration.
Much like the word “green,” the term “spa” has also become completely woven into the fabric of our current society. One in four Americans visited a spa in 2008 reports the International Spa Association. Both green and spa represent a reconnection with the treasure of our natural resources.
Spas and Sustainability
Fifteen years ago the spa movement and industry ignited in unprecedented growth in the U.S. on the wave of increasing awareness of the mind-body connection and alternative approaches to health. The double digit annual growth of the industry brought in new players, elaborate spa facilities and the perception that spa is luxury with no limit on the consumption of resources. Now new wave in spa is providing consumers with a choice to enhance well-being naturally in an environment that values and cares for our planet’s health.
The Green Spa Network and member spas embrace the responsibility of living these values personally and professionally to attain measurable improvements towards full integration on the sustainability spectrum. Cici Coffee of Natural Body International, Inc. provides an example of spa leadership in practice: “In 2004, we implemented a charitable campaign with Georgia Organics in which we sold co-branded T-shirts and donated 100% of profits to the nonprofit, GO. In 2005, we implemented an employee contribution campaign with Earth Share in which Natural Body partially matched such contributions. We are now in our fourth year with workplace campaigns for Earth Share and have pledged in excess of $40,000 to this environmental nonprofit. We reward our eco-ambassador in every location to excite the team to achieve their philanthropic goals, so the store that improves the most is awarded a team party.”
The ultimate goal is to become a zero waste spa by sending nothing to landfills—an audacious goal on the sustainability path. Sheila Armen at the Strong House Spa in Vermont has taken this goal of achieving zero waste to heart. Strong House started the Cosmetic Recycling Program that allows clients to bring in old products that contain chemicals and get a $5 credit toward organic products. “We then recycle not only the containers but the products inside,” says Armen. “All cleansing products go to our recycling company to wash their trucks.”
Such simple changes are proving successful for spa morale and cost savings across the country. Michael Stusser, founder of Osmosis and president of the Green Spa Network, explained that “our spa has had much stronger cohesiveness since we have become a committed sustainable spa. Many favorable stories in the press and awards from local governmental and business organizations have contributed to a good feeling among staff and guests as we all work together to reduce our load on mother Earth. We estimate that the hard cost savings in training and operational effectiveness to be $12,500 per year, and the improvement in staff moral and customer service substantial.”
Highlights of current greening initiatives in GSN member spa operations include:
• Use LED and CFL lighting, lighting sensors, and educate employees about the conscious use of energy.
• Design spa treatment protocols with conservation fixtures and client messaging that prevents water waste. Subtracting only 1 minute per hot shower can save $75 on utility bills and 2,700 gallons of water per year for a family of three. Eliminating water waste in 14,000 US spas is part of the GSN mission.
• Collecting recyclable microfiber linens that can be used in building materials, and other damaged and worn textiles are donated to animal shelters.
• Reduce paper waste through technological options such as online client software and management tools and eliminate need for printed materials.
• Replace single use supplies with items such as durable beverage cups, cloth hand towels, and microfiber body wraps.
• Utilize biologically safe laundry detergents, non-chlorine bleach and energy efficient equipment.
Stusser states, “The GSN is dedicated to creating a culture of merit by celebrating and sharing best practices. We have begun by having our members take realistic steps that can be easily accomplished with the intention of gradually raising the bar for sustainable business practices throughout the entire spa community. The network acknowledges that we are in this together and sharing our individual successes and innovations will bring everyone closer to the possibility of a transformed world.”
The concept of “green” is often thought of only in terms of environment. The GSN has adopted a 360- degree view of sustainability that benchmarks and measures progress. The benchmarks range from startup initiatives to fully integrated sustainability practices within the following categories:
guest experience; treatment protocols
linens and textiles
food and beverage
SELECTING A PRODUCT
When it comes to a spa’s retail product line, the GSN encourages members to select product lines that correspond with philosophies of well-being, quality, sustainability, and responsibility. The sustainability continuum progresses with these benchmarks:
Incubator level: Whenever possible select retail skincare and other product lines that fit your sustainability goals; communicate your sustainability and ingredient goals to product suppliers; plan to eliminate products that contain synthetics, fragrances and dyes, phthalates, parabens, and triclosan.
Initiative level: Audit retail products from a sustainability perspective; request that supplier(s) employ sustainable practices such as packaging, local sourcing of raw materials; and ensure that at least 20% of products offered are fair trade, organic, sustainable, made with pure ingredients, and packaged sustainably.
Integrated level: 100% of retail skincare products are certified at the highest level [USDA NOP, EcoCert, Natural Products Association, NaTrue, Soil Association, NSF, or BDIH certification] for product quality, purity, and sustainability.
Most GSN member spas are beyond the initiative level in the retail product category and aspiring to the fully integrated level as certifications and verifications are made available.
OSMOSIS SPA IN CALIFORNIA SEES GREENING AS A STEP IN SHIFTING THE IMAGE OF A SPA VISIT AWAY FROM ONE OF PAMPERING INDULGENCE TO A MORE GROUNDED AND HOLISTIC EXPERIENCE THAT MAKES THE OBVIOUS CONNECTION BETWEEN PERSONAL AND PLANETARY WELLNESS.
THE NATURAL BODY SPA IN ATLANTA HAS 100 YEAR OLD RECLAIMED BARN WOOD FLOORING AND SHELVING AND HAS BEEN AN OFFICIAL DROP OFF SITE FOR USED CELL PHONES THAT ARE THEN PICKED UP BY EARTH SHARE FOR RECYCLING
Rhana Pytell is co- founder and director of GAIA Spa in La Jolla CA. Ms. Pytell also founded Amethyst Systems, a company that provides templates and spa management tools in a web-based format. Rhana serves on the board of the Green Spa Network.