What does it mean to be green? That may not be an easy question to answer when words such as “organic,” “eco-friendly,” and “sustainable” abound in the industry. Green- ing your spa can win you clients and save you money. But only recently, according to the Green Spa Network (GSN), a non-profit organization that brings together spa professionals and industry experts, are spas making socially and environmentally responsible practices an intrinsic part of their businesses in contrast to reacting solely to external consumer demands and public relations campaigns. “A spa’s mission is to deliver health and wellness,” says GSN executive director Deb Berlin. “The greener the spa, the better it performs its core mission.”
Leading the pack, the GSN, in partnership with Green America, is launching the spa-specific version of the GreenGain online tool this May, which will provide a customized, step-by-step guide for spas to implement and maintain green practices. The effort will be the sector’s first attempt at establishing industry-wide benchmarks for social and environmental sustainability.
In the meantime, we’ve culled some tips from the GSN toolkit and talked to some industry leaders to help you to better align sustainability with your spa’s mission, values, and daily operations.
The amount of commitment, effort, and resources it takes to green a spa can be overwhelming—so much that it’s hard to take the first step. “Begin with the low-hanging fruit,” says Roberto Arjona, general manager of Rancho La Puerta (Tecate, Mexico). “Greening can be expensive if not done well, and spas cannot afford to go all the way at once.”
Upon creating a compelling vision, developing a strategy, and establishing an action plan, Arjona recommends greening skincare and body products first, then reducing packaging and plastic use (like using washable liners in garbage cans and replacing disposable containers in the locker room with refillable ones), then evaluating water and energy consumption. For example, when G20 Day Spa (Boston) rebuilt its facilities in 2010, it installed LED and sensor-activated lighting, low-flow showers and toilet heads, and geothermal heating and cooling systems that run on ground water from two wells dug behind the building. Washers were equipped with regulated detergent dispensers, and a bicycle rack was installed to encourage employees to pedal to work. Meanwhile, the Hotel Terra (Jackson Hole, WY) incorporated wind power, low-VOC carpet and paint, reclaimed bamboo, crushed glass, and a water conservation system into the construction of its Chill Spa. “In most cases, even a slight change in the spa culture can make a big difference in saving money and resources,” says Arjona. After a period of time, revisit your original goals, and create new ones based on trends, achievements, or personal goals.
Communicating the Message
Being able to effectively and consistently communicate your sustainability strategies will allow your employees and clients to become proactively involved in the eco-ethos of your spa. “From the marketing side, green industries continue to take a bigger piece of the exposure in the media, and communicating green practices to the consumer and the community can increase credibility and loyalty,” says Arjona. GSN suggests clarifying what issues are important to you, what steps you plan to carry it out, and what employees can do to be engaged in the process—an important point as worker attitudes and behaviors are very much the reflection of your spa philosophy. Lynne McNees, president of the International Spa Association (ISPA), encourages spas to collaborate and learn from their peers. “ISPA is a community for sharing ideas and is a great resource for a spa looking for more information on this topic.” In order to communicate the message further, Barbara Stirewalt, spa director at The Spa at Mohonk Mountain House (New Paltz, NY), suggests providing a card upon check-in that outlines your green efforts, as well as spelling out on your website exactly how your spa is earth conscious.
Choosing Spa Products
Selecting natural, organic, and ethically sourced ingredients in a saturated market requires research and vetting. “There are minimally processed products on the market that contain ingredients from plants and nature,” says Szilvia Hickman, of Szép Élet, distributor of Ilike Organic Skin Care products. “However, there are companies out there being less than honest.”
Currently, many countries have no official regulations or standards for organic and natural skincare products, which means that consumers (and spa owners) could easily fall prey to unclear labeling and dubious claims. According to the GSN, in fact, almost 90 percent of the 10,500 ingredients used in personal care products have not been evaluated for safety. Look for red flags on the label. Besides harmful ingredients such as phthalates, parabens, and cocomide DEA, which are commonly used in cosmetics, nail polishes, and fragrances; formaldahyde, hydroquinone, and sulfates also pose health threats, including skin and eye irritation, liver cancer, and DNA damage.
When surveying companies for the purchase of spa and skincare products, such as deodorant, face creams, cosmetics, and soap, the GSN recommends asking the right questions: How long has your company been committed to sustainable, organic, and natural practices? Do you know where all of your certified organic and natural products are grown? Are your sources traceable? What third- party certified organic and natural body do you use to certify your products?
Focused on protecting both their clients and the environment, the folks at NVE Institute of Phyto-Aroma Cosmetology (Edmonton, Canada) adopted a green philosophy from the beginning. “We have three very strict guidelines,” says Gary Murk, director of operations. “Everything we do must be safe for our clients, ourselves, and our precious environment.” As a result, the spa takes an eco-approach to its treatments, using only the finest organic essential oils, clays, herbs, salts, and vegan carrier oils. It’s not only the products used on clients that must pass muster but also those relied upon for cleaning. “In fact, we make our own cleaning products using pure tea tree oil and a blend of other essential oils for cleansing and disinfecting,” says Murk. Owner Nathalie Van Eeckhoudt, a certified dermo-hygienist and phyto-aroma cosmetologist, has spent more than 30 years in the industry and opened the two-treatment- room spa two years ago with the goal of offering clients a more natural alternative. Says Murk, “We have seen so much beauty around the world, and it is partly our love of nature, but the most important part is safety for our clients that we have chosen to be green.”