Industry News

The Green Spa - Part 1

September 28, 2012 | 6:43 AM
The Green Spa - Part 1
The Green Spa - Part 2
The Green Spa - Part 3

It's already becoming cliche to quote Kermit the Frog, with businesses and families alike discovering that, despite their best intentions, "it's not easy being green." Today's ambitious pursuit of spending each day sustaining, rather than steadily destroying, all things natural—not just planet Earth itself, but animals and, of course, our own human bodies—is a challenge to say the least.

In the spa industry, reducing the carbon footprint requires a multidimensional, four-pronged approach: constructing facilities in the greenest way possible; conducting business procedures with a focus on recycling and reducing use of paper, replacing chemical cleaning products and conserving energy; reducing any particularly high consumption in the spa industry, especially water; and selecting products and food for clients with natural rather than chemical ingredients.

With regard to some items, it's actually very easy being green, while other efforts require practically tearing down the facility and starting over—with an expanded budget.

Michael Stusser is one of the greenest members of the spa industry. Back in 1989, Stusser cleaned up a five-acre junkyard in Freestone, California, then built—with recycled wood—Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary. Nearly two decades later and with support from a half-dozen or so "seed" spas, Stusser has founded the Green Spa Network ( to provide environmental education and encouragement to all spa professionals. General membership opportunities will be available by the middle of this year.

"We don't want to sacrifice the spa experience," clarifies Stusser, a 2007 member of ISPA's Greening Your Spa by Implementing Sustainable Business Practices panel. "We still want to offer clients safety, comfort and dignity, while being more responsible and less consumptive. The common wisdom is that people go to spas to 'check out,' but at ISPA we realized that today it's less about capricious luxury and more about 'checking in.' Clients are seeking a mind-and-spirit component."

Client priorities have switched from extravagance to a lifestyle that values wellness and stress relief, confirms Bonnie Canavino, who owns the Chicago-area consulting firm Spa Specifics and the Red Cherry organic product line. Spas' increasingly greater emphasis on massage and body treatments reflects client demand, she notes, and exploring the organic aspect of wellness is a logical next step.

"The spa can now connect wellness of mind and spirit to wellness of planet," adds Stusser. "That's been the missing piece in our industry." Yet putting that piece in place can be daunting. Even with help from Spa Specifics, it took Maria Sigman three years and undying persistence to build Salon Echo, a Chicago spa that boasts 85-percent sustainability. Used liberally in environmental circles with varying definitions, "sustainable" broadly refers to materials that are easy to replenish in nature; Sigman defines it as anything that will grow back within 10 years.

For example, the woods Sigman chose are considered sustainable. She also used "found" resources like second-hand furniture, end-lot granites and fabrics made from recycled two-liter bottles. Her flooring illustrates the extent of her green commitment: in the retail/reception areas, clients walk on cement tinted with natural dyes, the spa area's flooring is made of mesquite legumes and in the salon, recycled polyvinyl covers a half-inch of recycled tire cushion.

Hurdles for the Pioneers

Sigman's tire cushion wasn't the only place the rubber met the road. The more unusual the material or system, the more red tape businesses encounter. "The city of Chicago didn't know what to do with me," laughs Sigman. "They had to rewrite some of the permit laws because they didn't understand what it meant to use a heat exchanger or install the lighting we wanted."

Canavino, the consultant on the build, agrees, "They'd look at our ideas and say, 'We don't know what you're talking about, so I guess the answer is no.'" When it wasn't the city blocking innovation, it was Sigman's landlord, who turned down her requests for solar panels, wind power, hot water heating under the floors and a "green roof" of plants and water distribution.

"Regulations haven't kept up with the changing times," Stusser laments. "I hear from a lot of spa owners who are dedicated to earth-friendly action, but government regulations prevent them from conserving water, require them to use chemicals or outlaw sophisticated alternatives to waste and water disposal. A further complication is that no two places are the same."

It's not all ignorance and politics; geographic variations can be grounded in experience. In hurricane-prone Boca Raton, Florida, Spa Director Cecilia Redigan says that the Maui Spa and Wellness Center had planned to build with reclaimable resources, but the state's strict construction codes favored sturdy cement.

With safety and cleanliness a huge imperative for spas, green products must meet higher standards than in some other industries. In addition, spas are understandably slow to let go of a less-than-green signature treatment such as a bath filled with cut rose petals.The learning curve can be another impediment. For the first two years of her project, Sigman was just identifying and locating appropriate materials and contractors.

"Hospitality is already such a demanding business," says Stusser. "It's asking a lot to get spa managers to do the necessary research to go green." Distributing information is one of Stusser's prime goals for the Green Spa Network, which soon will make available a user-friendly, "go green" tool kit.

But even for products and services that are marketed as environmentally responsible, owners hear a skeptical voice whispering in their ear: Are these products as green as their claims? Consumers are demanding that companies be not only "accountable for their impact on people and the planet," but also "transparent about their practices," concludes the most recent Conscious Consumer Report issued by the BBMG branding and marketing agency.

"Authenticity is part of our criteria," says Canavino about her Red Cherry line. "We list all of our ingredients on our website and offer spas our MSDS sheets. If I were a spa buyer, I would want that information."

And spa buyers do. "I'm not going to send products to a lab, but I do consider it my job to do some homework on companies before I buy from them," says Bob Ulmer, director of spa, fitness and recreation at Ginn Reunion Resort in Celebration, Florida.

Even for a dedicated environmentalist like Stusser, who has been involved in organic gardening since he was 20 years old, blazing the trail required help from the experts. For that, Stusser turned to Professor Dwight Collins and his students at the Presidio School of Management's Green MBA Program.

Collins, who says working on Osmosis Day Spa "was a wonderful experience for our school," outlines four areas of the project Presidio helped the spa complete: €¢ A realistic operations plan and timetable for going green in every possible way. €¢ A marketing plan. €¢ An evaluation of how every product in the spa is made, used and disposed of. €¢ A strategic plan for launching the Green Spa Network.

Green in Stages

Stage 1: Quick and Easy Steps

reduce, reuse, recycle use natural products
save energy

• Get recycle bins for the lunch room.
• Flatten and recycle shipment boxes.
• Bag styrofoam shipping peanuts; offer them to local businesses with shipping product needs.
• Replace paper, plastic and styrofoam cups with washable ceramic and glass.
• Put a stop to junk mail you don’t want, and target your own direct marketing.
• Keep records digitally, print out only when necessary and purchase paper with recycled content.
• When feasible, use both sides of the paper in printing and copying.
• Ask guests whether they want a bag for their retail
purchases, and choose recycled-content shopping bags if they do.
• Recycle printer cartridges.
• Encourage staffers to recycle cell phones.
• Eliminate bottled water; pour filtered tap water from pitchers to glasses.
• Consider artificial flowers for some of your
• Limit use of paper towels; use more organic cotton towels.
• Limit use of plastic bags.
• In bathrooms, shun small amenity bottles in favor of dispensers for soap, gel, lotion and shampoo.
• Outdoors, water in the morning to limit evaporation.

• Place organic soap products in bathrooms and locker rooms.
• Carry at least one organic backbar and retail
product line.
• Use green laundry detergent and cleaning supplies;
clean tubs with lemon and salt.
• Use baking soda to control odors on carpets and in the laundry.
• Begin to incorporate into facials and body treatments natural substances like aromatherapy oils, fruits, herbs, spices, vegetables, whole grains, organic honey, mineral clay and seaweed.
• For spa lunches, serve whole grains, fruits and
• Replace air fresheners with fresh lavender in arrangements or sachets.
• Install filters to outdoor watering system to eliminate chlorine.
• Purchase unbleached toilet tissue, paper towels, coffee filters and other paper goods.
• For suppliers, choose companies that have reputations for being green from A to Z, including packaging and transport considerations.
Lower the thermostat in winter; raise it in summer.
• Gradually replace ordinary light bulbs with energy- efficient light bulbs.
• Use rechargeable batteries as much as practical.
• Unplug rechargeable battery docks and chargers for small appliances (phones, iPods, cameras) when not in use.
• Shut down most computers at night; leaving a computer on standby is like leaving a 75-watt bulb lit.
• As needed, purchase Energy Star appliances.
• Place refrigerator away from heating vents, vacuum the coils, set to 35-38 degrees and set freezer to zero.
• Decorate with local plants rather than trucking in plants and flowers from far away.
• Serve seasonal fruits for the same reason.
• Turn on the sauna and steam only when you must heat it up for a client.
• Regularly change filters on heating and air conditioning units.

The Green Spa - Part 1
The Green Spa - Part 2
The Green Spa - Part 3

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