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Building Sustainability Into Spas

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Where do you begin once your spa has decided to go green? This short list offers easy-to-implement ideas to get you started.

  1. Install energy efficient lighting like halogen, CFL and LED light bulbs.  Energy costs for lighting and air conditioning can drop dramatically.  Similarly, install low-flow faucet aeratorsto reduce water use by up to 50% and reduce water-heating needs as well.
  2. Provide skin care products free from ingredients known to pose health riskssuch as: parabens, petrochemicals, nanoparticles, and artificial coloring.  Instead, look for products that contain natural, healthy, and ethically sourced and produced ingredients.
  3. Stop selling or providing water in bottles.Bottled water produces 1.5 million tons of plastic water per year, and requires 47 million gallons of oil per year to produce and only 20% of plastic bottles get recycled.  A better option:  Make water available for use with a recycled paper cup–or better yet, a reusable container. Make a concerted effort to reduce or eliminate the use of all plastic waste.
  4. Purchase unbleached (without chlorine) paper products.Paper towels, toilet paper, and many other products have excellent quality and cost-effective alternatives. Bleached paper products not only require large amounts of energy to produce, but utilize toxic chemicals that a slow to degrade in the ecosystem negatively impacting plants, animals and people.
  5. Recycleand help educate staff and guests by providing clearly labeled recycling containers. For the office–use refillable and recyclable toner or ink cartridges, rechargeable batteries.
  6. Precycle reduce waste before you buy. When making purchasing decisions, consider the packaging:  choose minimal packaged goods, utilize bulk purchasing options, recycled paper, and for printing use soy ink.
  7. Avoid soaps and detergents that contain phosphates,which can be harmful to delicate water-based ecosystems.  High levels of phosphates in water allows algae to grow unhindered which can make lakes and rivers unsuitable for marine life and swimming as well as contaminate municipal and domestic waste-water systems.
  8. Use alternative pesticidesto prevent pests naturally indoors and outdoors.  This is good for people, pets and allows the natural ecosystem to still flourish. Think about using essential oils like peppermint, clove, lavender to thyme to help keep away unwanted pests.
  9. Use no-VOC paints and non-toxic cleaning supplies. Paints without Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are less toxic, produce fewer odors, and are especially beneficial for clients with chemical sensitivities. Chemicals used in many cleaning products can cause irritation and illness.
  10. Encourage and incentivize your staff(and even clients!) to use public transportation, carpool.  Or try biking or walking — good for the environment and you too!


Water is a renewable but very limited source. Less than 3% of the world’s water is freshwater. Of the 3% over 2.5% is frozen, locked up in the Arctic, the Antarctica, and in glaciers, and not available to people. That means that we rely on a remaining 0.5% to fulfill all individual, business, and nature’s freshwater needs. Caused by changes in our lifestyles and a continuing increase in population, water usage has been on a constant rise in the last decade. Increased and inefficient use of water has limited the availability of water and, together with water pollution, put enormous pressure on freshwater ecosystems.

For spas water is one of the most essential elements. The term Spa is intricately connected to water and related features and treatments. Water is used for spa treatments, floral baths, tubs, pools, and showers as well as for spa operations such as laundry, cleaning, and landscaping. Even if most American spas generate the majority of their revenue through massage treatments, which are less water intensive than body treatments, guests will always associate spas with the healing aspects of water and expect a variety of water related features for a “true” spa experience.


Sustainable water management includes efficient water use as well as wastewater considerations. As such it is an issue for spas in all part of the world, no matter if they are located in arid areas with limited water supply or in areas with access to seawater or plenty of rainfall. The main challenge for successful water management will be to find the right balance between sustainable water use and wastewater management, guest expectation and spa experience.

With Earth Day’s 45th anniversary events extensive programs held just a month ago and the United Nation’s World Environment Day coming up on June 5th, we thought it was timely to present information about how far spas can go to be environmentally responsible.  Spas can indeed lead by example in so many ways!

This is a topic that I have been committed too since the academy’s opening 10 years ago and have continually educated my team about on an on-going basis as Bali has serious and pressing environmental issues yet to tackle.  Despite many initiatives by the Indonesian government, there is still only limited awareness by the general population as to how individuals can curb environmental degradation on this beautiful island.  However, as UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, says “Although individual decisions may seem small in the face of global threats and trends, when billions of people join forces in common purpose, we can make a tremendous difference.”

All of our CIBTAC and Bali BISA courses incorporate safety, hygiene and environmental best practices into the curriculum.  Students see evidence of these everyday in the school’s standard operating procedures, so that they will become wise stewards of the environment that sustains us and our communities.

UNEPEmbracing this year’s World Environment Day we share with our followers ten simple starter tips for a greener spa from the Green Spa Network website.   This will assist spas to develop a plan, take action and measure progress.

This is followed by information in their Green Spa Toolkit detailing the fifteen component areas that lead to a more sustainable spa –  Interested spas can use their free Sustainability Assessment Tool found at and become as associate or contributing member at

Thanks for taking the time to learn how your spa can consume with care in order to live within planetary boundaries to ensure a healthy future where our dreams can be realized now and for future generations.

Penny Ellis

Bali International Spa Academy


Spas more than any other wellness business live from clean, tranquil, and inspiring environments. Waste is certainly to be part of this picture. Yet the spa industry contributes to the generation of waste in many ways: Spa treatments, retail products, food and beverage services, and spa operations including cleaning, landscaping, pool operations, and back office administration – they all leave traces behind in form of solid waste and/or wastewater.

Solid waste impacts the environment in many ways. Improper waste disposal can directly impact the quality of ground water. Waste from disposal sites can leak into rivers and streams and in further consequence pollute ponds, lakes, and wetlands. Dumped waste blown by wind can impact surrounding flora and fauna.  Coastal areas are particularly sensitive to pollution by solid waste and wastewater.


In addition to its direct impacts on the environment, waste also contributes to global warming: The transportation of waste to disposal sites produces CO2 from vehicle emissions. Anaerobic decomposition of waste in landfills produces methane, a greenhouse gas, which is said to be 72 times more potent than carbon dioxide.  Incineration of waste produces carbon dioxide. The disposal of materials means that they are being replaced by new products and industrial production contributes to CO2 emissions by burning fossil fuels for energy.

Sustainable waste management practices will have to focus mainly on waste prevention, waste reduction, and recycling options. Implementing these practices will not only reduce the environmental footprint of your spa but also set a leading example for others to follow.

Energy Use

Energy is a key element to any spa. It powers our buildings, heats and cools our environments, and gets us there. It is an important input, but one we can be more conscious and smart about, to benefit of our bottom line, the health of the planet, and the societies in which we live. Cleaner air quality and less pressure on the environment are two benefits of using less energy. Insulation from rising energy costs and global oil shortages is another major benefit of conservation and using renewable resources. New technology will also help to conserve energy as alternatives to outdated designs are implemented.

Save-Energy-300x298Energy conservation is the number one green practice that businesses implement due to the direct cost savings. The average annual return on investment for energy efficiency retrofits and weatherization is more than 20 percent. Heating, ventilation, and cooling systems are a major utility cost. Lighting is approximately 30% of electricity costs. Cost savings helps the bottom line and can in turn be used for other expenses or investments.

An important first step for any spa is information gathering, analyzing current energy usage. Many municipalities have programs that help small businesses perform energy audits and efficiency upgrades. These investments have an immediate financial return and add marketing value to your spa. Sometimes, funds are available in the form of grants or loans. Contact your local power provider for guidance.

Beyond increased energy awareness and efficiency, the origin of energy also matters. Green power and renewable energy can be obtained in a variety of ways, and many funding incentives are available to those who invest. If your facilities and property allow for it, on-site renewable energy may be an option. These include solar electric, solar hot water, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass energy. Passive solar may also allow your spa to take advantage of natural solar resources for solar heating, daylighting, etc. If on-site renewable energy is not feasible, Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) or carbon offsets can be purchased through a local utility or offset suppliers.

Energy-credit-300x202Transportation accounts for 27.5% of the energy use in the US, and thus is another opportunity to green your spa’s energy practices. Baseline strategies for incentivizing alternative transportation options can range from offering free or preferred parking for carpoolers, hybrid/electric vehicles to treatment incentives for walk-ins or bikers. Alternative-fuel shuttles for guests are sometimes offered by spas and hotels.

Lighting Overview

Spas create a rich sensory experience for customers, connecting them more closely with their bodies and with their environment. Lighting is considered one of the most important aspects of building and interior design, while also playing a key role in creating appropriate ambiance within a spa. Lighting also provides opportunities to further green spa strategies in energy, equipment, and waste.



Maximizing natural lighting can reduce energy use by 50%. Light from windows and skylights is free energy, after all. Outside views and quality daylighting also enhance people’s performance, mood, and health. Stimulation from the light and changing variability during the day is good for the body’s biological and chronological systems (light changing from day to evening). Daylighting design includes using interior windows to reach interior spaces, minimizing glare, and operable blinds.

Sustainable lighting practices must balance natural lighting settings with the demand for additional mood lighting and artificial light in areas where natural lighting is not available or appropriate. The use of CFLs, LEDs, and other energy-efficient bulbs should be prioritized, and proper disposal policies should be established and enforced.

Additionally, control over lighting systems can add to the efficiency of the overall systems. Daylight and occupancy sensors can minimize energy use and extend the life-span of lighting equipment.

Retail Products

spa-productSpa studies report an average contribution of retail sales of 15% to total spa revenue with a majority of sales coming from personal care products. Depending on the size of the spa and its retail space additional retail products can include blankets, robes, workout clothes, and lounge wear, Yoga accessories, candles, tea, chocolate, eye pillows, and a variety of other products that allow spa customers to continue the spa experience at their home.

Retail success can be measured many ways. Performance indicators include revenue dollars per paid hour, average dollar per sale, ration of retail dollars to treatment dollars, inventory turnover, and others. Green spas will have to keep an additional success factor in mind: The retail products you choose send out a clear message about your authentic commitment to sustainability and underline your identity and credibility as green spa. Choosing your retail and treatment products wisely will therefore be vital for your branding and economic success.

Personal Care Products

produk-spaAccording to industry estimates, the average consumer uses as many as 25 different cosmetic and personal care products containing more than 200 different chemicals each day. Even people who don’t use make-up still use skin and body care products such as shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, hand soap, sunscreen, lip balm, and hand lotion. The vast majority of chemicals in these products have not been evaluated or regulated, although many have been shown to pose significant health and environmental risks

massage-oilThe organic and natural segment of the personal care market is the one most relevant for spas and continues to be one of the fastest growing in the cosmetics industry, increasing by 15-20% per year worldwide. Many companies claim their products to be “natural” or “organic,” but what do these words mean? A worldwide standard for natural and organic personal care products does not exist, though there are a number of organizations and certifications that help businesses and consumers make informed decisions.

Food & Beverage

fruit-and-beverage-300x293Many resorts and hotel spas have built-in food options from their restaurants. Serving organic, local, healthy food is popular for spa packages, which is an added benefit for clients. Juice and tea bars are other popular additions to spas and fitness centers. Use durable or recyclable containers (instead of disposables) to save money and resources. On-site gardens and composting are becoming more standard practices. There are many benefits to having an on-site fresh food source and using the waste for composting.

Focusing on key elements of a responsible food & beverage program such as how and where items are sourced, packaged, served and disposed of go a long way towards ensuring customer satisfaction, lessening your impact on the environment and even saving money along the way.

Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is fundamental to the success of your sustainable business. Sustainability initiatives cannot be carried forward by one person alone. They succeed because of the people who share a common understanding, vision, and goals. Your strategies will be successful if you manage to integrate them into your corporate culture, day-to-day management, and every aspect of your employees’ career. In every spa business it is the employees who are in touch with guests, deliver the services, communicate your values to your guests, and resolve problems. Your corporate philosophy will be reflected in your employees’ attitude, behavior, and service quality. Motivated, engaged employees not only create better guest experiences, they can also build brand reputation and customer loyalty more effectively than any other member from your executive team or external consultant. Engaging your employees in proactively greening your business practices will also contribute to an increase in productivity, decrease in staff turnover, and reduction of operational cost.



Calm_Leader-300x225Until recently environmentally and socially responsible business management was mainly driven by external demands. Businesses reacted to customer requests, public awareness campaigns, or a need to cut down water or energy expenses with single projects or PR initiatives. Today the situation is different. Making sustainability an intrinsic part of their corporate culture has become a reality for many businesses.

Many studies have pointed out that socially and environmentally responsible behavior has become a competitive differentiator for businesses. High performance companies are more likely to have sustainable practices integrated into their business strategy, day-to-day operations, and employee/customer/community relations.

But companies are not only judged by their economic performance alone. Employees, customers, communities, and investors are increasingly looking for additional assets that make up the value of a company. These assets include environmental engagement, human resources policies, ethical values, and community involvement as well as intangible assets such as reputation, brand, trust, and credibility.

sustainabilityIn addition to that companies are increasingly being held responsible for their entire supply chain on social issues. This will require businesses to comply with voluntary sustainability standards, thoroughly review the sustainable principles of their vendors, and to promote a more thoughtful use of natural resources. (Source: Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, Board of Board CEOs Conference, 2010)

Successful businesses understand that sustainability is more than just what you do. They refer to sustainability as a certain mindset that can be applied to all areas of your business. Sustainability has to be fully aligned with your mission and values, your standards of operational procedures, and your relationships with your employees, customers, and community.

Guest Experience

bisaThe quality of the guest experience is and should be the top priority for any spa decision-makers, but sustainable practices need not be sacrificed in order to deliver. In fact, consumers want to visit spas that are more natural and that use fewer resources. They want to feel they are making a difference while taking care of themselves, not indulging, but receiving holistic self-care while caring for the environment at the same time.

lohasClients have numerous choices and want value for their dollar, and it is up to spas to provide valuable options for customers. Consumers also want to spend money in places aligned with their values. These potential clients are Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) consumers. There is an estimated “$290 billion dollar US marketplace for goods and services focused on health, the environment, social justice, personal development, and sustainable living (2010). Approximately 20 percent of adults (41 million people of the 215 million adults in the US) are considered LOHAS consumers.” This is one in five Americans.

Transparency and authenticity are two additional elements discussed often regarding green business practices, and they affect the guest experience as well. Honesty about business practices is known as transparency. An example of transparency is reporting the actual impacts on the environment. Real, or authentic, practices are what a business truly represents. Honesty in business is respected and valued, and builds trust with conscious (and hopefully repeat) customers.


flowerThe beauty and spa world is all about the five senses. Touch, smell, sight, hearing, and taste buds are all stimulated in an ultimate client experience. Creating the mood and the experience during the service will depend on the menu design as well as the atmosphere. The attention to details in the building design, décor, staff attentiveness, scents/aromatherapy, music and waterfalls, and additional touches such as tea or fruit all influence the atmosphere. Are you creating an atmosphere of health and wellness or a salon full of fun and excitement? The atmosphere reflects what you are offering and this also relates to indoor environmental quality.


abyanggaHealth and wellness focused services are very popular. These services lean toward the green aspects of supporting the client’s well being. Many facilities offer wellness seminars and services such as ayurvedic treatments. This not only cares for clients, but also captures attention and brings in additional business. Clients want real therapeutic benefits from their services beyond the beauty aspects. For example, detoxification and specialty foot treatments are two services that address this need. Wellness services promote a healthy lifestyle.


bali-cultureA sense of place speaks to people. Using local treatments focused on the place, or geographic location, is a popular practice. By promoting the local flavor, the region is highlighted and respected. For example, in the Southwest USA, the Indian spiritual culture and plant ingredients are used in a number of spas. In Bali, the Island culture and tropical plants are used in designing treatments. Using local ingredients such as clays and herbs found in different regions supports the local economy.

Going local also cuts down on shipping costs and fuel. Additionally, buying from local vendors keeps more dollars circulating back into the community. Honoring the local culture and tradition creates interest and distinguishes the unique features of your spa.

Community Connection

communitySpas are a part of their community. They bring people together, make them feel good and healthy, and enrich the quality of life both directly and indirectly for community citizens. Staying connected to the community is an essential piece of running a sustainable and successful spa. There are many ways to connect to a community, and while several are outlined here, the spa staff and leadership should always strive to find new creative opportunities, as it will likely result in enhanced reputation, quality, and new business.

Honoring Sustainable Cultures

Most destination spas are known for honoring and celebrating their local culture. It is natural to blend services, interior design, food, product choices, and other aspects into the “sense of place.” Spas can showcase their local heritage, history and customs. Connecting with the local community helps keep tradition alive and is also great for marketing and branding a spa’s unique image.

Spa Operations


Greening your spa’s laundry is one of the most important tasks you can undertake when working towards more sustainable business practices. Regular laundry methods impact the health of people and the planet in several ways: Laundry uses water, electricity, and a vast amount of chemicals.



According to the EPA billions of pounds of chemicals are used in laundry detergents every year. These chemicals are ultimately released into the environment through wastewater. Wastewater from laundering operations is high in oil, grease, biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), chemical oxygen demand (COD), total suspended solids (TSS), total dissolved solids (TDS), detergents, and surfactants. Most of these chemicals are harmful to the health of people and the planet and leave residues in certified organic fabrics, causing organic linens no longer be considered organic.

Traditional laundry systems use an average of 3 gallons of fresh water to process each pound of linens. The majority of that water needs to be heated. 70-90% of the energy used to operate a washer goes toward heating the water. The more water your washer uses the more energy it takes to heat up the water to the desired temperature. And in most cases this energy comes from non renewable resources.

Sustainable laundry processes have to keep a fine balance between minimizing their negative impact on the environment and people’s health by using eco-friendly laundry detergents and water/energy efficient washers and dryers while keeping operational cost at bay and ensuring highest standards for cleanliness of towels and linens.

Textiles & Linens

Spas rely substantially on the availability of linen, towels, bathrobes, and blankets that feel good, look good, are cooling or warming, and support the health, comfort, and wellbeing of their guests. This means sourcing high-quality textiles that have been manufactured under environmentally friendly conditions using raw materials from sustainable production.

textileThe textile industry, on the other hand, is one of the most polluting industries in terms of solid waste, synthetic chemicals released into the water, and use of hazardous substances.

Each of the manufacturing stages of textile production – making yarn out of fibres, weaving or knitting the fabric, finishing processes including bleaching, dyeing, softening, and the making of garments, carpets, or other household or industrial products – has its own impact on the environment and human health.

The global annual textile production is estimated at 130 billion pounds, requiring 1,074 billion kWh of electricity and between 1.5 to 2.5 trillion gallons of water. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. textile industry is the 5th largest contributor to CO2 emissions in the United States. In the developing world where manufacturing technology is often antiquated the industry’s contribution to CO2 emissions is even greater.


“Green cleaning is the use of cleaning products and practices that have lower environmental impacts and more positive indoor air quality impacts than conventional products and practices.”.


Cleaning is broken down into several broad categories that can and should be addressed by all spas: Equipment, Education, Products, and Procedures. All play a role in ensuring health and safety today while also providing opportunities to evolve and improve as technologies and research continue to develop.


Equipment is an essential part of all the major spa systems. The equipment your spa uses drives efficiency and savings while simultaneously projecting the eco-conscious brand and image you intend. Often, the most sustainable and efficient equipment may seem more expensive, but an early investment in good equipment often has a shorter ROI than expected, and quality products both work better and last longer. Consider this when purchasing.

spaUpfront costs can hinder the decision to invest in items that have an initial cost. Wateraerators and light bulbs are minor costs and these are what is called “low hanging fruit”—the easy inexpensive changes that can be made. These are typically the first of the prioritized actions. On the other hand, it is harder to justify the cost of solar photovoltaic panels because it may take up to 20 years to recapture the upfront costs. Solar thermal hot water systems, however, are a good investment and have a faster payback of about 3–5 years. After that, the hot water cost is minimal for years to come.

To consider only the initial cost of a product, or an entire building for that matter, is a short-sighted approach to acquisition. Many additional factors impact the value beyond the initial cost: efficiency, durability, impact on health, and serviceability. For example, when evaluating the cost of a new HVAC system, it is important to know its efficiency rating so that energy costs can be included in the decision-making process. It is also important to evaluate the seasonal needs of the facility to determine the correct capacity of the system.[1]

The universe of equipment can be approached from many different angles. Regardless of your spa’s needs or budget, you can always seek to improve your equipment use. From renewable energy systems to cleaning supplies, equipment is a major business consideration, and each spa should do its homework. Equipment purchases can also be leveraged to promote suppliers that adopt green products and policies. Establishing organizational purchasing preferences and standards is an additional way your organization can create change.

2Guest and employee productivity and health are affected by material choices and building design. If the staff are not comfortable, they cannot concentrate on their jobs. If the employees are not comfortable, they cannot relax get the most out of their treatments. Working in a place that is beautiful and healthy leads to increased productivity and satisfaction. This leads to a more stable, sustainable, and profitable business.

Cleaning products are a major focus of spa purchasing that affects indoor air quality (IAQ). One thing difficult to get away from in the spa industry is the use of disinfectants for proper decontamination procedures. Make sure proper products and procedures are used in cleaning and disinfecting the facility, equipment, and tools before supplementing them with healthier cleaning products. Purchasing green cleaning products can often be managed without a cost premium. Vendors more frequently offer non-toxic alternatives, and your spa’s purchasing power is an asset in convincing them to do so, if they do not already.

green-productEquipment and product purchases can be leveraged to promote suppliers that adopt green products and policies. To that point, establishing a spa’s own cleaning standards that consider sustainable practices and educate staff and customers alike can be a low-cost measure that has incredible impact related to both cost and conscious consumerism.

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