Washington, D.C.’s Nusta Spa is the world’s first spa awarded the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Commercial Interiors Gold Certification. The spa’s creation was inspired by a 2002 trip to Peru’s ancient Incan ruins, Machu Picchu. Elizabeth Snowdon, the spa’s founder, envisioned a spa that combined aesthetics with environmental responsibility and sustainability.
After consulting Envision Design, an architectural and sustainable design firm, Snowdon realized that “everything could be done sustainable, without compromising on looks.”
Envision Design’s founding principal, Kendall Wilson, has spearheaded such notable projects as the headquarters for Greenpeace and the Environmental Defense Fund, and his firm was involved in every aspect of Nusta Spa’s creation.
LEED, created by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), is a rating system designed to define and measure the standard for commercial green building. Since 1999 more than 20,000 architects, engineers, building-science consultants and builders have been certified as LEED-accredited professionals by the USGBC. The LEED standard has been adopted nationwide by federal agencies, state and local governments, and interested private companies as the guideline for sustainable commercial building.
In Nusta Spa’s case, the transformation of the 5,000-squarefoot, ground-floor space began with the careful sorting and separation of demolition debris destined for a landfill. The former tenant’s kitchen equipment was donated to a nonprofit organization. The ceiling tile was reused in another renovation project. Doors and light fixtures headed for the Loading Dock, a nonprofit materials-reuse warehouse in Baltimore.
Care was taken in selecting materials for their environmental impact, as well. Snowdon’s partition wall, for example, is built out of wood salvaged from the oak beams of an old barn in rural Pennsylvania, while the maple flooring is from a sustainable forest. Recycled-content materials were specified throughout the project, from flooring to ceiling tile. The spa’s furniture selections were based on the respective manufacturers’ use of recycled content and total corporate environmental commitment. The locker doors were made from bamboo with a short harvest cycle.
Natural lighting was a major component of the design process. The spa features three treatment rooms with natural light (and four without), as well as occupancy sensors and dimmer switches.
Snowdon considers one of the greatest design features at Nusta Spa to be something you can’t see: superior indoor air quality. “It’s important to make a spa healthy for clients,” she says. “But for employees to breathe really great air all day, that’s big.” Her goal was achieved through a total redesign of the original HVAC system and the detailed selection of materials. The existing system was replaced with a stand-alone unit featuring multiple fan-coil units served by a dedicated chilled-water system. The new system, combined with electric heat and air filters that remove more than three times as many particles as standard filters, also allows for temperature controls in each room. Eco-friendly paints, adhesives, sealants, mastics and floor finishes, along with the use of biodegradable laundry detergent, nontoxic cleaning products and non-chlorine bleach, improve the spa’s indoor air quality.
Nusta Spa sets an admirable example, and the average spa or massage practice can also achieve environmentally responsible, sustainable goals through the selection of building materials, installation of energy-efficient appliances, product choice, and indoor environmental quality strategies.

Richard Zimmerman is a co-author of the City of Scottsdale, Arizona’s Scottsdale Green Building Program and author of www.E-Frog.com, a resource directory of energy-efficient building materials. Contact rz@E-Frog.com to receive a GreenSpa evaluation checklist.