Spas go green
Many spas are making a concerted effort to impart "green," or environmentally sound, strategies to help conserve the Earth's rapidly dwindling natural resources and improve the health of the planet.

Such strategies include renovating with environmentally friendly building materials; conserving energy with smart or solar lighting; implementing water-reclamation areas and organic kitchens; using organic product lines; supporting local agriculture; and installing non-chemically-treated carpeting and furniture.

Loma Alexander, a massage therapist and spa director of Napa Valley's Harvest Inn Resort in Napa, California, is co-founder of a new program founded to discourage wasteful habits and inspire sustainability. Healing the Waters was inspired by an impassioned speech given by Deborah Szekely, co-founder of the Golden Door and Rancha la Puerta spas, during 2002's ISPA conference. The Rancho la Puerta resort and spa in Tecata, Mexico, has been run with green principles for the past 64 years.

Healing the Waters

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"I left that conference knowing there is a lot of good intentions, but no one who would bring it together," says Alexander. After the conference, she contacted spa consultant and massage therapist Larry Dean and the two founded Healing the Waters.

According to Dean, the project's goals are in sync with the spa industry. "We saw that the waters of the world are in great jeopardy," he says, "and since the spa industry has traditionally been the keepers of the sacred sites of healing, it was natural for the industry to take on healing the waters."

The group, which has 12 active members, prepared a panel presentation for ISPA's 2004 conference in November 2004. "Hopefully next year we will be more fully organized as a resource network for the entire spa industry," Alexander says.

And what better industry to soothe, nurture and replenish Mother Earth than the one whose constant goal is to heal individuals, one client at a time?

One green spa model can be found on display at Thomas Worrell Jr.'s El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and Spa in Taos, New Mexico. Approximately $500,000 has been invested in a complex water-recycling and purification system, known as the Living Machine.

The Living Machine, which is open to guests during tours, has been designed to allow filtered wastewater through a pool rich with fish, plant roots and other natural, breathing cleansers. Treated water is showcased in Biolarium Spaces, luscious botanical gardens that harmoniously integrate architecture and ecology.

Spa Director Amy McDonald explains the resort's ecological philosophy. "The name - Living Resort and Spa - reflects all the tropical plant life inside the spa," she explains. "The floor has water flowing throughout the spa, we use radiant heat and no air conditioning." The resort is heated by the circulating warm water and in hotter months the interior is cooled by water walls found throughout the spa, including in each treatment room.

"The whole philosophy is to show people it's possible to develop and live comfortably without damaging the environment," Worrell adds.

At several spas, green practices are already in place. For example, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts has set high ecological standards since 1990, through its Green Partnership Program. Its Willow Stream spas encourage waste management, water and energy conservation, and sustainability worldwide, according to spokesperson Lori Holland. And the Four Seasons resort in Santa Barbara makes a concerted effort to use indigenous, locally grown and cultivated products for spa and restaurant usage—for example, only locally harvested avocado, citrus and lavender are used by the spa, says spokesperson Rodney Gould. Using locally produced products is considered a green practice as it uses less packaging and ozone-depleting chemicals in its transportation.

Richard Zimmerman, editor of the environmental publishing firm of AZ Sunshine Publishers, Inc., has great faith in the future of green partnerships worldwide. He is on ISPA's board of directors and is leading its task force on greening the spa industry." He, too, was moved by Szekely's speech.

"Before then, people were doing individual things but there was never a global perspective on it," he says. "[The speech] served as a catalyst to more discussions on greening."
- Naomi Serviss