For the Spa Industry, Reducing Water Use is an Important Step to Sustainability
by Jamison Stoike

In August of this year, The New York Times ran a story with the headline “A Quarter of Humanity Faces Looming Water Crises.” Around the world, seventeen countries face “extremely high water stress.” As climate change makes seasonal weather patterns more erratic, groundwater levels are fluctuating more and more, including in the United States. Many of the areas that are hotbeds for spas—California, the American Southwest, Florida, Greece, Thailand, Spain—are experiencing medium, high or extremely high levels of water stress.

Spa has always—and likely always will—use large amounts of water. According to legend, spa is acronym of sanitas per aquam, Latin for “health through water.” While this is likely a myth, the concept of spa grew out of traditions stretching back millennia involving the curative power of water. Even in today’s spas, where massage takes center stage, water—whether a full aqua-therapy suite or a simple steam room—is still a prominent aspect of the spa-going experience.

Yet spas owe it to themselves, their customers and the earth to investigate every possible avenue for environmental sustainability, including reducing water use. Although it may
seem difficult, simple steps to reduce water use are within reach for all spas, from day spas to destination spas.

Use Your Space Creatively

With ever-more frequent wildfires and extended periods of drought, California is perhaps the epicenter of water scarcity in the United States. Spas located in the state have a heightened awareness of water as a precious resource, striving to conserve it any way that they can. Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary, situated near the Pacific coast in Sonoma County, has taken a comprehensive approach to conserving water, especially for a day spa—albeit one that’s located on five acres of creek-side land.

“We’re part of a very small community, so we’re constantly reminded of our impact on its total water availability,” says Thor Holm, general manager of Osmosis Day Spa
Sanctuary. As a result, Osmosis has long made water conservation part of its broader commitment to sustainability.

The most impressive aspect of Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary’s commitment to water conservation was the creation of its constructed wetlands and greywater system. taking advantage of the available
land, the wetlands naturally filter greywater—in essence, ‘gently used’ yet non-potable water—from the spa’s sinks and showers. This cleaned water is then used for irrigation of the spa’s
large flower garden and Japanese meditation garden, saving Osmosis “nearly a thousand gallons of water per day,” according to Holm. the wetlands were the first of their kind in Sonoma County.

The Scarlet, a hotel and spa in Newquay, England, has similarly taken advantage of the natural—and artificial—space that it has. The top of the hotel is a green roof made of sea thrift, a naturally occurring plant in the region. Utilizing a native plant limits the amount of necessary irrigation; when they do have to irrigate the roof, they do so with collected rainwater and greywater recycled from the property’s showers and baths. The greywater is also used to flush toilets and rinse “salty wetsuits and muddy outdoor kit,” says Tania Clark, sustainability specialist for the Scarlet. The Scarlet’s grounds are also landscaped with native plants that require little water. Sympathetic planting—also known as companion planting—was employed to naturally control pests, reduce dependence on irrigation and limit fertilizer use.

Although the Scarlet isn’t in an area facing water scarcity, the spa and hotel have prioritized water conservation for many of the same reasons as Osmosis
Day Spa Sanctuary. “It’s one of the lesser-thought-about initiatives,” Clark says, “because people think that we have plenty of it” due to 70 percent of the earth being covered with water. However, as clark notes, “only about two percent is freshwater.” The spa’s coastal location has only made this disparity even more apparent.

Know Your Spa

Not everyone is able to build their own water-filtering wetlands, and Holm realizes this. However, he offered a number of tips for reducing water use that are within reach for any kind of spa, even a day spa located in a strip mall or commercial area. “the first step is to monitor,” says Holm, “and once you’ve gotten some data around usage, you can begin to implement changes.” One important aspect of monitoring is to watch for leaks; see if your water meter is running even when your spa isn’t open. If it is, there’s likely a leaky pipe or faucet. Correcting any leaks or drips is the easiest and quickest way to reduce water use.

Switching to low-flow fixtures is both easy to do and easy to track. At Osmosis, every shower utilizes a low-flow
head. Although this brings extra upfront cost, Holm notes that its been “a good investment for us” because it has lowered the spa’s water bill. Osmosis also partners with an outside
laundry vendor. Although this has environmental costs of its own, “taking some of the burden away” from the tiny town’s water supply more than outweighs those costs.

Like Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary, the Scarlet uses low-flow, aerating faucets and showerheads to reduce water use without sacrificing water pressure, and its sensor-equipped faucets turn on and off automatically.

Subtle Changes with Big Results

Holm also suggests thinking carefully about how products can affect water usage. Previously, when guests exited Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary’s
signature cedar enzyme baths, they brushed off the cedar residue with a brush. Recently, osmosis switched to using Supracor scrubbing mitts, which Holm says “removes more of the material before they get into the shower.” This reduces the amount of time spent in the shower; plus, guests are allowed to take the mitt into the shower with them. Holm actually tested and verified this, too—the reported time that members spent in the shower has been reduced by over a minute since the switch. Guests at the Scarlet use sarongs when appropriate, because “they take up less room in the washing machine and dry quicker,” says Clark, which reduces the spa’s water and energy use.

Encouraging guests to leave products on their skin, rather than showering them off, is another way that products can affect water use. “All of the products we use are organic, and we encourage guests to keep them on and not wash them off whenever possible,” Holm comments. This simultaneously enhances the guest’s benefits while decreasing water use. Likewise, Osmosis switched to a waterless seaweed treatment from Naturopathica. Unlike a traditional seaweed treatment that requires a shower, this treatment is designed to be massaged into the body and left on.

A clear and consistent policy, as well as guest education, can help reduce water use by making spa-goers more conscious of conservation. Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary’s website features a sustainability policy, and most guests who visit the spa do so in part because of this commitment. However, Holm notes that it’s critical to be willing to stick to your guns: although most
guests appreciate the water conservation efforts, “there are people who aren’t going to like this, and we’re okay with that. It’s important to know what your mission is.”

A Drop in the Bucket? Hardly.

It’s not always possible to make big changes, such as constructing a green roof or water-filtering wetlands. Yet, both Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary and the Scarlet emphasize that small
changes—switching to low-flow fixtures, educating guests on water conservation, evaluating the water use of your products and treatments—can make a big impact on overall water usage.

With increasing levels of water stress worldwide, any change made to conserve water is a positive step towards alleviating one of the world’s most pressing climate issues, and— given spa’s reliance on water—an important step towards preserving the idea of spa for future generations.

SPOTLIGHT: Creating Waterless Protocols

If you’re an ISPA resource partner, you can still play a part in reducing water use by developing waterless treatment protocols.

Eminence Organic Skin Care’s recently-launched Stone Crop Body Collection features waterless protocols for every product in the line. This accomplishes two
things, according to Eminence’s International Trainer, Brian Goodwin: first, it “makes it as easy as possible for all categories” of spas to offer the treatments, regardless of whether or not they have wet treatment rooms. Second, says Goodwin, is that “eco-conscious spas and their guests are looking for ways to limit excess water usage.” Further, water use is reduced in two ways—in addition to using no water during the treatment, guests no longer need to use towels. This reduces laundry quantity and water use on the back-end.

Vivian Valenty, president of Dazzle Dry, adds that there are inherent benefits to using waterless protocols: they require less time spent cleaning up, require no expensive plumbing and often take up less space. Valenty further pointed out benefits specific to waterless pedicure procedures, such as making callus reduction easier and increased safety for diabetic patients.

The benefits of waterless protocols can help your product stand out in a crowded marketplace, but it can be difficult to develop a product that performs well without water. However, both Valenty and Goodwin agreed that any difficulties are surmountable and that the demand from spas makes it essential to find solutions. Nearly half of spas offering the Stone Crop Body Collection are using the waterless protocol, and Valenty says that approximately a quarter of its spa partners offer waterless nail treatments. With spa-goers shopping for sustainability, it should come as no surprise that waterless protocols are a boon to a resource partner’s business.