NATIONAL REPORT—Operating a spa in an environmentally responsible manner requires a lot more than using natural personal care products. Yes, offering such treatments is smart and provides a competitive advantage, but it is just a small part of running a “green” operation. How you manage water, lighting, heating and cooling, cleaning, purchasing, and even cooking is much more important. What those who have implemented green programs have discovered is that they need not sacrifice luxury—or profits—for sustainability.
To compete with leaders such as Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, El Monte Sagrado Living Resort & Spa and others that operate green spas, you need leaders to drive the initiatives, team concepts in place to get buy-in from staff, and investors willing to invest in the short term in order to enjoy the long-term benefits of being resource-efficient.
The road toward sustainability need not be a bumpy one if you already have a road map. For the Fairmont Sonoma Mission & Spa in Sonoma, Calif., its road map is Fairmont Hotels & Resorts’ 150-page Green Partnership Guide. Established in 1990, the guide shows hotel and spa operators how to reach environmental goals.
Michelle Heston, Regional Director of Public Relations for Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, says being green means being financially savvy and willing to listen to suggestions.
“We have participation from every department,” Heston says. “Some of our best initiatives come from our Green Team. We also learn from what other Fairmonts have done.”
Natural Water Heating
Fairmont’s Willow Springs Spa at its Sonoma property was built on a site with natural thermal hot springs. It is one of the only luxury spa resorts in the United States with its own source of thermal mineral water. Two wells draw the 135-degree water to the spa. It is then filtered and naturally cooled to a warm temperature. Because the water is heated naturally, energy is saved. The thermal water heating process is just one of many environmental initiatives at the 4,000-square-foot spa that conducts 45,000 treatments a year.
Last December, the Fairmont property completed an extensive lighting retrofit. It replaced 4,440 bulbs with energy efficient fluorescent ones. As a result, the Inn & Spa has saved more than 203,000 kilowatt hours of energy and projects an annual cost savings of $61,000. Fairmont took advantage of a California Public Utilities Commission rebate which reduced the cost of the retrofit from $65,000 to about $11,000. The hotel recovered its investment in just two months.
In addition to saving money through energy-efficient heating and lighting, Fairmont Sonoma employees recycle items such as cardboard, plastic and paper. Massage oil containers are recycled, as well as the packaging that products are delivered in. Recycling containers are located throughout the property, including the spa’s treatment rooms and public area.
To save water, aerators and water-efficient toilets and showerheads are used. All of the landscaping on the property is either indigenous or requires low-water usage. Spa treatment ingredients are organic and massage oil for one treatment is made by a local manufacturer in Napa Valley. The oil includes grape seeds discarded by area wineries.
Local, Organic Food Products
According to David Erlich, Regional Director of Spa Operations, Western U.S. and Hawaii for Fairmont, The Spa Café features local and organic products.
“We have an executive chef on board,” Erlich says. “He spent three months doing nothing but interviewing local vendors. The goal of that initiative is to minimize shipping and purchasing costs.”
Buying local ensures that the local economy remains strong. In fact, Erlich says, sometimes the Fairmont Sonoma is a farm’s only client.
“A farmer will pick greens in the morning and they are served here later in the day,” he says. “It is a little more costly to do business but customers understand it. It is not a hard sell at all.”
Six years ago, the spa had more than $12 million in renovations. That upgrade, Erlich says, allowed it to “flex more muscle in the green world.”
“We have gotten great response from the regional market,” Heston says. “Travelers are making purchasing decisions based on the green initiatives of our company. Consumers want to continue their green practices when they are traveling.”
To educate guests about the Inn & Spa’s efforts, brochures describing its environmental philosophy are placed in each guestroom. A quarterly activities guide describes the natural treatment options available.
Two states east of the Fairmont Sonoma Mission & Spa, the El Monte Sagrado Living Resort & Spa in Taos, New Mexico, also uses the Earth’s resources to help heat and cool its 36 casitas and suites. According to Sierra Shore-Vorel, Spa Programs Director, a series of pipes that reach 200 feet into the ground below the property’s driveway carry water used in a geothermal system.
“Guests are able to control room temperature very easily,” Shore-Vorel says. “It functions very well.”
Using the Power of the Sun
Solar lighting lines paths around the Resort & Spa and solar panels on the roof of the main building supply 5 percent of the property’s energy needs. Natural lighting is used as much as possible in the spa that features nine treatment rooms.
Even though the El Monte Sagrado Living Resort & Spa is located at 7,500 feet in elevation in a high desert environment, water is abundant on the property. It is run through the walls and under the floor of the treatment rooms to keep the rooms cool and to raise the humidity level. Where possible, water is recycled and used for landscaping.
The most innovative and unique part of the complex is what is called “The Living Machine.” Water and even waste sewage generated onsite is collected in holding tanks and then released into an area where water-based plants filter it. It eventually gets pushed into a wetlands area where it can be used again for irrigation. Rainwater also is collected and becomes part of the system. The Living Machine is the heart of a Biolarium, a greenhouse and botanical garden that serves as a demonstration area for educating guests about responsible water-use issues.
The four-year-old Resort & Spa offers only natural treatments with no preservatives. Signature treatments are built around local products. Recycling bins are located in all guestrooms and guests are given the option of having their towels and linens washed each day.
“We use aluminum guest amenity containers that are recyclable,” Shore-Vorel says. “We also recycle magazines, newspapers and plastic.”
Just as the Fairmont Sonoma Mission & Spa purchases as much food as it can locally, so too does the El Monte Sagrado Living Resort & Spa. Even organic yak is on the menu. A small organic garden on resort grounds produces flowers and vegetables.
“The connection with our guests is tremendous,” Shore-Vorel says. “Luxury travelers want to go to a place where they feel better enjoying luxury. They are looking to be enlightened. From a marketing standpoint, it is tremendous. We serve as a model of what can be done to lessen one’s footprint.”
The Fairmont Sonoma Mission & Spa and El Monte Sagrado Living Resort & Spa have both discovered that going green is very good for business—and the environment as well.
This article first appeared in the July issue of Pulse, the magazine of the International SPA Assn.
Glenn Hasek can be reached at email@example.com.