Green Spa Network and Healing Our Planet

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by Damon Dory-Watson

Many people think the spa and wellness world is all about luxury, and not without warrant—the wellness industry was recently valued at $3.4 trillion globally. A large piece of that pie is only available to those who can afford it. But “spa” is not all grand luxe facials and caviar conditioners.

The heart and soul of this industry resides in a growing number of spa professionals who are true healers eager to aid people and the planet on which we live. Many of them gather at Green Spa Network (GSN) Annual Congress. A transformative experience, this year’s event offered a comprehensive exploration of how the spa and wellness community can heal the planet, heal the communities in which we live and work, and heal ourselves.

Here’s my report.

The world tends to make sense to me more when I look to the natural world for guidance. Driving from the Denver airport to Devil’s Thumb Ranch was like any normal highway drive until we were on winding Route 40 going slowly up and over the Continental Divide. Having never been to Colorado before, it took me a few moments to recognize the brilliant bright-yellow splotches and seams running through the distant mountain greenery. The aspens were in full fall regalia! They stood proud and intensely beautiful— a not-so-subtle reminder that all growth requires being open to change.gsn_hills_with_aspens.jpg

The view from the top of a hike along the Continental Divide.

“Sustainability” efforts by groups like GSN have a similar zeitgeist.  

Green Spa Network represents a growing group of people in the spa and wellness community who increasingly see the importance of sustainable practices to help increase the health and vitality of the planet and the people on it. Soon to reach its ten-year anniversary,  the organization received a Leadership in Sustainability award at the Global Wellness Summit, furthering their place as innovators, inspirers and educators in the spa and wellness community.

The theme of this year’s congress was “Manifesting Vision: the Power of Conscious Collaboration,” and it promised to take a look at how communities can work together to form meaningful and lasting change.

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A pond on the Devils' Thumb Ranch property just before sunset with continental divide rising in the background. 

Healing People...and the Planet

Paul Schmidt, Executive Director of Green Spa Network (visit Wellness Warrior’s  interview to learn more about Paul) shared his vision of sustainability, which deeply resonated with many in the group.

"The definition of sustainability has been defined up until now in a way that separates humans from the natural world,” Schmidt said. When we say the word “nature” it assumes that we are not part of it, but this is simply not the case. Robert Redford and Conservation International gave a beautiful and sobering backdrop to Schmidt’s thoughts. He envisions a future that is focused more on regeneration; on closed-loop systems that generate no waste, just like in a forest ecosystem. He encouraged the audience to accept all of the things that we don’t know about the way we operate with the natural world and ask ourselves how we can better act responsibly as a unique part of the system. For Schmidt it is not about about limiting impact, but what we can add back. 

The spa industry in general has much room for improvement. Spas heat water all day long, operate saunas that draw a huge amount of energy, wash robes, serve bottled water, upkeep facilities to the highest of standards, build new facilities, and more—all have a direct impact on the Earth. And yet we stayed in a living example of how some of these problems can be addressed without compromise: Devil’s Thumb Ranch.

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An interested group of participants on the walking sustainability tour - a part of the program of this years Congress.

The ranch, in many ways, exemplifies the type of spa that belongs at the center of the Green Spa Network. It has a long-term commitment to sustainability, with many of its buildings made out of salvaged/reclaimed materials. Water is treated and recycled, and ground-source heating and cooling keeps buildings at comfortable temperatures. Devil’s Thumb plans on producing 50 percent of their energy on property via the largest privately owned solar array in the state. A sustainable cattle ranch is in the works, and plenty of other “green” operational practices to boot.  

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A crisp and clouded sky above the walkway to our lodging. Note the solar panels in the back right corner.

Devil’s Thumb serves both as a progressive example as well as one that picks some real low-hanging fruit when it comes to lessening the impact of a spa resort’s footprint. Even the easy solutions, however, can only be accomplished by a community that is willing to help promulgate change.

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Dr. Mehrad Nazari and Damon Cory-Watson. 

Healing Our Communities and Our Workplaces

Dr. Mehrad Nazari, author of Enlightened Negotiation: 8 Universal Laws to Connect, Create and Prosperand board member of Conscious Capitalism opened the event with a discussion of his work and how trust, strength, flexibility and communication are vital parts of getting what we want when it comes to making progress. Core to his thesis is the idea that humans are designed to connect and create, hence all forms of negotiation must carry the value of human life at the center. Even when economic and logistical pressures arise, Dr. Nazari assured us that true and lasting progress cannot happen without holding on to his four tenets of negotiation. The talk kicked off the congress in a powerful way, creating an attitude—a space—for making generative and open connections.

Furthering the group's common language on how we can best work together, Dr. Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of The Genius of Opposite: How Introverts and Extroverts Achieve Extraordinary Results Together asked us to embrace our inherent intrapersonal qualities and live and explore those tensions in our working relationships.

How to put these ideas into practice? The most skill-based segment of this congress was the “Green Team” activities: three different segments designed to mimic the process of starting a “green” initiative in our workplaces. The group split into 10 different teams, each with a hypothetical sustainability problem to solve. Facilitator Michael Bruggeman, CEO of OM 4 Men, guided the groups through various team organizational strategies to draft plans and create solutions. We were given time to reflect on group dynamics and the challenges and successes of getting to a decision. Mr. Bruggeman encouraged us all to honor the difficult process and remember, “if you are stuck try something different.”

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From left to right: Damon Cory-Watson, Leya Nicolat, Bill Barczy, Kevin Shields, Gwenn Shimizu, Adar Venyige. 

Healing Our Selves

Mr. Bruggeman’s advice on making progress carried over nicely into portions of the program focused on personal health and wellness—after all, what is a spa conference without some sort of personal well-being and spa-ing? We enjoyed morning hikes, yoga, meditations offered by Dr. Nazari, treatments, and simply living in the crisp mountain air for a few days, with very little cell phone service. It did the body good.

Deborah Fleischer, Founder and President of Green Impact offered two breakout sessions on bringing sustainability practices into the workplace with a specific focus on personal development. One focused on the creative process; how to tap into ways the natural world grabs us and inspires us. We made simple drawings to express these feelings. She encouraged us to let go of our fear of starting or making something “good” and to just “jump in”the creative process. She suggested doing the same activity with employees - creative employees are productive employees who may be more inspired to tackle sustainability issues.  

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Dr. John Doulliard giving the closing talk to the GSN speaker program. 

The final speaker of the day was Dr. John Douillard, DC, CAP, founder and owner of Life Spa and an internationally renowned speaker and practitioner of natural medicine. A brilliant speaker who seamlessly integrates the tenants of modern science with the ancient wisdom of ayurvedic medicine, he instructed us on ways to heal our guts, wash and cleanse our brains and get back to eating seasonally and locally. I’ve personally been following his nasya protocol for the last few weeks and my sinuses have never felt better. Inspired and empowered, we left better able to take care of ourselves as we continue to try and take care of our communities and planet.

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The handcrafted entrance to the Devil's Thumb Ranch wine cellar, made in the traditional wine barrel method, just a whole lot bigger. 

Carrying it All Forward

Often, when we’re visioning a sustainable future for the planet, our community and our personal lives we seek a tangible end-goal, and (perhaps) have the feeling that once a certain benchmark is met, a certain quota is achieved, a certain certification received, we will then just coast along in a carbon neutral utopia.

This, however, was not the sentiment present at the GSN Congress. The work here was focused on the process of understanding sustainability and perhaps realizing that it is not an end-state, but rather an end-state-of-mind.

What does it take then to heal people and planet? An overarching theme of GSN was that we may not have all of the answers, but if we stay committed, stay willing to take risks, and most importantly work together, without too much ego or adherence to the old way of doing things, then we will continue to make real progress toward creating a culture of regeneration and sustainability.

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Sun rising over the brush on our morning hike. 

ALL PHOTOS: by Damon Cory-Watson

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