Spa-Sustainable Growth—How the Green Spa Network is Changing the Spa Industry

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Yosemite National Park served as the majestic backdrop for the 8th Annual Green Spa Network Annual CongressPhoto: Damon Cory-Watson

The word “industry” often rolls off the tongues of environmentalists with disdain. The very concept of manufacturing goods and services can seem antithetical to maintaining natural systems. Yet there are some industries that lead the way in striking a better balance. Within the spa industry (from "destination spas" to day spas and all of the thousands of suppliers and service providers to both) we find a group of people who are working diligently to extend to the whole planet the healing environment that they create for their clients. Green Spa Network (GSN) galvanizes these businesses and organizations into a strong community dedicated to shifting the world of spa towards sustainability. For many in this group, understanding how to make change within the industry is an effort closely allied with exploring our connection with the natural world. Grand inspiration is born when personal reflection and community building are combined. This inspiration was ever-present at the 8th Annual GSN Congress last week in Yosemite National Park.

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GSN Congress Day 1: Group Hike (from left to right) Rachel Haxlett, Marketing Director at Osmosis Day Spa; Damon Cory-Watson, Director of Development at Wellness Warrior; Michael Stusser, Founder of Osmosis Day Spa and Founding Member of of Green Spa Network; Laurie Berry, Educator and trainer at Body Bliss; and Kristi Konieczny, Founder The Spa Buzz + The Spa Bus

Green Spa Network started almost ten years ago when a small group of dedicated individuals in the spa industry vowed to address their companies' environmental impact. (According to GSN's driving force—Michael Stusser of Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary in Freestone, California—the impetus to create GSN stemmed from a speech Wellness Warrior founder Deborah Szekely gave years ago at an International Spa Association convention. She called on the industry to embrace sustainability by doing far more than the usual hospitality-industry "we're green" claims and practices that didn't go much beyond trying to do less laundry by asking guests to reuse their towels and sheets.) The organization has grown to include over 900 member businesses and individuals connected to the spa world: a testament to the industry's desire to foster positive change via GSN’s message to promote the vital connections between personal well-being, economic sustainability, and the health of our planet. It’s a bold mission—very much focused on the process of discovering how deep sustainability can go.

As Executive Director Paul Schmidt described in an earlier Wellness Warrior interview, exploring sustainability is an ever-changing conversation. The program at this year’s GSN Congress not only allowed ample time and space to discuss best practices, it also elicited a deep level of reflection on how participants can tap into their values about creating a healthier planet--and operate their businesses and organizations in accordance.

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Things are looking up! Pre-conference hikers explore the Valley’s “verticality” while keeping both feet on the ground. Photo: Robert Parish

It was fitting that the event took place in one of the U.S.’s most monumental and dramatic national parks, Yosemite. To experience first hand the theme of the Congress ("Moving Mountains: The Strength to Change"), many attendees went on a hiking tour of Yosemite Valley on the day before the indoors program. The morning of the tour, a testament to the sheer awe of Yosemite’s primary spot amongst geological marvels occurred when the bus-full of colleagues and friends--all abuzz with conversation and their first cups of coffee—fell silent at their first glimpse of the Valley from Tunnel View:

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The Yosemite Valley view from tunnel entrance. Photo: Damon Cory-Watson

Simultaneously resonating with the expansiveness of the valley and feeling our own insignificance, we breathed a collective breath of fortification: the day promised to be dramatic and wonderful. It was. And much of the experience was facilitated by the knowledgeable and affable Ranger Shirley Spencer, who quickly became a favorite of all present.  Explaining the flora and fauna of the ground floor of Yosemite as well as geological history, Ranger Shirley brought the tour deeply into the heart of the park, both figuratively and literally. Walking next to Half Dome, dwarfed by the glaciated mass of rock above us, it was hard not to feel an almost cozy hug from the mountains' majesty.

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On the northwestern side of Half Dome in the early afternoon. Photo: Damon Cory-Watson

To help the group find words to describe the experience, Ranger Shirley ended the tour with a quotation from Yosemite's champion, John Muir:

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunlight into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares drop off like autumn leaves.”

The connection we felt with the environment was palpable. Alive with this kind of energy and intention, we knew the 8th Annual GSN Congress had the potential to be a fantastic experience.

The thread of feeling big, then small, then large again—going inward for self-reflection and outward for community engagement--carried throughout. Keynote speaker and workshop leader Simon Robinson, author of Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, shared the concept of bringing a type of “wholeness” into businesses that goes beyond the traditional discussion of sustainability to address the human aspects of everyday life. He made deep and meaningful observations of how systemic positive change can enter any workplace.

Facilitator Larry Prochazka balanced group discussions, personal reflection and his own anecdotes from a lifetime of travel to maintain the collective experience. Well-planned, organized and executed by Jessica Gilden, Tessa Kienow, Tara Grodjesk, Kelley Filbin, and Kate Sornson, the program danced between whole group lectures, small group workshops and informational breakout sections, giving a dynamic and balanced feel throughout. Participants discussed ideas inspired by presenters or their own personal musings and inquiries. It was an active and vibrant community affair where innovation and connections fired like synapses. As Executive Director Paul Schmidt explained in his opening remarks, this was one of the main intentions of the gathering:

We are all beginners and experts at the same time and in our own ways.  And while it is sometimes tempting to lead from a place of authority and try to tell you what to do to be more sustainable, we know that could never work.  That would be like engineering a crop of square tomatoes to reduce packaging.  Rather, we are here to hold the space for YOU to be supported, fulfilled, and empowered to live in balance and abundance.  We offer you the journey of Congress as one way we can all come together and be reminded of why we’re doing all this spa stuff in the first place.”

I was not alone at the Congress in feeling the juxtaposition of a deep level of expertise among the participants with all the learning still needed (again, there’s that theme of feeling big and small). The GSN community is filled with an impressive array of environmental innovators—in the spa industry or ANY industry. GSN honored their work on the last night during a “Green Carpet Awards Dinner” hosted by the GSN’s own "Tina Fey and Amy Poehler:" Lisa Jacobs and Ilana Moses. Eight awards were given by a panel of judges wielding extensive experience in the spa and sustainability world:  

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Recipients of the Tara Grodjesk Dedicated Contributor Award (left to right); Rona Berg, Editor, Organic Spa Magazine; Tessa Kienow, Ready Care Industries; Lisa Sykes, Universal Companies; Shelley Lotz, Vios Spa Group. Photo: Robert Parish

To read more about the awards, check out GSN's Press Release explaining the outcomes of the night. The accolades belonging to the GSN community extend well beyond these eight awards. Over the next several weeks, Wellness Warrior will be following up with the many “Warriors” we met at Congress to highlight their good work.

We all can be as big as mountains in our dreams and actions, while remaining small and humble when compared to the power and magnificence of the environment. By working together, learning from one another, listening to ourselves, marveling at the natural world, and integrating these lessons into our lives, our organizations and our businesses can make positive changes towards a more sustainable world.

This was the message of the 8th Annual GSN Congress. It’s an exciting task for such a large industry to take on, and we look forward to GSN’s continued work.

Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson 

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