Eco-spa 2020

At the sixth annual Green Spa Network Congress, 125 industry leaders came together to map out a planet-friendly spa of the future – Eco-spa 2020. Michael Stusser shares their vision.
Last September, inside a recycled Civil War-era barn made with hand-hewn timbers and warmed by geothermal heating, 125 talented leaders from the worldwide spa industry gathered at Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash, Colorado. The LEED Silver- certified facility proved an ideal meeting ground for the sixth annual congress of the Green Spa Network (GSN). Situated in the Rocky Mountains, the dramatic site offered a compelling visual metaphor for the goals of congress: to create plans for an planet-friendly spa of the future – namely Eco-spa 2020.

The event was produced with significant support from sustainable carpet firm Interface, which provided speakers. It also worked alongside GSN board members Michael Bruggeman, from product house Organic Male, and Tara Grodjesk, of education and product company Tara Spa Therapy, to organize everything.
On the first morning, attendees were divided into ‘tribes’ of eight. Over the three days they worked together – both diligently and playfully – to design a new world of spa. Eco-spa 2020 evolved through extensive meetings between keynote speakers, themed lunch conversations and breakout sessions. Slowly, ideas about what future spas should stand for and offer emerged. Potential obstacles and issues they might face were also discussed.

Giving back

This stimulating gathering of like-minded spa professionals generated a consensus about the importance of having a larger cause and ideas for giving back to the communities. Eco-spa 2020, they decided, should provide guests with a higher level of learning to encourage good health. Spas of the future could help people to effectively manage stress beyond the treatment room and provide a deeper level of understanding about good diet. They could also serve as shining examples of how water and energy conservation can be elegant without detracting from the spa experience.

Inspired by nature

Biomimicry is a term used to explain the concept of innovation reflected in nature and a presentation by Bryony Schwan, executive director of the Biomimicry 3.8 Institute, provided inspiration for the Eco-spa 2020 concepts. Suggested designs were filled with examples of passive cooling and heating, natural light, solar heating and energy production and extensive recycling systems. Clearly, there’s a need for future spa designs to connect more with nature.l’s Thumb Ranch hosted the event

Water works

As the work of the tribes deepened, common themes emerged, with water being a core issue. Every element of how water is obtained, treated and recycled or disposed of was examined.
Future spas should filter out chlorine which can dry out the skin and lead to many other health issues. Eliminating all plastic bottled water was a goal every spa, including those which are already open, should strive to achieve without delay.
Ideas for using water to enhance the spa experience were also explored. Eco-spa 2020 designs included systems which spray guests with negative ion mist to invigorate and enliven them, as well as alkaline drinking water which is believed to supercharge the immune system.

Get gardening

Nearly universal to all future spa plans was a substantial, organic garden that could supply fresh, wholesome vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers. An increasingly intimate connection with nature and a more profound understanding of the advantages to growing some of our own food will become an essential element
of our future. Spas are optimal places to demonstrate and model how to tend the health of the soil and grow food. Why not host a weekly farmers’ market?


In a breakout session Patty Field, spa director at The Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa in the US, presented findings from a four-week trial in which she replaced conventional cleaning products with e-cloth – a microfiber cloth designed to remove grease and dirt by just using water. Field discovered that the e-cloth performed better than conventional chemical-laden products and no paper towels were needed. It also involved less effort, which led to a reduction in work hours. She estimated that it saved a remarkable $400 a month in total. In addition, staff were healthier (less coughing and asthma) because of the elimination of chemicals.

Root source

The ingredients in beauty products were highlighted as a big cause for concern and something that will impact all new spas. In Europe, 1,300 ingredients used in personal care and beauty products have already been prohibited under the EU Cosmetics Directive because studies have shown them to be harmful. Meanwhile, in the US, the Code of Federal Regulations relating to cosmetics and personal care products (21 CFR parts 250-700) has banned or restricted 11 potentially harmful drugs. Operators down the line will be facing enormous changes in the products they offer and how they’re sourced.
Jody Villecco, quality standards coordinator for natural retailer Whole Foods shared details of her company’s strict standards on sourcing bodycare products that are high-grade, safe and that have minimal environmental impact.
In addition, Elizabeth Candelario, the co-director of sustainable farming association Demeter, gave insights on the difference between biodynamic and organic farming. She also talked tribes through her company’s eco-standards for personal care products.

Breathe easy

Almost every Eco-spa 2020 proposal had an essential part of its offering dedicated to the importance of supporting people to slow down, become aware of their breath and to become fully mindful.
Numerous ideas were presented
with regard to creating a meditative environment and providing a substantive meditative experience. The tribes felt that breath awareness and mindfulness practice in spas are an essential part
of wellness and that clients should be encouraged to “let go of the story.”

Access all areas

A prime area of concern was the expense and exclusivity of the high-end spa experiences in the industry. Future designs were set up to be more inclusive, to address the health needs of communities more directly and to offer affordable options.
Participants saw spas becoming more socially orientated venues with a welcome mat for families and their children. Floor plans featured a central social instead of an entrance area and reception desk: a comfortable environment to relax between, before or after treatments, or a place simply for soaking up healing energies. Spas didn’t have steps, instead they had
an all-ramp design to make them more easily accessible to disabled users. Special reach-out programs and access would be given to the underserved such as older adults and people with cancer.
New models for spas were envisioned such as: non-profit, co-ops of complementary practitioners offering community support; integration in hospitals, especially in rehab and cancer centers; and crisis center alliances with services aligned to support, heal, and educate.

Customized services

In several groups, a lively discussion focused on moving away from menu-based services to a offering tailored treatments according to a guest’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs. A saliva test was suggested as a means to determine pH and other markers. This could then be used to select the most suitable treatments to rebalance body chemistry.

Gut reaction

John Dolliard, an ayurvedic practitioner from Boulder, Colorado, spoke about the emerging knowledge on the microbiome: the universe of bacteria that lives inside and on the surface of our body. It’s estimated that 40lb of body weight consists
of bacteria. The major concentration is located in our gut, where 90 per cent of our serotonin is produced. We process stress in the digestive track – when we’re anxious or upset, for example, good bacteria die and other bacterial activities actually alter our genetic code. Microbiology affects neurotransmitters, which make us calm and determine what we think, see and feel. Hello enzyme bath!
As spas shift from being primarily indulgent places of escape into places
of engagement, this kind of knowledge will become a foundation for supporting lasting transformations. As part of this change, the expansion of diet and nutrition programs can include awareness of gut health and its connection to the brain and improved immunity.

2014 congress

The conference concluded on a high note, with hope for a more ecologically benevolent future. Plans are now in full swing for the 2014 GSN congress which will be held in New Mexico on 21-24 September.
GSN is a non-profit organization. The people behind it are motivated by heart and because they care – about reaching and helping more people, about sustainability and about the very concept of spa.


On the closing night, winners for the second annual GSN Sustainability Awards were announced:

– Innovative New Green Product – Balanced Guru

– Green Building – Proximity Hotel

Leadership in Safe Cosmetics – Lisa Sykes

– Green Product Company of the Year – Naturopathica

– Excellence in Sustainable Programs – Sundance Resort

– EcoCulinary Healthy Leadership – Rancho La Puerta

– Holistic Wellness Center – LifeSpa

Sustainable Day Spa of the Year – Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary

Sustainable Corporate Spa of the Year – Auberge Resorts

Sustainable Resort Spa of the Year – Rancho Valencia

Visionary Leadership – Ute Leube (Primavera and Amala)

Lifetime Sustainability – Deborah Szekely and Horst Rechelbacher


Michael Stusser is a founding member of the Green Spa Network, which was formed in 2005 and now has 150 members worldwide. He’s also the founder of the eco-friendly Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary in California.

Reprinted from an article in Spa Business 2014 HANDBOOK, the global resource for spa professionals

The Leisure Media Company Ltd. Web: