How green are we, really?
And why does it matter?
Today’s beauty consumer is increasingly aware of environmental issues, and seeks a quality spa experience that also respects and cares for the environment. As spa owners and beauty therapists, you are in essence the proprietors of your clients’ well-being and a logical extension of that is the wellness of the community and planet they live in. One of the challenges we face as spa professionals is creating a beautiful salon or spa that offers great, efficacious services while also satisfying the growing ‘green’ movement.
You may think your salon is already environmentally responsible, but how does it stack up against a new international certification? What could you be doing better, to reduce your environmental footprint? Most of all, why should you bother asking ecological questions of your business plan when you work in an industry that is, by nature, water and energy hungry? First, let’s consider why being green matters to us as New Zealanders, first and foremost.
Is New Zealand guilty of Greenwashing?
‘100% Pure’. We have all seen the adverts tempting tourists to New Zealand to experience our clean, pristine environment, and it works. Tourism pumps around $10 billion into our economy every year, and our pure, green branding is a major draw card. Chances are you have dozens of tourists through your business each week because of it.
Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films brought further worldwide attention to our breathtaking scenery, however the international perception of New Zealand as ‘clean and green’ has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. It seems that New Zealand is slipping behind on the ‘green’ race and has even been accused of ‘greenwashing’.
Each year the Yale Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranks countries on performance indicators that cover environmental public health and ecosystem vitality, to see how close countries are to established environmental policy goals. In 2006 New Zealand was ranked first out of 133 countries, but this had slipped to fourteenth by 2012 and our carbon emissions per person are now the fifth highest in the developed world.
Angel Hsu of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy says that the majority of New Zealanders believe their country has better environmental quality than it actually does.
“This perception is further distorted by the ‘100% Pure’ campaign, which is not grounded in real measurement. The result: a deeply ingrained ‘clean and green’ mindset that causes people to turn a blind eye to signs of environmental problems. A study suggested that many New Zealand households are not actively participating in recycling, despite the fact landfills are filling up at an increasing rate.
“From this lack of information comes misperception, from this misperception comes complacency, and from this complacency comes inaction. The government and businesses reap profit from this reputation, while ignoring the impact such complacency may have on New Zealand’s longer-term sustainability. This poses a huge risk for the country – if the ‘clean and green’ image disappears one day through clouds of polluted air and water, so goes with it the very competitive advantage that New Zealand is so reliant upon.”
A 2012 report by not-for-profit business group Pure Advantage highlighted the economic potential of ‘green growth’, which is already estimated to be worth $6 trillion worldwide.
“There is an international ‘green race’ being run. Every country in the world is taking part. It is as inevitable as it is unstoppable. And New Zealand is well placed to lead. What we do next will dictate whether we continue to be on the pace – or be left behind.”
The report also warned that New Zealand risks letting its 100% Pure brand slip, which would see a huge decline in tourist numbers and significant economical costs.
A 2009 article in The Guardian by British environment writer Fred Pearce went as far as to say that New Zealand is guilty of ‘greenwashing’, and trades on increasingly shaky eco-credibility.
“The facts on New Zealand’s environmental status speak for themselves,” says Massey University freshwater ecologist Dr Mike Joy. “We now have the highest proportion of threatened species in the world. Economist Gareth Morgan accurately summed us up recently as “environmental pariahs clinging to resource-depleting practices”.”
Left unchecked, the growing murmurs about New Zealand eco-credibility could have a disastrous impact on our economy. International consumers and tourists are attracted to New Zealand because of the ‘real nature experience’ and have high expectations as a result. Recent research suggests that perceived degradation of our ‘clean and green’ environment would result in consumers purchasing as much as 54 percent less of our products, a loss to our economy of hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Likewise, tourists would likely reduce their stay by up to 79 percent, which could cost the country close to $1 billion a year.
Why is our clean and green reputation so important to tourists? As well as breathtaking scenery and adventure tourism, tourists like to feel that they are part of the sustainability movement, against climate change.
Where it all begins: Climate Change
Human activities such as driving cars, farming, burning coal and cutting down forests produce greenhouse gases – mainly carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, known as ‘emissions’. These gases gather in the atmosphere, wrap around the earth and trap the sun’s heat. The more greenhouse gases we emit, the faster the world’s climate heats up, which is also known as ‘global warming’. As well as an increase in temperature, climate change is likely to bring about extreme events such as floods, storms, cyclones, droughts and landslips. The effects of climate change are already becoming evident worldwide.
Over 4.5 billion years the earth’s climate has naturally fluctuated between being very cold and covered in ice, or very hot. In the past 10,000 years the planet’s climate has become much more stable, leading to flourishing flora and fauna, and the subsequent population explosion of humankind. However, increasing industrialisation and human activity (such as industry, agriculture and transportation) in the most recent 100 years have begun to increase the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere and cause Earth to heat up at an unprecedented rate. According to scientific studies, in the past 650,000 years the planet has never had so much carbon dioxide in its atmosphere as it does today, and the levels are continuing to rise.
Climate scientists expect the Earth’s average temperature will increase by between 1.1 and 6.4°C this century alone. In New Zealand, average temperatures are projected to increase about 1°C by around 2040 and about 2°C by around 2090. These temperature increases will have major economic and social implications, not just in New Zealand but around the world too.
What is being done?
At the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), informally known as the Earth Summit, 185 countries including New Zealand, joined an international treaty called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to consider what could be done to limit global temperature increases and the resulting climate change, and to cope with the inevitable impacts. By 1995, countries realised that emission reductions provisions in the Convention were inadequate and following two years of negotiations, adopted the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol legally binds developed countries to emission reduction targets. The Protocol’s first commitment period started in 2008 and ended in 2012. The second commitment period began on 1 January 2013 and will end in 2020.
New Zealand’s obligation under the Kyoto Protocol was to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels on average over the 2008–2012 commitment period, or take responsibility for any emissions over these levels. A greenhouse gas inventory showed that New Zealand’s total emissions actually increased between 1990 and 2010. New Zealand remains a member of the Kyoto Protocol with all obligations remaining, including an unconditional responsibility target of five percent below 1990 emissions by 2020.
The New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is the system that puts a price on emissions, which creates a financial incentive for businesses to reduce their emissions. Under the ETS, certain sectors are required to acquire and surrender New Zealand Units (NZUs) to account for their direct greenhouse gas emissions or the emissions associated with their products. The purpose of the scheme is to help reduce New Zealand’s emissions to below business-as-usual levels and help New Zealand meet its international obligations under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol.
Most New Zealanders don’t need to participate directly in the scheme, but they may notice a small increase in energy prices as organisations that emit gases pass on their increased costs.
What can you do about it?
Despite all the international action and regulatory programmes, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. As small business owners and individuals, the most important contribution we can make is to understand how day-to-day activities cause emissions and take action to manage and reduce the largest sources of these emissions.
One way to do this is to measure your carbon footprint. A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of the activities of your business, or your daily life. There are numerous websites and companies that can do this for you, including New Zealand company carboNZero. Once you have measured your carbon footprint, you can look at ways to reduce your footprint (more on that below) and because it is impossible to reduce all emissions, programmes like carboNZero help businesses ‘offset’ their unavoidable emissions.
Carbon offsetting involves buying carbon credits that help fund emission-reducing projects such as native forest regeneration or renewable energy generation. Paying for carbon-neutral certification also has the advantage of being able to market your business as ‘carbon neutral’ (with a neutral rather than negative impact on the environment) and gain a competitive edge with environmentally-conscious clients.
How do you reduce your footprint?
There is a lot of information available online on how to reduce your carbon footprint, or make your business ‘greener’, but much of it has little relevance to the spa industry which cannot exist without the consumption of water and energy, nor the production of waste. That said, proper management of resources and waste is essential to reduce the environmental impact of your spa business. It also has the benefit of saving money in the long run. So, where do you begin?
French spa magazine Les Nouvelles Esthetiques asks the following questions of aspiring green spas:
• Are your products continuously reusable, or biodegradable so that, eventually, they replenish the earth?
• What are the social or community benefits gained from the production of your products?
• Are your products really good for consumers and the environment?
• Do you conduct ethical trade?
• Does your business consume resources in a sustainable way?
They go on to list the following attributes that should be incorporated into spa policies.
Attributes of a green spa
• Green spas are committed to reduce harmful practices and exposure to harmful substances and are open to learning, adopting and implementing new environmentally friendly strategies and techniques.
• Green spas strive to conserve natural resources and operate in environments that promote health and well-being. For example, a green spa building will create a healthier and consequently more productive environment to work and provide therapy in. The subsequent benefits are transferred to the experience of the spa guest, adding wellness value to the therapies themselves.
• Green spas adopt energy conservation practices and incorporate fixtures and fittings that comply with such practices. The conservation of energy translates into a reduction in carbon emissions and an overall smaller carbon footprint for the spa.
• Green spas are committed to using materials that can be recycled, follow recycling practices and actively promote waste reduction.
• Green spas incorporate natural or organic skin care products in their therapies and actively encourage their guests to apply this thinking in their personal health regimes at home.
• Green spas promote the well-being of their communities by participating in community projects and contracting with their local communities for the delivery of products and services wherever possible.
• Green spas also share their concern for the planet’s well-being with guests and set ongoing examples of green living and green thinking.
Most salons or spas reside in pre-existing buildings, but there are still things you can do to reduce your environmental impact. Make use of fresh air and natural light where possible to limit the amount of air-conditioning and lighting needed, and conserve energy as a result.
If painting or redecorating, choose building materials that are recycled or certified sustainable, and free from harmful chemicals. You may have heard of low-VOC paint, but do you know what it is? Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are unstable, carbon-containing compounds that readily vaporise into the air and react with other elements to produce ozone. The result is air pollution (that new paint smell) and a host of health issues including breathing problems, headaches and nausea. Although VOC levels are highest during and soon after painting, they continue seeping out for several years. Low-VOC options are better for you, your clients and the environment.
If your salon or spa has a garden, or even a number of indoor plants, consider catching and making use of your ‘grey water’. The rinse cycle of your washing machine can easily be caught and recycled for this purpose. Ask your plumber about how you can reduce the flow rate on your toilet and taps, and if you are installing new toilets or showers choose low-flow showerheads and fixtures with built in flow restriction devices.
Proper waste management is essential. Up to a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year, and there are estimated to be 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square kilometre of ocean in the world. In the last 25 years New Zealanders have increased the amount we throw away by over 70 percent. The issue of waste may seem impossible to surmount, but start by simply reducing the amount of paper, plastic and packaging you use. Consider emailing or texting your clients instead of giving them printed leaflets or cards. Use ceramic dishes instead of paper or plastic. Offer pedicure clients reusable fabric slippers rather than paper ones. Most of all, ask your suppliers what they are doing to reduce the amount of packaging on their products.
Local organisation Qualmark works with tourist destinations to assess and certify relevant businesses according to guidelines for energy efficiency, waste management, conversation activities and water conservation. While the certification criteria isn’t specific to the everyday beauty salon, if your salon or spa is located in a tourist hot spot, the Qualmark Enviro Award may be applicable. Green Globe 21 is another certification option who, most notably in the spa industry, works with Chiva-Som in Thailand.
Internationally, the beauty industry is looking to French organisation Ecocert. Ecocert is an organic certification organisation, founded in France in 1991. Although based in Europe it conducts inspections in over eighty countries. In 2002, Ecocert became the first certification body to develop standards for ‘natural and organic cosmetics’, and in 2012 they launched Being; an organic and ecological spa standard with stringent criteria. The main objective of the standard is to guarantee ‘organic well-being’ based on three fundamental values: well-being, quality and ecology.
“Being is a quality standard,” says Valérie Lemaire, Ecocert Greenlife General Manager. “It’s the only standard that includes requirements for the respect of the planet, as well as for the treatment and service quality, and for the products used and sold by the center.”
As well as offering guidelines on environmental management of the spa, with the ultimate goal of certification, Being aims to ensure transparency for consumers and raise awareness of environmental issues related to the spa industry.
While you may or may not wish to apply for Being certification for your salon or spa, there are a lot of positive actions to be gained from their guidelines. The following is an edited excerpt of the standard criteria. Being criteria is divided into three fields: products (anything purchased, used or sold by the spa establishment), services (standards for any treatment or modality offered by the spa establishment) and site management (any physical or environmental resource used by the spa establishment). For the purpose of this article, the below is a summary of Being guidelines for products and site management only.
Maximise the presence of organic, ecological cosmetics to give clients a quality treatment based on eco-friendly, natural raw materials.
• Clear distinction between certified and non-certified products on the treatment menu or where the products are sold
• At least 10 percent of total cosmetics references are organic.
• At least 20 percent of the total marketed cosmetics references should be natural.
Food and beverage
Maximise the presence of products from local and / or organic farming to reduce environmental impact and offer clients healthier food options.
• All teas or herbal teas served or sold are certified organic.
• At least one food and drink reference served or sold are organic (eg: fruit, pastries, hot drinks, cold drinks, snacks).
• Easy distinction between organic and non-organic products on display.
• Establishment of a local supply plan for products with an annual plan for continuous improvement.
• Any refreshments offered should be locally sourced and supplied where possible.
Detergents, disinfectants and home perfumes
All detergents, disinfectants, air perfumes and candles used in the area are certified organic and / or ecological products.
Replace non-biodegradable disposable plastic products with reusable, compostable or recycled products, including:
• Bin bags should be recyclable and / or compostable.
• Cosmetics provided in showers must be in decanters, no single-doses.
• All self-service cosmetic products (soap, shower gel, shampoo, etc.) are organic or ecological and presented in an environmentally friendly size.
• Cups, glasses, dishes and plates used should be made from recycled material or be biodegradable, reusable (glass, metal, ceramic) or recyclable.
• The use of water fountains should be encouraged and plastic water bottles avoided.
• Disposables used in all protocols (such as hygiene briefs, mob caps, bed protection, disposable footwear) should be made from recycled material or be biodegradable, reusable or recyclable.
• Other paper consumables (printing paper, toilet tissue, paper towels, cardboard bags, etc.) are preferably made from recycled or certified PEFC or FSC.
Maximise the use of organic, recycled or eco-friendly textiles to minimise the environmental impact and to guarantee end consumers’ health and safety, including:
• Client towels and bathrobes.
• Bed sheets, blankets and towels.
• Disposables such as gloves, tissues, bed sheets.
• Disposables such as cotton, wipes, gauzes and sticks.
• Staff uniforms.
The environmental management of a site implies the creation of a team supporting an overall mission: reduction of water and energy consumption, waste reduction and waste management, staff training and public awareness.
Existence of an environmental policy including:
• Appointment of a team or a person to manage the implementation of this policy.
• Definition of the main guidelines for environment, social and ethics.
• Commitment to train staff.
• Commitment to communicate this policy to customers and staff.
• Commitment to the ethical code of the company or group if applicable.
Water and energy
Water resource and energy management including:
• Quarterly monitoring (minimum) of consumptions.
• Balance sheet minimum of annual consumptions.
• Identification of the main items of consumption, axis of control and improvement.
• Awareness and training of personnel.
• Awareness and customer information.
• Installation of water flow reduction devices
• A plan for recovery and recycling of water (storm water, waste water etc)
• Devices / procedures to regulate temperature and time for the heated or air-conditioned zones
• Use of low energy light bulbs
• Awareness and staff training
• Awareness and customer information
The aim must be to reduce and to recycle as much as possible, including:
• Written procedure for sorting / recovery of waste generated by the spa.
• A collection plan for recycling and or waste disposal including plant waste, dry packaging waste (plastic containers, paper and cardboard, metals, glass, textiles), toxic waste (batteries, paints, etc.) used materials and tools, soiled packaging waste, biodegradable organic waste.
• Formalised staff training.
• Formalised communication for customers.
• Monthly review established and compared with previous measurements.
The availability of towels and bathrobes are an essential guarantee of comfort in a spa, but their laundering has a major impact on the environment that must be managed and minimised. Salons should have the following in place:
• Written procedure detailing what is used (detergents, water, temperature, frequency), whether laundry is done in-house or by a subcontractor.
• Staff awareness and training of laundry procedures.
• Products used for laundering should be environmentally friendly or eco-certified.
• Formalised customer awareness about the environmental impact of washing towels and bathrobes.
To view the full Ecocert Being standard, visit http://www.ecocert.com/en/being-certification-program.
The criteria set out by Ecocert Being is incredibly strict and detailed, but don’t let it put you off reassessing the ecological and environmental impact of your spa. Choose one or two areas to focus on in 2014, then another two in 2015 and so on. Be open and clear with your whole team so that they are on board with any changes or expectations you have of them.
It is also important to be realistic when considering essentials such as products. Offering only truly organic products may not be the best option for your business, or your clients. Consider adding a small selection of certified products, or ask your existing distributors for their recommendations. Many brands, though not organic, have commendable sustainable initiatives in place that fly under the public radar.
Unfortunately there aren’t currently guidelines about the labeling of cosmetics and skin care as ‘green’, there are a number of certification bodies worldwide. If in doubt, ask your supplier how and why their products are marketed as green, and look for logos such as Ecocert, FSC, Biogrow or USDA.
“Most of the smaller companies here are already very responsive to the green movement and the bigger companies are starting to get on board too,” says Garth Wyllie of the CTFA. “When it comes to the salon market itself, reduction of harm comes first. Selection of products is important, but just because something is natural doesn’t mean it is a better environmental option than the synthetic alternative. Farmed correctly and sustainably then of course, natural becomes a very viable option but if a product draws down on the environment in an unsustainable way, there have to be question marks.”
Wyllie also highlights the need for planning ahead. “As well as efficiency with water, energy and lighting, salons need to consider whether they order enough product and store ahead to reduce the need for last minute, small deliveries which have a bigger environmental impact.”
It’s not just about our own education either. At the 2013 Sustainable Cosmetics Summit in Paris, Amarjit Sahota, president of Organic Monitor suggested that consumers don’t know enough about sustainability issues. “The challenge here is that we can do all these good practices to be sustainable and reduce our carbon and water footprints, but we need to communicate this effectively to the consumer.”
Reporting on the Summit, Andrew McDougall of Cosmetics Design Europe suggests that the focus needs to be directed at the consumer and how to educate them on sustainability, given that almost 60 percent of emissions come from the consumer’s use of the products rather than from their production.
“Consumers need to understand the values of minimising waste, reducing water, and recycling, as well as being educated as to the other areas surrounding sustainability to ensure the right things are being done.”
Consider making your journey to sustainability public by writing about it on your facebook page, or in your spa newsletter, so that your clients can understand and appreciate the changes you are making. Being ‘green’ is not just about our impact on the environment, it makes our clients feel good too.
Is your spa proudly ‘green’? We would love to hear from you!