GSN Planet held its "Sustainability by Design" webinar on Dec. 7, 2023, where a panel of experts discussed the ways in which spas can use their design and decor to connect guests to nature.
The panel was moderated by GSN Planet Sponsorship Chair and CEO of Haia, Michael Bruggeman, and the panelists were:
- Charne le Roux, founder of Greenspa.Africa and GSN Planet Sustainability Committee Chair
- Clodagh, founder and CEO of Clodagh Design
- Jared Pickard, founder of Be Here Farm + Nature
- Jennifer Walsh, nature and wellness expert
- Lynn Curry, principal of Curry Spa Consulting and GSN Planet Board Director
- Noel Asmar, president and CEO of Noel Asmar Group
Together, they covered a wealth of topics, from natural materials to incorporating "bad" weather into wellness programs. Here are four key takeaways.
1. Use Natural Light and Materials
Le Roux brought up a major problem for many spas: older buildings that don't have enough fresh air, as well as newer buildings that have closed or no windows. The lack of natural light and air can make guests and staff feel unwell, often resulting in absenteeism.
Spas need an external view, according to Le Roux. You want it to be open so you can listen to nature outside. In addition, she pointed out that the orientation to the sun is important:
"Building orientation allows optimal use of solar heat and natural light while also taking into account weather patterns that might affect the functioning of the building. Utilizing natural light reduces energy consumption and certainly has a positive impact on people in the building. We rely on natural light to manage our daily rhythms. Our bodies are naturally programmed to function on a cycle that matches the solar day."
So, using natural light and natural materials in spa design is crucial. According to Clodagh, people need to be connected to the earth's energy. In addition to creating naturally lit spaces where devices are not allowed, she emphasized that spas should incorporate air-cleaning plants, feng shui and bio-geometry to help ground guests and celebrate their senses.
"When you walk into a space that has been designed, it should give you a hug," said Clodagh.
2. Get Guests Outside
Curry noted that communal spaces in nature are a great way to generate revenue while remaining as sustainable as possible. For example, soaking in natural hot springs or a large outdoor sauna (with windows, of course) deliver a completely relaxing nature experience for guests while driving business for the spa. Charging a fee to use these amenities ensures more revenue even when all your rooms are occupied.
"You should use the outdoors—push everything outside! Even when the weather isn't great, you can use heat lamps or misters," advised Curry.
Speaking of which...
3. Embrace Any Weather
Walsh quipped that, "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes!" We shouldn't fear the cold and rain, she said; going outside in those kinds of weather is actually important for our well-being.
Cloadagh added that, in fact, running to an outdoor hot tub in chilly weather generates laughter! Such moments are great conversation starters, but the space should be designed so people will use it the right way, like walking safely through the snow to a sauna, for instance.
Snow immersions are another way to take advantage of "bad" weather. At Mohonk Mountain House, staff members encourage guests to be present in the moment during a snow immersion, rather than worry about being comfortable.
4. Don't Forget Staff Spaces
It's just as important to care for your staff, emphasized Curry, who recommended designing your back of house so the team has the capability to relax and contribute to, say, the spa's recycling program. Such communal spaces matter for employees because lonliness and isolation are health concerns for pretty much everyone.
Clodagh suggested that you "treat staff like your favorite children," while Le Roux pointed out that they cannot properly do their jobs if they are feeling unwell: "Some spas have staff members eating lunch in a laundry room. How are they supposed to transfer wellness to clients when they are not experiencing it themselves?"