Spa Management: Green-Centric Hiring Practices

As today’s clients grow increasingly eco-conscious, it’s crucial to employ pros who can carry through your spa’s green initiatives—and further reduce its carbon footprint.

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A spa owner can conserve water, source local ingredients, and construct with recycled materials to her heart’s content, but ultimately, a spa is only as environmentally friendly as its staff. So it goes without saying that at devoted green spas, the hiring process is critical. To provide some perspective, four notable green spa owners from across the country have weighed in on how they recruit and select new employees to maintain top-notch green workplaces.

Putting Out the Call

For eco-savvy spa owners, the hiring process begins with baiting a targeted applicant pool. Although Scott Kerschbaumer, co-owner of Pittsburgh’s EsSpa Kozmetika Organic Skincare, doesn’t exactly list adopting a “green lifestyle” as a requirement in his job description, he does reference his business’ membership with the Green Spa Network, as well as some responsible practices in place at the spa. “We’ve learned that this attracts a very distinct candidate who might otherwise not apply,” Kerschbaumer says. “Specifically, the environmentally conscious.”

Similarly, Ayde Mendibles, owner of Body del Sol Spa in Fresno, California, makes mention of her business’ status as Central Valley’s first “green” medical spa in all of the spa’s “Want” ads. Not only does this pique the interests of the “right kinds of people,”she says, but it often prompts job seekers to ask Mendibles specific questions about the spa’s green practices—“A conversation I’m more than happy
to have,” she concludes.

And then there’s always a simple, grassroots approach. Cynthea Hausman, owner of Burlington, Vermont’s Cynthea Spa, avoids job postings altogether. “I love to seek friends of friends first,” she says. “It’s taken time to cultivate the community in our spa, so whenever we have an opening, I go to my staff first to see whether they know of someone who might be a good fit.” To expand her pool of candidates, Hausman also posts announcements to her social media accounts, all of which she says boast sizable followings of young professionals who are already familiar with her spa and brand. By relegating the process to a smaller, selective circle, Hausman feels more confident she’ll unearth eco-friendly candidates.

Cici Coffee, founder of Natural Body Spa & Shop, with several locations in the Atlanta area, prefers to recruit from trusted, environmentally minded establishments. For Coffee, this typically means turning to the nearby Atlanta School of Massage, which embeds green education into its curriculum. “I know these candidates are already going to have an understanding of ways to green the spa environment,” Coffee says. “It was part of their coursework, so it’s not an area where we’re going to have to start from scratch.” She also recommends this approach—researching the business philosophies of local schools and professional organizations—to those spa owners seeking to greenify their businesses, noting that she knows of graduates who have introduced cutting-edge environmental practices to their employers.

A “Natural” Interview

Though recruitment methods are crucial to attracting the right applicants, the experts we surveyed agreed that the job interview is where the real decisions must be made. Mendibles attempts to gauge interviewees’ environmental knowledge via general questions. For instance, “I ask candidates if they know what ‘being green’ means,” she says. It’s not intended to function as a deal-breaker, however: “While some people can provide a detailed response, others admit to having limited understanding, which is fine with me as long as they indicate a desire to learn more, to engage in that conversation.”

Others take a less direct approach and wait for candidates to bring up the topic on their own. The operating theory is that since they are applying to a green business, they should be prepared to emphasize environmental practices—their own as well as the spa’s.

“Considering that the word ‘organic’ is in the name of my business,” Kerschbaumer says, “it would be pretty foolish not to try to demonstrate some eco knowledge during an interview. In fact, most often, the potential employee brings up the issue and will ask many more green-oriented questions than we ask them.” Of course, Kerschbaumer adds that savvy and professional candidates will indicate that they practice a sustainable lifestyle, and that they admire what the business stands for.

There’s definitely a thin line concerning legal questions, however. While it may be useful to know whether an applicant recycles in his or her personal life, Hausman avoids broaching such subjects because of hiring laws. “I’m not really allowed to ask questions about what they do at home,” she says. Instead, she uses Cynthea Spa’s Farm-to-Spa program—Hausman’s effort to employ ingredients from neighboring family farms in the spa’s treatments as a means to reduce the spa’s usage of gas and packaging while supporting the local agricultural economy—as a litmus test of sorts. “If they don’t show a spark during this discussion and jump on board right away,” Hausman says, “then I can tell they’re not the right fit for us.”

Coffee relies upon instinct when deliberating between applicants. “You can really feel when eco-sustainability is something that someone truly believes versus when they’re spinning rhetoric just to get hired.” Though she often uses context clues to assess candidates’ green IQ—such as the way they dress or, say, a parenthetical reference to organic gardening—it is not at all necessary to directly bring up the subject. “We look for someone with a certain kind of ‘mojo’—someone who just cares about people,” Coffee says. “Around 80% of the time, people who care about people care about the environment, too.”

Somewhat surprisingly, our experts agreed that ultimately, the best applicants do not necessarily reveal themselves by demonstrating eco-savvy. Kerschbaumer’s top priority throughout the hiring process is mining professional candidates. Having encountered a number of “green” employees who do not show up for work on time or clean up after themselves, he values a “concrete work ethic” above being green or even, in some cases, having spa experience.

Eco-Training

While Mendibles considers it a perk to have someone with prior green knowledge, the fact that Body del Sol is also a med spa means that her foremost requirement is to recruit professionals with medical experience. Rather than seeing this as a downside, Mendibles embraces the challenge of turning environmental greenhorns into green advocates. “Part of the fun is opening up the green world to our employees,” she says. “My staff adapts very well to our earth-friendly habits. They become second nature, and staffers always end up carrying them over into their homes.”

Spreading environmental ideals is an aspect of most green business owners’ overarching goals, and introducing new hires to sustainable practices gets them one step closer. In the end, quality employees are going to ascribe to their bosses’ established procedures regardless of their own levels of eco-consciousness. This is, after all, what training is for.

As Coffee explains, even the most green-savvy recruits need a solid training program. “No matter how much they recycle and conserve energy at home, they almost certainly do not know all of the behind-the-scenes environmental details of our spas,” she says. “For instance, our facilities are constructed from recycled, post-consumer building materials, our floors are crafted from recycled school bus tires, and our menus are printed on recycled paper with soy ink”
Coffee requires her employees to memorize all of such aspects, not only so they can highlight them to clients, but also because Natural Body’s LEED certification requires all staffers to be “transparent environmental educators.”

For Kerschbaumer, green training is a more “organic” process. Rather than burdening his staff with 100 environmental practices from the onset, a tactic he says tends to overwhelm even his greenest hires, he puts them on an eco-friendly path. “The philosophy is, you do what you can when you can do it, and what you’re comfortable doing at the time,” he says. “As you go along, you learn from more senior staffers and build up to doing more things.”

This transition mirrors the hopes that many smart spa owners harbor concerning their businesses: to become increasingly green over time. By hiring the right blend of people—not exclusively staunch environmental activists, but also dedicated types who are eager to learn and grow—spa pros can work together to find creative solutions that both expand business and reduce carbon footprints.