Spa Management: Water Conservation

Foster a culture of conscious water conservation at your day spa—and watch your bottom line run deeper.

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An utterly “dry” day spa is pretty difficult to imagine. From the moment your guests enter, water is typically central to their spa experience. After all, the word “spa” originated as an acronym for salus per agua—“health by water” in Latin. Most day spas serve guests water and tea. And then of course, there are the pools and steam rooms, not to mention Vichy showers, soaks, nail services, scrubs—the water applications at most spas are endless.

But while many of us take access to H20 for granted in the United States—due largely to the fact that it’s so inexpensive here—water is becoming increasingly scarce in many parts of the world and, in the not-too-distant future, is expected to become far more costly. The May 2012 documentary, Last Call at the Oasis, recently explored this eventuality. The film observes how many countries of the world, including our own, are nonchalantly using mass quantities of water, and offers this haunting prediction: “[Just] like an overdrawn bank account approaching zero, we will soon see the consequences… of this behavior.”

Spa owners and managers would be wise to heed this heads-up. It’s now “go time” for uncovering solutions to provide guests with the benefits of water in ways that use this precious resource more responsibly and efficiently. To start, business owners need to foster working environments that prioritize water conservation. By doing so, your team, vendors and even clients will become more H20-conscious.

“You must first engage your staff in forming a strong, sustainable intention for your organization,” explains Michael Stusser, owner of Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary in Freestone, California, and founder of the Green Spa Network. “Create an environmental policy statement and post it to your website. Ours discusses every step we’ve taken to conserve, why we’re doing so and how we’ll continue to address each area of concern.”

A Top-Down Approach

Publicizing your mission is a great first step, but creating or modifying any aspect of corporate culture—whether it concerns water, a company’s ideals or anything else—is no simple task. Most often, this culture evolves over time as an organization gains a clearer understanding of its values, brand message and target clientele. And even then, a corporate culture is not so tangible—it may be discussed in a company manual, but the real culture of an organization is often hidden somewhere between those written lines, and typically comes to light only over time.

In any case, creating a definitive and effective culture of water conservation starts at the top. Meaning, your spa’s owners and managers must make the executive decision that your facility is going to use water more carefully and sparingly wherever possible. Once this decision is made, implementing the program requires a key leader, as well as the active assistance of all those working in the facility. After all, spa practitioners and attendants are often most aware of where water is being used, and best equipped to discern where it can be better managed.

Conservation initiatives work well when one person, a designated “water monitor” (think: a dedicated manager, full-time front desk staffer and/or knowledgeable concierge) guides the program. He or she should spearhead initiatives and remain diligently responsible for keeping track of how water is being used (and misused) via comprehensive logs and/or graphs, and collect suggestions as to where and how it can be saved. The water monitor should hold monthly or quarterly meetings with staffers to provide updates regarding all conservation initiatives.

In addition, water monitors should prominently post information regarding water costs and expenditures—in the form of graphs and imagery—in staff common areas. These visual aids serve as powerful, constant reminders for employees to use water wisely and to stay on the lookout for improvement measures. They’ll also make the water program a focal point at your spa.

Whenever anyone on staff offers a helpful suggestion (for example, incorporating waterless manis into the service menu) or takes steps to help reduce water consumption (say, by reusing soak water to irrigate your facility’s plants), that person should be honored publicly, and the details of their actions put on display. You may also want to consider an incentive system for staffers to boost your efforts. Consider offering individuals comped treatments or product in exchange for workable ideas, or treating your entire staff to a special dinner once monthly water bills dip below your goal point.

And of course, remember to publicize your water-conserving culture in your marketing materials! Study after study indicates that those companies focused on environmental stewardship—especially through energy and water conservation efforts—are rewarded with increased customer loyalty.

“Our clients are thrilled about our environmental efforts,” Stusser reports. “According to guest surveys, it makes them feel really good about coming to our spa.”

Study after study indicates that those companies focused on environmental stewardship—especially through energy and water conservation efforts—are rewarded with increased customer loyalty.

Practical Steps

In addition to creating and building your spa’s culture of water conservation (a more long-term undertaking) there are certain pragmatic water-saving measures to conserve water that you can instate right away.

One of the first should include ensuring that spa pools, hot tubs and showers are properly maintained. Set up an ongoing maintenance program, which typically requires less than an hour’s worth of labor per day, to ensure pools’ proper chemical balance, acceptable pH levels and compliance with health code regulations. Assign a regular staffer to this task and invest in some aqua test strips. What does doing so have to do with water conservation? Proper maintenance greatly reduces those instances in which pools and tubs need to be emptied and refilled!*

Other simple steps include the following:

• Selecting sensor-controlled faucets. Studies indicate that these fixtures can reduce water consumption by as much as 30%, as water is turned on only when needed, and shuts off as soon as the user walks away. Considering that the standard faucet uses about 2.2 gallons of water per minute, cutting even seconds’ worth of running time use can result in significant savings.
• Installing low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators wherever possible. Don’t believe any of the bad hype—while many early systems reduced water flow so significantly that clients were unhappy using them, more recent models have been met with great user satisfaction.
• Fixing plumbing leaks as soon as they are detected. This is one of the many instances in which procrastination costs you—and Mother Nature—by the second.
• Switching to dual-flush toilets. These systems release a relatively small amount of water to flush away liquid waste, and can therefore conserve hundreds of gallons per day.
• Installing waterless urinals. To deal with California’s chronic water shortages, some of the newest and most fashionable hotels in Beverly Hills have installed no-water or waterless urinals. Savings of up to 40,000 gallons of water per unit, per year, have been reported.
• Irrigating vegetation with “grey water.” Grey water from sinks may look dirty, but in many cases, it is a safe and even beneficial source of plant irrigation. Some super sustainable spas, including Stusser’s, have even constructed wetlands to collect rainwater for use in treatments and showers. “The water is naturally filtered via beds of gravel filled with plants that cleanse it of contaminants,” Stusser explains.

The objective of spa water programs is not only to save water, but also to firmly instill a culture of water conservation to ensure long-term, continuing improvements. Keep in mind, when these initiatives are first instituted, people tend to be a bit stymied as to which water-conserving steps they can take. But once your program is in place, it takes on a life of its own—new and unexpected ways to reduce water consumption will become not only commonplace, but a way of life in your spa.

“The most important thing is to start somewhere,” Stusser reminds. “Gradually, you’ll gain momentum.”

Once your program is in place, it takes on a life of its own—new and unexpected ways to reduce water consumption will become not only commonplace, but a way of life in your spa.

Klaus Reichardt is the founder and CEO of Waterless Co., Inc. He is also a frequent speaker on water conservation issues, and can be reached at klaus@waterless.com.