Another San Francisco spa, scheduled to open this year, is redefining the concept of the ancient bathhouse experience—which required a close look with regard to water usage. Explains the aptly named Nell Waters, founder of SOAK, “Our immediate question was, how can we address what’s historically been an opulent use of natural resources? How can we reinvent the experience and size it down? And, how off-the-grid could we build?”
Waters’ challenge: to buck the convention of spas being massive consumers of energy and water and consider 21st-century values of conservation instead. To achieve a smaller “water footprint”, she tested sustainable concepts such as gray water filtration, which routes used water through piping and sends it to the spa’s “urban meadow” for watering. She also calculated that 25% to 40% of the water needed for SOAK can be harvested from rainwater, then filtered, thanks to catchers attached to the roofs of the shipping containers that form her compound.
“The issue isn’t filtering the water but rather, the capacity—how much can you store?” Waters points out. “Some cutting-edge spas are even using gray and black water to provide irrigation for their cities.”
Although Waters isn’t sure that technology is moving fast enough, she feels that modern showers can cut water use in half, and that any water used should be reused where possible. Modvellum spa’s owner Tolve gives her water a second life on a smaller scale, using the water caught underneath hot towel cabinets to water plants in the facility. “Even the distilled water in our treatment rooms, next to the steamers, goes into one receptacle that’s shared among staff,” says Tolve. “Because staff have to leave the room to refill the steamer, they don’t leave it running unnecessarily.”
Osmosis, long a leader in environmental sustainability, has an on-site filter that removes excess minerals and chlorine from water and converts it to mountain spring quality, according to Stusser. The water is served in reusable ceramic cups instead of disposables. Also, offering showers sans chlorine helps avoid drying effects on skin. The filtering unit cost $5,000 when it was installed in 2006, but with what the spa has saved on bottled water, it paid for itself in only six months!