Green Spa Network Conference Takes Root

Rianna Riego

Once a year, a very special group of spa professionals choose to convene and collaborate towards raising the awareness of sustainability in our industry.  This year, against a majestic backdrop of fall foliage and a snow-capped mountain range, Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort hosted the annual congress of the Green Spa Network with almost 70 people in attendance from as far as Ireland and South Africa.  A magical rainbow greeted the GSN Board at their first morning hike to Stewart Falls, and the full harvest moon provided the perfect setting for chairlift rides to the top of the mountain. No surprise that by the end of the conference, everyone left with a feeling of renewal and a sense of greater purpose.

Sundance Resort GM Chad Linebaugh welcomed delegates with the story of Sundance and their sustainability efforts.  The 3rd oldest ski resort in the country recycles 84 tons (168K lbs) of waste a year, purchases 90% of their food items from locally grown sources within 50 miles of the resort, and founded the glass recycling program for the entire area.  Artisan glass blowers from Mexico handcraft plates, bowls, and glassware for the resort… all made from the recycled materials.

David Oakey of David Oakey Designs, whose client is Interface, GSN’s newest Sustainability Circle Sponsor and the world’s largest producer of contract commercial carpet, challenged everyone with hard facts: 100 acres of forests destroyed, 70 million tons of toxic chemicals released into the air, 86 million barrels of oil wasted, 25K people died of starvation (17K of them children) in the last 24 hours (  His mantra: Reject, Reduce, Recycle, Renew, Redesign.  As a designer and a strong proponent of Biomimicry, he emphasizes the importance of nature’s design principles & efficiencies: after all, 16 billion worth of energy escapes thru holes or cracks from poor design; 17 million gallons of fuel is spilt during lawn care (almost 3X the 6.2 million for the Exxon Valdez).   Lawns cover 20 million acres of land, twice the size of Pennsylvania.

Green Spa Members also shared some of their sustainability efforts.  The Westin Riverfront uses Ozone Infusion and Gray Water Reclamation. Vygenhoek Spa in South Africa practices the 4 Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle, and says NO to disposables.  Portico/Under the Canopy enlightened delegates about conventional cotton, the leading cause of agricultural air pollution.  Although it only makes up 3% of the world’s agriculture, it uses more than 25% of the world’s pesticides. 

Closer to home, Marti Morenings, Founder of Universal Companies (one of GSN’s Sustainability Circle Sponsors) shared her path towards the cause.  Like any great leader, she read up on corporate America’s efforts towards environmental responsibility and found so many cases: Nike’s elimination of PVCs and its reduction of the use of 95% of its chemical solvents; Visa’s Green Card, which pays off the planet in the form of carbon offsets. If you charge a $300 airline ticket that generates 2,000 pounds of CO2, Visa will make sure that 46 trees are planted to offset your carbon footprint.  Turns out that Green Card holders use it 3X more than their other CC’s because they feel good about using it.

Fascinated with business heroes like the late Ray Anderson, visionary and founder of Interface who changed his business model to become one of the first companies to recycle carpet waste, Ray proved beyond any doubt that what was good for the environment was also good for the financial growth of his company. He was able to cut the company’s use of fossil fuels by 45%, its contribution to landfills by 80%, and the company now uses 1/3 the amount of water in its manufacturing process, yet sales are up 49%. ‘Sustainability’, Ray would often say, “doesn’t cost – it pays in the form of customer loyalty, employee spirit and hard cash.”

Hence, Universal’s path towards sustainability began…  A distributor of over 5000 products with a customer base of over 28K spa professionals, it made sense for them to lead the charge and set the bar for earth-friendly products.  Soon enough, suppliers stepped up to the challenge and in the last 4 years, those that did experienced the most growth.

Another by-product of Marti’s inspiration is Eco-Logical Energy Systems, which to date has installed a dozen wind turbines, several solar PV systems, and one geothermal system.  Even more important, is their social responsibility and the outreach to the community by creating awareness thru education and assistance.

Armed with all this information barely 24 hours into the conference, attendees were filled with a sense of purpose – to create a vital planet with vital people.  This year’s theme, “Taking Root: Making a Difference for the Planet and your Bottom Line”, set the intention for the planting of a young black spruce tree on the grounds of Sundance on the last morning of the Congress.  The tree planting ceremony was followed by the release of a Great Horned Owl from the local wildlife refuge symbolizing hope and the infinite potential of such a worthy cause.  I was humbled and grateful to be part of this unique gathering.  And I look forward to experiencing many more with my friends at the Green Spa Network.

GSN Board on their hike to Stewart Falls



Wasatch Mountain Range


Congress attendees getting ready for a full moon lift ride



Literally taking root! Ceremonial tree planting at Sundance Resort


Release of a great horned owl from the local wildlife refuge, symbolizing hope and the infinite potential of such a worthy cause


Stewart Falls

7 Responses to “Green Spa Network Conference Takes Root”

  1. Lisa Michaelis Says:

    Visit Lisa Michaelis

    Sounds like an inspiring and amazing experience. Would love to go next year!

  2. Mike Bruggeman Says:

    Visit Mike Bruggeman

    Well said Rianna! It was a magical week! Anyone interested in participating in GSN should check out the GSN web site:, or feel free to ask me. Each of our efforts, not matter how seemingly insignificant, make an impact!!

  3. Tara Grodjesk Says:

    Visit Tara Grodjesk

    great capture of GSN Congress. the photos help to highlight the events. Loved this story and reminded me, after coming back and facing all my day to day responsibilities….how wonderful it was to be a part of the GSN experience at Sundance!

  4. Shelley Lotz Says:

    Visit Shelley Lotz

    Excellent recap! It was truly an amazing and fun experience!

  5. Rhana Pytell Says:

    Visit Rhana Pytell

    Beautiful summary Rianna. Thank you for sharing the highlights from the congress!

    We must share the shocking statistics reported by David Oakey.

  6. Angie Day Says:

    Visit Angie Day

    Thank you for the update and hats off to you and the team for your efforts in raising awareness of sustainability in our industry.

  7. Katie Hess Says:

    Visit Katie Hess

    Beautifully written, Rianna! It was unforgettable; can’t wait for next year already! ; )

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>