It’s the word on everyone’s lips – ‘sustainability’ has quickly become an undeniable requirement for the modern hotel. The average guest is no longer likely to ignore unsustainable practices when choosing a hotel, as up to 69% of travellers factor it in when choosing their next holiday destination, according to Deloitte. Being environmentally friendly does not mean potential guests want to compromise on luxury, however; they expect the experience to be all wrapped up into one – and the spa and wellness sector of hospitality is no exception.

For Lucy Brialey, the environment has been a concern since her teenage years. After spending decades in corporate well-being, she returned to the spa environment to a shocking discovery: “Upon returning into the spa environment, I was really surprised at the lack of education on sustainability that had become second nature to me.” As co-founder and director of Sustainable Wellness – previously known as the Sustainable Spa Association – Brialey realised that the wellness sector needed much more than “lip service” but to be a “defined business model rather than a fringe idea or a set of isolated and unmeasured actions”.

“The industry was moving in this direction before the pandemic and this is now becoming one of the biggest focus points for premium destinations as people and [corporations] are prioritising health and resilience,” Brialey explains. “More than 80% of our spa members are part of a hotel or leisure establishment. This has created a wider demand for our services into hotels and international hotel brands.”

Klara Ranggård, hotel manager at Arctic Bath, agrees. “I think that sustainability now has to be within every part of a business. It’s how we move forward into the future, and you can see that clients and guests are becoming more conscious of their choices, [carefully considering] how they and where they consume.”

Keep it local

As someone with a long-standing interest in spa and wellness, with a focus on sustainability and personal development, Ranggård feels made to be in her position at Arctic Bath. With sustainability at its core from the very beginning, Arctic Bath stands out as an alternating frozen and floating hotel on the Lule River in northern Sweden that seamlessly integrates with the surrounding nature.

“Everything from how they built it to how we’re creating a concept is always with sustainability and nature in mind, and to keep things as local as possible,” adds Ranggård. “We tried to make all the building material as sustainable as possible, so we used a lot of local [suppliers].

“We are really showing that it is possible to have a luxury experience without compensating on nature. Sustainability doesn’t need to take away any of the quality of experience.”
Klara Ranggård

“A lot of different locals came together to create all of our buildings and structures and a lot of the material is local as well – we use a lot of the trees that are in the surrounding nature and local area.”

It’s no surprise, then, as a hotel with such strong roots in sustainability, that its spa follows suit.

“We are really showing that it is possible to have a luxury experience without compensating on nature. Sustainability doesn’t need to take away any of the quality of experience,” Ranggård emphasises. This is obvious if you take one look at Arctic Bath and its offering. Located just south of the Arctic Circle, the natural spa offers two dry saunas, one steam sauna, two outdoor Jacuzzis and an open-air cold pool.

They also offer an array of treatments that include julevädno, a mindful sauna experience that takes the guest through three different moments of cleansing, relaxation and clearness as it combines the warmth of the saunas and a dip in the cold waters of the Lule River. “[The cold bath is] one of the main attractions for the guests to do. A lot of them haven’t tried a cold bath before and we get people that have already and are really into it. So, usually they see the cold bath and say, ‘I’m never going to do that’ and then after their stay they always go in two of three times,” explains Ranggård. “That’s very interesting for us to showcase something completely natural but have it as an attraction that the guests really appreciate.”

Combined with its environmental focus, Arctic Bath offers the ultimate natural experience. “Everything we do we try to ask, ‘is this sustainable?’ and if not, ‘how can we do it in a sustainable way?’” Something that Arctic Bath does, that Ranggård points out all companies can get in on too, is look for suppliers and companies that use products that have no chemicals or anything damaging to humans or the environment.

One company that Arctic works with for its spa treatments is c/o Gerd, which uses active substances derived from seed oils extracted from blueberries, cloudberries and lingonberries, and aims to have as minimal impact on the environment as possible. “Sustainability has to have a part in everything that we do now as we are getting more and more aware and conscious of our impact on nature,” Ranggård concludes.

Tip of the (melting) iceberg

If you ask Brialey about the driving force behind sustainability in the spa and wellness sector, it’s the guests we have to give thanks to. “Sustainability is finding a strong path into all sectors but for spa and wellness it has really been a demand from the consumer that has driven most of the awareness in the past of the need to make changes.”

Avoiding single-use packaging and harmful ingredients is only the tip of the problem. For Brialey, at least, the most important thing for helping the environment is realising that it’s up to all to make a difference, as the most damage is caused by believing sustainability is someone else’s responsibility.

“Sustainability is more than caring for the environment, it’s a set of core business values. Therefore, a purpose-driven approach to business is the best route to sustainability. Spa and wellness businesses should embark upon a comprehensive plan with business policies that support sustainable development. This plan should allow a timeline for change, education and revised operating procedures. The planning, auditing and measuring is something that can be to be communicated to all stakeholders.”

Sustainable Wellness has dedicated itself to this. As a social network dedicated to sustainability, it offers expert knowledge, connections and education to all sectors within global hospitality, spa and wellness, and fitness. Sustainable Wellness helps businesses build around the pillars of sustainability: people, planet and prosperity.

“We have a diverse membership of students, therapists, hoteliers, C-Suite hospitality, sustainability professionals, academics, suppliers and consultants who all require full visibility on the level of knowledge to be able to carry the movement forward. They also all require different levels of education and knowledge. The platform allows open communication and allows the community to share and enjoy some of the lighter topics and actions that are taken within a spa and hospitality setting, as well as seeking procurement and asking the more difficult questions.”

Sustainable Wellness, says Brialey, has developed a strong partnership with The Sustainability Group, which own the platform FuturePlus that measures the baseline of sustainability for a business without judgement and allows them to set an ambition. It’s an important aspect, according to Brialey, as it allows businesses to measure what they want to achieve and when, which allows them to create a roadmap and guidance on how to achieve unique company sustainability ambitions with a team of consultants on hand throughout the process.

“At FuturePlus, we feel our partnership with Sustainable Wellness goes to the heart of what we are both trying to achieve. Ensuring that good health and well-being apply to both the planet and to society. We are thrilled to be able to champion this concept alongside the Sustainable Wellness team and to providing accessible, achievable and affordable sustainability solutions to all wellness destinations, large or small,” adds Mike Penrose, co-founder of The Sustainability Group and FuturePlus.

Green thinking

While hotels like Arctic Bath and associations such as Sustainable Wellness indicate a future of seamless wellness and sustainability, the industry is not there yet. As Brialey points out, “The biggest challenge is changing the mindset of all on accepting sustainability as an essential business model. It is still viewed as an option and an expense.”

This runs true for Ranggård too, as she has previously had to compromise her passion for sustainability within the industry. “I’ve always had this interest of spa and wellness and sustainability, so I’m really happy to work with a smaller company where you become almost a community – where we all get involved and have this vision and goal to try to be as sustainable as possible, together.” With 81% of global customers who feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment, Arctic Bath should not be alone in the fight to incorporate environmentally friendly practices with wellness.

The percentage of travellers who factor in sustainability when choosing their next holiday destination.

“I believe the hospitality and wellness sector has the potential to raise the bar above many other industries in leading the way for sustainable development,” adds Brialey. “It is in our blood to care”.