As consumers’ demand for green and sustainable products and services grows, so do the incidents of greenwashing. These are environmental claims by businesses about their products or services that are misleading, confusing or simply irrelevant. Members of the public simply no longer trust sustainability related marketing claims. Many also view promotions which purport to support the environment as a one time opportunity to win publicity for the business concerned. The spa and wellness industry is no exception to this heightened level of sceptism and increasingly relies on third party certification of their products. Such certification set clear standards and provide complete transparency, allowing consumers to search for products with confidence that the products are what they say they are.
A number of organic and natural certification agencies already operate worldwide and many of them have become well-known as associated with local and imported spa brands in South Africa. The best known certification programs include the Soil Association (United Kingdom), BDIH (Germany), USDA (United States of America) and Ecocert (France). Until recently, the certification agencies have only certified spa products and not spa services or even the spa business as a whole.
It is with much excitement, therefore, that Ecocert announced the first certification program introducing guidelines for the certification of spa facilities and services in November 2012. Ecocert is a trusted brand in South Africa and was first established in France in 1992 to inspect and certifiy organic farming processes. The Ecocert South Africa office eventually opened in 2004 and today seems to be the favourite certification agency for local spa products.
Ecocert calls its new spa certification label Being – Organic and Ecological Spa
Certification is available on two levels. At level 1, all categories of spas and also beauty salons are evaluated by the application of 50 criteria in the following categories:
- spa products, which will not only include an evaluation of the sustainability of the cosmetic products, but also the meals, cleaning products, textiles and consumables used in the spa;
- spa services, which includes an examination of staff competence, treatment protocols and the comfort and global well-being of the spa guests; and
- environmental management, where it is expected that the spa should have an environmental management policy in place dealing with water and energy use, the reduction and treatment of waste and the maintenance of equipment.
Ecocert’s Being – Excellence label is awarded to those spas who meet additional sustainability criteria.
The Ecocert spa certification process commences with a self-evaluation program whereafter further issues are addressed through an Ecocert training program and, if appropriate, certification is issued. Certification is subject to an annual audit. The Ecocert program is currently only available in the French region and two well known spas there, namely Melvita Spa in Paris and Thalasso Marin de Carnac, in Britanny are currently in the process of being certified.
There are, it should be noted, other green certification programs available to spas, but these have not been developed exclusively for spas and probably do not take account of the unique spa business model and spa processes. These programs include Green Globe and Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (FTTSA).
FTTSA endorses fair and responsible tourism practices in this country and certification is based on compliance with specific criteria centered on fair wages, fair working conditions, fair distribution of benefits, ethical business practices and respect for human rights, culture and the environment. An example of what FTTSA will look for in order to certify a spa, would be whether it approaches procurement in a way that supports the local community and small business suppliers of goods and services. Does the spa invest in the upliftment of its community by offering education on health and wellness? This could be in the form of workshops or teaching local residents about the possible commercial application of organically grown or locally manufactured cosmetic ingredients. Compliance with national labour standards is, of course, compulsory and appropriate human resources policies should be in place, particularly those on recruitment and selection, discipline and grievance, performance management, incentives and the like.
Green Globe audits and certifies the sustainability practices of travel and tourism establishments and also their supplier businesses. It has a global network of independent auditors and, in sub-Saharan Africa, partners with Heritage Environmental Management Company. Green Globe’s certification program was developed in line with the guidelines set by the Mohonk Agreement for international sustainable tourism certification programs. Some of the larger Green Globe certified properties in South Africa include Riverside Sun Resort, Sandton Sun Hotel, the Inter-Continental Sandton Towers, Cape Grace Hotel and Beacon Island Resort. Most of these properties recently received top awards for their excellence in responsible tourism, in the categories ranging from energy conservation, water and waste management and social involvement. These awards to local businesses demonstrate not only that the requirement for certification extends to South Africa as much as elsewhere, but also that we have the expertise and environment to bring the best in wellness to the international tourism market.
Consumers are expecting spas and their wellness partners to raise the bar and so they should commit, in a transparent way, to sustainable business practices through third party certification. It is through this commitment that the spa will make a real and lasting investment in its business.
Charne Le Roux