Treading Lightly

We often read about our carbon footprint, or that of a business or product. How is a carbon footprint measured, and what does this mean for spas?

A carbon footprint is a practical measure of the impact that particular activities have on the environment and, in particular, on climate change. It also relates to the generation of greenhouse gases which in effect insulate our planet (as in a green house) and prevents heat from escaping into the outer atmosphere, thereby gradually heating the surface of the planet further. This increasing surface temperature is playing havoc with global climatic conditions, in particular causing ice caps and glaciers to melt, increased ocean temperatures and various severe weather anomalies.

Greenhouse gases are produced largely by industrial activity, but their prevalence also echo modern human activities. Electricity generation, through the burning of fossil fuels, is perhaps one of the biggest culprits, followed closely by exhaust emissions from millions of internal combustion engines in trucks, aircraft, motor cars, ie the whole transportation industry. Other industrial processes that may seem insignificant on a local scale, but nonetheless contribute significantly to greenhouse gas output into the atmosphere, include manufacturing, agriculture, storage, recycling and waste disposal.


A carbon footprint is expressed in equivalent tons of either Carbon or CO2 (1000kg of CO2 equals 270kg of Carbon) and would typically be the release in weight of either substance into the atmosphere, having been released as a solid from the earth.

Almost any choice made in business today, will impose a Green Dilemma, that of the business itself increasing its carbon footprint vs. the “greenness” (if at all) of the product which that business sells.

Consider a sustainable spa situated in a remote country location.

Whilst the building and products offered by it may be substantially green, a significant portion of these benefits is negated by the distances that guests are required to travel to enjoy the spa experience. The same holds true for organic produce imported from foreign countries and over large distances.

There are a number of carbon calculators available that will assist a spa business in determining its carbon footprint.

One was developed locally by Food and Trees for Africa and based on the Global Greenhouse Gas Reporting Protocol, which calculates the CO2 emitted by any business process or travel method and then assigns the number of trees that should be planted to offset that amount of Carbon. These calculators are useful tools to ascertain those aspects of the spa business that give rise to the highest emission of greenhouse gases. By planting trees to offset Carbon emissions, a substantial benefit is being realized, but the principle aim should always be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the first place.

Here are a few carbon reducing tips for spas to start with the process.

Go local

We have a wonderfully diverse country that offers beautiful unique products. Support your local communities and local practices. Remember that imported products have, because of the transport and sometimes also additional packaging associated with them, a much larger carbon footprint than products produced and supplied to local areas.

Travel lightly

Together with other transport systems, motor vehicles themselves contribute significantly to global warming, even those who are yet to travel their first kilometer. A high amount of energy is required to build cars and even more to establish the infrastructure and services necessary to maintain them. Once in operation much of our air pollution can be attributed to them. Promote alternative transport methods such as mass transport, walking and cycling with your spa staff and guests. Encourage them by, for example, placing cycle-friendly structures close to the entrance with car parking further away. (Remember that cyclists will require the use of shower facilities upon their arrival). Also allocate the most attractive parking bays to fuel efficient cars and motor cycles (electric motor cycles are already available on the South African market).

Buy good quality

Good quality products last longer and do not end up as waste. Processing waste is energy demanding and often gives rise to harmful gas emissions.

Grow your own

Apart from the delight in offering veggies from your spa garden to guests, you can guarantee them that they will eat food produced without industrial processes. Start small with herb seedlings from your local nursery in pots that the spa chef can keep near the kitchen and expand as confidence grows.

Reduce meat in spa meals

The production of meat products is very energy, water and resource intensive. One sometimes forgets that the process involves the production, manufacturing and processing of animal feeds and their transport to feedlots for consumption, the transportation of animals to abattoirs, and then the processing, packaging and transportation of the meat products to the consumer. These processes also give rise to a significant amount of waste, particularly when compared with the production of fruit and vegetables, and also pollution.

Reduce and recycle spa waste

The energy used to produce products that are discarded, in addition to the methane given off in landfill sites are significant contributors to our carbon footprint. Reduce consumption by buying in bulk and avoiding products with excessive packaging, which require additional energy to manufacture, transport and then dispose of. Recycling uses less energy and produces less pollution than making things from new. For example, recycling a glass bottle saves 0.5kg of carbon compared to making a brand new one. Composting and recycling when possible can reduce the carbon emitted due to disposal of spa waste by 40%.

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our initial perception that the strict lockdown measures in March 2020 allowed nature to sigh with relief was well placed.

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