The Gap between Green Say and Green Do

Thinking is easier than doing! 

Unfortunately this reluctance to act that, as humans, we so often exhibit, has spilled over into the sustainable choices that we exercise. Most of us express a preference for green products but not enough of our intention translates to action yet. Harvard Business Review published an analysis of this dilemma and proposed ways to bridge the gap. These solutions work will equally well for the spa industry.

Make sustainable behaviour the default option.

Guests should ask for extra towels, straws, paper copies and disposable wear. This will break the habits created by the familiar spa environment, where green is often seen as the opposite of luxury and pampering, and an abundance of linen, single use containers and disposables are present. Breaking a bad habit first, and then replacing it with a greener alternative will generate sustainable behaviour in the long term. Consider using lights that activate on a need-to basis only and station printers and photocopiers in separate areas (to avoid the VOC gases that they emit) so that they don’t serve as gathering points during coffee breaks.

 The power of social influencing is well known.

 What others do and own have always been important decision drivers.

None of us want to stand out, especially in a socially unacceptable way. We want to fit in and so will often conform to the behaviour of people around us and those that we admire. 

Harness this knowledge to persuade staff and guests to switch to action. Messages like:

 “most spas in our area are reducing their share in pollution by refusing to use plastic – we can too”,

“our guests buy eco- friendly products”  and 

“our manager cycles to work/drives an electric car/composts her waste” are all very effective.

When we do one good deed, more are likely to follow.

Often a domestic action like reducing household waste, composting or having meat-free days spills over to corporate decisions to adopt more sustainable business practices. Encourage and acknowledge these first actions by your employees and use them to build commitment.

Engage staff and guests rationally and emotionally, but do not overdo the guilt trip.

Driving messages around pride, by offering praise for example, have far more effect than criticism. The rational message must also carry real and concrete meaning for the person who receives it. Consider an analysis around savings and gains, for example:

 “the upfront capital expense will save x% of energy costs in the next 10 years” and

“switching to cold water for one year can save enough energy to charge your phone for a lifetime”,

Other examples of contextual messages are:

 “composting feeds the soil which feeds the plant – fertilizer only feeds the plant” 

 “the weekly waste generated by our spa at the moment can fill a pool” or

 “a Vichy shower uses about 800-1100 l of water, that is 10 bathtubs filled”.

We can, lastly, also watch our language. Words such as “sustainability” and “eco-friendly” are often seen as confusing, irrelevant and meaningless, especially in a market where greenwashing is rife. If you ask a person if she supports sustainable agriculture or a circular economy you are very likely to get a blank stare. On the other hand, a question whether she thinks it important to buy food from local farmers or products that can be re-purposed when they reach the end of their life cycle is far more likely to get a positive response. Provide a simple message that breaks down the concept of “sustainability” into elements that are meaningful, such as saving energy and water, helping a community and reducing waste. Tell a story that connects to people’s daily lives and make it easier to take action. 


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