Interview with Sara Young for South Lodge

When did your sustainability journey start?
For us it was one of the main factors in the concept and design of the spa – there is such a focus now for consumers & employees on knowing what businesses are doing as part of their sustainability practices that it became integral to us.

How did it come about?
Exclusive Collection is a “legacy business” owned and operated by the Pecorelli family for almost 40 years – in order to ensure that this legacy can continue the business needs to be sustainable.

What specific goals do you have?
We are currently working towards our B-Corp accreditation as a business so this is the first of many “ticks in the box” that we need to get ourselves there.

What was the first thing you did?
From the beginning I was very keen to look at how we operated and what areas we’re of it were easy to implement and which were “nice to haves”. For me, a difficulty in the past has been changing habits, so with a new spa we were able to start where we wanted to be, with simple things like banning any single use plastic, including finding a suitable veg based alternative to the swimwear bags. Because we have a composting “rocket” we have been able to breakdown any of the vegetable based plastic alternatives that we use by combining it up with our food waste – as there was a lot of feedback that showed that vegetable “plastics” aren’t as easy to compost as they should be.
We are also very lucky that inside the “mechanics” of the spa, we have a lot of cutting edge technology that helps to reduce our carbon footprint including using a bio mass boiler and having our own onsite reed bed.

It’s easier to start off the way that you mean to continue. Plastics felt like the best place to start.

Was it measurable?
With single use please – yes – as we literally didn’t allow anything in – there was a point when our first batch of flip flops arrived in individual sealed plastic bags so we contacted the supplier and said that we would only accept the next order if they only tagged them together rather than bagged them.

What was the impact?
That all of our suppliers know that we are serious about sustainability.

What have been the practical changes you have made?
Making sure that the team always work with our group procurement before making any purchasing decisions to ensure that we are plastic free.

Out of everything you’ve implemented, what has made the biggest change?
The one that people like a lot is that we don’t have any food waste in the kitchen from the food prep – we use everything. For instance we have our “Wasted Burger” which is made from the pulp that we get from our daily juices so that we don’t throw away the pulp.

Do you have a long-term plan?
Yes, to get our B-Corp accreditation and to be an industry leading spa.

What have been your biggest challenges?
We have a lot of cutting edge technology in the spa (including lighting and heating systems) which since the launch have required a lot attention as it’s not always been programmed the way it needs to by the suppliers to deliver what we need – a year on and we’re still ironing out some creases in the system.

How did you overcome them?
We’ve spent a lot of time fine tuning the technology to make it really work the way we needed.

If you could have done something different, with hindsight what would they be?
I think that at the design stage we should have understood some of the limitations and methods behind the way that the technology worked.

What help did you have along the way?
We have a fantastic spa specific maintenance team and their manager is great and working tenaciously through the issues that we have as they come through.

Have you used outside consultants?
Yes, throughout the design and build we used a variety of consultants.

What help do you wish could have been there that wasn’t?
I really wish that we had a more advanced spa software system – what I’ve noticed with a lot of them is that the ability to do paperless consultations is a missing element – in the aesthetics world a lot of the programmes allow you to send out a paperless consultation before the guest arrives and to perform the whole process without paperwork, however we seem to be a bit behind in the spa world. I’ve been looking at alternatives but none of them out there do quite what we need.

What plans do you have that haven’t yet been implemented?
Paperless guest journey

Why these?
When a guest arrives and they have to complete paperwork (rather than using a tablet) this contradicts our sustainable ethos.

Do you communicate your achievements to your guests? Staff?
Yes – we’re very proud of what we do, plus sometimes we have to explain to our guests why we do what we do, e.g. we have bamboo serving cutlery and plates in our outdoor terrace and not actual plates.
What has been the feedback from guests / staff?
Everyone loves that we’re so proactive in searching for the best practices and methods to become the best at being sustainable.

What business benefits have you seen from your initiatives?
We recently opened the hair salon, and it would be been “easy” to use a supplier like L’Oreal as a big name to entice people into the salon, however we decided to use Davines (which is a leading sustainable hair brand), and it really surprised me how many of our members and guests were excited to see the brand as they’d seen it elsewhere before and were pleased to see that we’re taken on the Davines brand rather than opting for a bigger named brand. We’ve also seen a strong volume of retail sales as Davines is only available “in salon” from a salon that uses them and from their own website and because they hold their pricing (and if they do discount they give us advanced notice) so that they don’t undercut our pricing which means that guests want to buy from us as they know they’re not going to find a better deal elsewhere.

Can you quantify them?
It’s difficult to quantify as a whole the benefit of being sustainable has given us – however, because it’s integral to our ethos is allows us to be genuine in what we offer.

Would you do it again, knowing what is involved?
100% – however, it would be easier 2nd time round, wouldn’t it?