Can COP15 inspire greater biodiversity in the spa industry?

As the United Nations Climate Change Conference – COP26 – came to an end last week, you’d be hard pressed to find an individual who wasn’t invested in it’s outcome. 

However, while world leaders looked to solve the pressing issue of a changing climate, the UN’s Conference on Biological Diversity – COP15 – was also taking place in China, seeking to agree a new set of goals for nature over the next decade through the Convention on Biological Diversity post-2020 framework process. 

The framework sets out an ambitious plan to implement broad-based action to bring about a transformation in society’s relationship with biodiversity and to ensure that, by 2050, the shared vision of living in harmony with nature is fulfilled.

As we enter a post-COP world, discourse around the environment and climate change has never been as prevalent. With a wealth of avenues to explore, biodiversity is one topic that needs to be addressed, and spa operators have a great opportunity to make the difference and be industry-leaders in this area, setting the expectations for other industries to follow suit. 

Firstly, before we explore any further, we need to establish what biodiversity is? In its rawest form, biodiversity is the natural world around us, all of the organisms – the plants, animals, insects and ecosystems which live on our planet. But why is protecting biodiversity so important? And what would happen if we didn’t?

Quite simply, biodiversity is one of the most precious aspects of human life. Typically it may be thought of as a nice area to look at and lots of greenery, but in reality, it’s so much more. It’s the lifeblood and support system for life on earth, and without it the natural ecosystem could collapse. It’s vitally important to provide food, clean water and medicines, or even acting as a natural flood defence, highlighting the importance it plays and how detrimental poor business practice could be.

Luckily, however, some organisations are already doing fantastic work in this field and can act as a beacon and an inspiration to others within its sector. For example, fashion brand Burberry unveiled its new biodiversity strategy at COP last week, stating its intention to “protect, restore and regenerate nature” as it builds on its recent commitment to become Climate Positive by 2040.

And that’s the key. While it’s important to reduce our carbon footprint and impact as much as possible, why stop there? Operators and organisations should be striving to go beyond neutrality and leave a positive impact on the wider environment around them. 

Within the spa industry specifically, a leading face of biodiversity is the brilliant Sothys team, with a dedication towards utilising its land and the local environment to inspire, enhance and improve its own products, while providing a benefit to the environment at the same time. 

Les Jardins Sothys® (The Sothys Gardens), created in 2007, are a preserved plant setting in Auriac, in Corrèze, France in a Natura 2000 protected area. Located on the homeland of the Mas family, Les Jardins Sothys ® enhances the plant world; and acts as a source of inspiration and creation of Sothys cosmetic products.

Through its respect for nature, use of the regional habitat and the produce from the environment they have created, Sothys Advanced Research team have been able to enhance their botanical research to create a number of active ingredients inspired by the gardens.

The Sothys philosophy is dedicated to beauty, cosmetics and well-being. At the same time, the atmospheric gardens, a set of small intimate enclosures with varied atmospheres, invite you to a sensory escape, a unique experience that combines nature, beauty and culture. With over 12,000 visitors to the site every year, the gardens are a strong symbol that expresses the respect the brand has for nature, expressing the brand’s push towards sustainable development.

And it’s not just Sothys that are making a difference. Spa hotel operator Barons Eden has made a bee-line for biodiversity and reducing carbon when it comes to sourcing food items. The company – which operates two Sustainable Spa Association member properties (Hoar Cross Hall and Eden Hall) – has installed a number of beehives at its hotels to produce its own honey for its restaurants and guests, reducing the need to buy in and encouraging biodiversity on site. 

Biodiversity doesn’t always just mean sticking a few plants in and hoping for the best, but you can encourage biodiversity through the business decisions and practices that are carried out. 

Other biodiversity options for spa operators could be:

  • Sustainable Food – growing its own food or buying extremely local to reduce carbon emissions and to encourage plants, shrubs, bugs and insects to utilise the area. By growing their own, operators can reduce the use of pesticides and other chemicals used in mass-scale farming, and promote healthy nutrition to its staff and guests.
  • Native Garden Plants – create a garden that respects biodiversity: plant local species, avoiding invasive ones; provide suitable nesting places for birds, cultivate attractive plants for butterflies and verify that the lighting and noise pollution of the facility does not adversely affect wildlife.
  • Responsible Activities – the treatments, packages or extra-curricular activities spas may operate can in fact damage the environment or, on the contrary, promote wildlife conservation. Activities and attractions for guests should involve interaction with the natural world, so it is essential to give your guests the opportunity to enjoy local biodiversity responsibly.

Those are just a sample of the wealth of options available to operators within the spa industry. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to biodiversity, so through transparency, communication, and idea-sharing, businesses can begin to learn from one another. Helping to care for our planet isn’t a competition, and so sharing best practice should become commonplace within the industry. 

Whether growing your own veg or using a botanical garden for research, it’s time to shift the dial and integrate biodiversity into our everyday decision-making. While the recent COP events in Glasgow and China may have come to an end, the positive ideas and actions born from the conferences should not.