Photography by Aubrie Pick
Two years ago, Selena Lee decided to give her Oakland-based massage school a head-to-toe eco-makeover.
“Green is a big component of the holistic approach to health,” asserts Lee, director of the McKinnon Institute of Massage. What’s more, she adds, “massage can be a much more complete healing experience if it’s not done while you’re inhaling toxic gases.”
In addition to bringing in organic oils and organic-cotton linens, the McKinnon Institute installed energy-efficient lighting, integrated low-toxin paints and carpeting, and began using non-toxic cleaning supplies. The effect? “When people walk in, they’re blown away by the difference in energy,” says Lee. “It just feels cleaner here.”
That clean feeling should soon start to permeate massage practices everywhere, predicts Tara Grodjesk, president of Tara Spa Therapy. “We’re going to see an explosion in green,” says Grodjesk, whose company provides natural products to massage therapists. As more and more consumers begin to seek out eco-friendly services, she notes, it’s becoming “a necessity” for massage therapists to practice planet consciousness. “Massage therapy is about health and healing, so the environments themselves need to be healthy,” Grodjesk says. “And when people find a wellness center that’s aligned with their values, they’re going to be loyal to that center.”
Winning the loyalty of greenminded clients can call for a significant investment of your money and time, but Lee insists that the payoff is more than worth it. “For me, this is about peace of mind and not having to compromise my values and integrity for the sake of owning a business,” she says. “It’s also an awesome opportunity to see how all these small things can add up to make a big difference.”
Indeed, making small changes is often the smartest strategy for easing into the world of green. So if you’re not ready for an all-out overhaul of your practice, begin by upgrading to organic oils or switching to synthetic-chemical-free cleaners. And don’t forget to look beyond products in going green.
“Think about donating a percentage of your profits to helping clean up the environment,” suggests Randi Ragan, founder and owner of the Los Angeles-based GreenBliss EcoSpa. “If some of your clients’ money is going toward a good cause, people might feel more motivated to patronize your business.”
Not sure where to start? From cradle covers to compact fluorescent lightbulbs, here are your best solutions for creating a massage practice that’s healthiest for you, your clients and the planet.
Choosing organic fruits and veggies isn’t the only way to nourish your body with the purest of plants. “Anything we use on the skin needs to be considered as food for the skin,” says Grodjesk. To find the most wholesome oils and lotions for your practice, start by paying close attention to product labels.
“The companies with the purest ingredients will usually tell you right up front,” says Ragan. “But if there’s not an ingredient listing on the label, you should call and check to make sure there’s no added chemicals or preservatives.”
Whenever possible, go for organic. Less likely to irritate the skin, organic lubricants are made from plants grown without the use of planet-harming pesticides. Locally harvested oils are ideal: They don’t need to be transported a great distance, which in turn cuts back fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Expeller-pressed or cold-pressed oils are also superior, since they don’t rely on petroleum-based chemicals or solvents to draw oil from the plant’s seed. (A nonrenewable resource, petroleum is known to pollute air and water.)
Also, if you’re selecting a scented product, seek out manufacturers that use clinical-grade essential oils instead of potentially toxic synthetic fragrances.
Organic oils and lotions tend to come with a higher price tag than conventional varieties, but Ragan stresses that spending a few extra dollars can go a long way. “Because they’re so pure, you can get more out of them than you would an oil that includes chemical filler to stretch its volume,” she says. “In the end, it could be equally cost-effective to purchase the more expensive product.”
It’s even possible to recycle your oil, a practice adopted by Sundara Inn & Spa lead massage therapist Alan Weld. The spa offers many oil-intensive ayurvedic massage treatments, so Weld collects the excess oil and brings it to a local restaurant. Sundara’s oil is then combined with the restaurant’s excess oil and reused as fuel for biodiesel-powered vehicles. If you’re interested in oil recycling, visit www.biodiesel.org to find a biodiesel distributor in your area.
About 25 percent of the world’s insecticides and more than 10 percent of its pesticides are sprayed on cotton, according to the Organic Trade Association. Of the top 15 pesticides used on cotton in 2000 in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies seven as “possible,” “likely,” “probable” or “known” human carcinogens.
For a cleaner cotton, opt for organic fibers in your massage sheets. Grodjesk recommends shopping for linens at Gaiam (www.gaiam.com), which offers 100 percent organic sheets created with a low eco-impact dye process.
And if you ever need to use disposable sheets, look for products made from biodegradable materials. “When you have to throw them away, the fiber breaks down so that they don’t end up sitting in a landfill forever,” says Ragan.
Biodegradable fiber is also key when it comes to disposable face cradle covers, Ragan adds. “They’re obviously more expensive, but the fiber tends to feel nicer on the skin,” she notes. Try the covers sold at Body Logic (www.ebodylogic.com) or Hands-On Supply (www.handsonsupply.com).
The Green Clean
When it’s time to wash your linens, get clean with laundry aides that snub petroleum-based cleansers, chlorine, and artificial fragrances and dyes . Instead, opt for vegetablebased, nontoxic, biodegradable ingredients. Try Seventh Generation, Ecover and Earth Friendly Products to start. As Homes That Heal author Athena Thompson points out, detergents were originally invented to clean synthetic fibers, but natural fabrics can be washed effectively with plant-based soaps.
Eco-friendly cleaning products should remove any kind of oils from your sheets, promises Grodjesk. “There’s a huge movement in using water-dispersible oils because they can wash out of linens easier, but a lot of those oils contain chemical derivatives,” she says. “We’re even starting to see a growing number of skin sensitivities in massage therapists.” For clean sheets no matter how tough the oil stain, Grodjesk recommends using water softening laundry balls (try the Eco Ball Wash Kit at www.nigelsecostore.com) and a half-cup of soda ash.
It’s important to reach for green cleaners when you’re tidying up surfaces as well. “You want to make sure the room isn’t being cleaned with bleach and other chemicals that are going to be off-gassing fumes,” says Lee. For scrubbing your hands, avoid synthetic bacteria-killers and select soaps made with natural antibacterials like tea tree oil.
On the Table
Tossing your current table solely for the sake of upgrading to a greener model isn’t exactly eco-smart. But if you’re in the market for massage furniture, check out the tree-saving alternatives available. Earthlite tables, for example, are crafted from sustainably harvested wood.
“Our wood comes from managed forests, which means the lumber companies are replanting trees in the areas where they’ve been cut down,” explains Earthlite CEO Jim Chenevey. In addition to recycling all its scrap wood and sawdust, the company uses water-based lacquers (instead of petroleum-based) and foams free of chlorofluorocarbons (one of the classes of chemicals most responsible for the destruction of the ozone layer, according to the EPA).
When your client takes a deep, blissed-out breath mid-massage, you want that inhaled air to be as pure as possible. But most buildings suffer from indoor pollution, says Ragan. In fact, she notes, “the toxins that you take in just from being inside an average building can be far worse than what you’d get from breathing the air outside in Los Angeles.”
To clean up your air, start by inspecting your carpeting, cabinetry and paint. All three likely contain volatile organic compounds, like formaldehyde, that release harmful fumes into the environment. “Try to change one thing at a time,” suggests Ragan. “If you’re truly in the business of health and wellness, you need to consider these things.”
Carpets often contain toxic chemicals, so it’s better to lay down a few natural-fiber rugs or—if your budget allows—install sustainable bamboo or cork flooring. For your cabinets, skip the cheap particleboard and choose solidwood cabinets with formaldehydefree resin. You can also keep formaldehyde from off-gassing in existing cabinets by applying a nontoxic sealant (try AFM SafeCoat, available at www.afmsafecoat.com). When adding a new color to your walls, shop your local Sherwin- Williams and Benjamin Moore for low- or no-VOC latex paints.
If you don’t have much control over your work environment, talk to management about adding air purifiers to each room. Just watch out for products that employ a process called ozonolysis: A 2006 study from the Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association found that such purifiers can create indoor ozone levels high enough to warrant a smog alert. Instead, consider 3M’s Filtrete Air Cleaning Filter (available at www.amazon.com), which meets the American Lung Association’s Health House indoor air quality requirements. Freshening up your workspace can even be as simple as opening the windows and letting in some outside air, adds Lee, who also encourages replacing your air conditioners with fans.
Conservation of the planet’s most precious resources is crucial to any green business. One of the simplest ways to save energy—swapping out incandescent lightbulbs for compact fluorescents (CFLs)—doesn’t have to be hard on your clients’ eyes. Just look for a color temperature in the range of 2,700 to 3,000 degrees Kelvin.
Although they’re slightly more expensive than conventional bulbs, CFLs use two-thirds less energy to provide the same amount of light and last up to 10 times longer. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Star program, replacing just one incandescent bulb with a compact fluorescent in every U.S. home would prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars.
To save water, Ragan recommends installing aerators on all your faucets. By adding air to the water, these devices (available for just $1.60 at www.conservastore.com) lower flow and conserve about a gallon of water per minute.
To cut back your paper consumption, make sure all your paper products have at least 30 percent post-consumer recycled content; although you always should aim for 100 percent. You can also save trees by launching a recycling program in your office, setting your printers to print double-sided and switching to paper-free billing.
Did You Know?
There are more than 4,500 recycled-content products available for consumers to purchase. You can access a list of these products—which include everything from trash bags and laundry detergent bottles to carpeting and glass containers—through the EPA’s website at www.epa.gov.
For more help with your eco-makeover, check out these great green resources:
CO-OP America's Green Business Program
This online guide available at www.coopamerica.org/greenbusiness helps eco-responsible businesses thrive by providing networks and technical assistance. Make sure to check out the “Green Your Office in Ten Easy Steps” section.
An information clearinghouse for all types of green businesses, this website offers easy-to-follow how-to’s on everything from water conservation and alternative energy to eco-conscious business travel and marketing.
Green Business, by Amy K. Townsend, PhD
With its comprehensive model for incorporating “greener thinking and activities” into every aspect of business, this book shows how to make your mission, facilities and service more healing to the planet.
The following are just a sample of eco-minded companies you can look to for massage products that nurture both the skin and the earth:
Mountain Rose Herbs (www.mountainroseherbs.com)
A superstar in sustainability, Mountain Rose Herbs crafts its oils from organic, petroleum-free ingredients. The company also uses recycled materials in all its packaging and catalogues, operates a chemical-free facility and runs its commercial vehicles on biodiesel.
Trillium Organics (www.trilliumorganics.com)
Offering an organic, unscented, cold-pressed massage oil, Trillium Organics is an active supporter of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, an effort to make the beauty industry healthier for consumers and the planet.
Frontier Natural Products Co-Op (www.frontiercoop.com)
A past winner of the Socially Responsible Business Award, Frontier Natural Products Co-Op creates massage creams and oils from sustainably cultivated ingredients.
Elizabeth Barker is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. A former editor for Body + Soul and Natural Health magazines, she now regularly contributes to both publications, as well as Plenty, Kiwi and www.revolutionhealth.com. As executive editor for style blog NoGoodForMe.com, Elizabeth also posts daily about fashion, beauty, music and film.