An Eco-Friendly Approach

Learn about eco-friendly business practices that can help you meet the demands of clients who prioritize them. 

By Michelle Vallet, February 22, 2011

Bunch of trees in water from above

Although there is some debate about the severity of the problem, most people agree the environment needs our help. From greenhouse emissions to holes in the ozone to melting polar ice caps, we’re learning more and more about the consequences of not being good environmental stewards—as well as what it’ll cost us, both today and for generations to come.

A quick glance at even mainstream grocery store shelves gives us a glimpse of the momentum behind the green movement. From organic food to environmentally friendly cleaning products, more and more shelf space is being dedicated to products that put the environment first—probably largely in response to consumer demand.

And there’s the key: consumer demand. As people begin expecting more of themselves in terms of eco-friendly practices, they’re also going to start demanding more of the companies they do business with. Making sure you can meet those demands isn’t as hard—or as expensive—as you might think.

From the Ground Up

When she was in high school, Jenny LePage, owner of Bozeman Massage Therapy LLC in Montana, was signed up for massage classes as a gift from her mother. “I was by far the youngest student with a group of adults,” she remembers. “But, I was so into discovering my body and amazed at how much massage could help my aching forearms.”

At the time, LePage was spending a good deal of her time rock climbing, and though she knew she’d one day return to massage therapy, her focus for the next decade was primarily on her outdoor career. “I knew I’d be a massage therapist at some point in my life. It was simply a matter of time,” she explains. “When I felt the need to change direction, I enrolled in the Boulder College of Massage Therapy.”

Fast forward a few years.

When she started setting up her practice, LePage began from this premise: “What I do for work is what I see as my most significant contribution to the world,” she says. “I ask myself over and over again: how can I be a better person? How can I make this world a better place? The environment is something I deeply care about, so I naturally want to contribute in this way.” So when she found her 450-square-foot space in January 2010, she forged ahead with the complete renovation of what would become her practice with a “do or die” attitude—and an eye on making environmentally friendly decisions whenever possible. “All the renovation materials were chosen for their eco-friendly qualities whenever possible,” she explains. “I put in a cork floor, clay paint on the walls, used zero-VOC primer and milk paint on the doors, as well as water-based stain and recycled blue jeans insulation in the walls.”

To help with maintaining the cost, LePage put a great deal of sweat equity into the renovation process, taking on the projects she could do herself with the help of close friends. “I did everything I possibly could,” she says. “I helped with demolition, texturing walls and floor installation. I primed and painted the walls myself, and stained the trim.” For the jobs she couldn’t handle herself, LePage did some trading with local companies. “I did a partial trade with my carpenter,” she says, “and a full trade with my graphic designer.” Some work, too, she paid for outright, like the electrician certified to work in businesses downtown.

All in all—though LePage doesn’t have a complete breakdown of the numbers—she figures she spent less than $20,000 for the entire renovation, spreading some of the costs over months, and not including the cost of things she’d already had, such as a massage table, essential oils, a desk, artwork and furniture for the waiting area. She has no idea how the numbers stack up against a non-eco-friendly approach, as that wasn’t anything she’d ever considered.

And though she’ll admit the business would currently be making more profit without the eco-friendly options, she’s confident the future will prove profitable. “In the long run, being eco-friendly is a selling point,” she believes. “It generates more interest, and people are reviewing their priorities in these hard economic times and tend toward more conscious choices.”

What’s more, though LePage spends more on her practice, she also doesn’t hesitate to translate the value she's bringing to her clients, her community, and her world into what she charges. “I also charge more per massage than any other independent massage therapist in town, though less than some spas,” she says. “Not only do I offer high-quality massage, but I also put in a lot of intention with eco-friendly practices. The rate I charge is well-deserved and helps offset the high overhead.”

Decide What Matters

One of the great things about taking eco-friendly initiatives is you don’t have to make sweeping changes. You can make decisions based on your budget and do what’s within your power without feeling like you’re failing if you can’t do everything. “Every purchase I make I look for the most eco-friendly option,” LePage says. “Everyone’s budget is different, so look at your personal priorities, weigh against those priorities and your big picture vision.”

And though her vision is sound, LePage admits that her list of priorities when it comes to an eco-friendly practice shift, aren’t set in stone. “I am still learning what the priorities are for me, the must-dos,” she explains. She has some absolutes, such as not using paraffin candle products because of the damage they do to the ozone. “I also don’t want to breathe it all day long in a closed space,” she explains, “and I don’t want my clients breathing it either.” She also won’t budge on her essential oils, which are all organic and wild crafted from companies she knows are initiating social and environmental change.

Every decision she makes is conscious, deliberate, and she does what she can with what she has—and isn’t afraid to re-evaluate when necessary. “I choose the best choice available to me,” she explains. “Nothing will be perfect, just do the best you can.” Even with the absolutes, LePage admits there is some wiggle room. For example, could the beeswax candles she purchases at about $1 per tea light in place of paraffin products be replaced with soy? “There are bottom lines of an eco-friendly vision,” LePage explains. “But I’ll always research the best and cheapest options.”

LePage makes no bones, however, about not every last detail of her practice being eco-friendly. “I use leather rugs for low toxicity,” she explains, “as they produce no off-gassing and no synthetic carpet fiber to breathe.” The cork flooring she put down was purchased online instead of through a local eco-friendly material store because she was able to save $10,000. “My budget is why I made this choice,” explains LePage. “It’s a great material, but wasn’t the best source option and of course there’s the fuel used in delivery that wouldn’t have been an issue with local materials.”

Cost is often a driving force in these decisions, but LePage makes decisions based on what she can file away for the future as her practice—and income—grow. Her grapeseed base oil, for example, is currently not organic because the cost difference is huge, from $50 per gallon to $500 per gallon, respectively. But, LePage reasons, not everything can be a top priority. “Grapeseed oil tends to be a byproduct of the wine industry,” she explains. “Though the grapes are grown with a lot of pesticides, they don’t generally make it to the seed, so at least I know I’m not rubbing pesticides all over my client.”

Spread the Word

When you’re doing something you truly believe in, marketing becomes an almost secondary concern. “In all honesty, marketing my business as eco-friendly was an afterthought,” LePage explains. “I just started renovating and running it how I thought was vitally important, following my own ethics.” Of course, LePage didn’t set herself up to fail, and had a good understanding of what being environmentally friendly could mean to clients and potential clients.

“Generally, the eco-friendly option is high-quality, luxurious, works well and produces more profit,” she explains. “The cork floors are made from sustainable material, and they feel warm and soft on bare feet. The linens feel and look amazing.”

It’s not a “build it and they will come” approach exactly, but LePage mentions more than once that her space speaks for itself—and her clients both come back and tell others about what she’s doing. “Once clients experience how great it is to receive a quality massage in a warm and beautiful space where they feel at ease,” she says, making a point to emphasize that a good massage is the first priority, “they come back, and they tell others."

All of this is not to say that LePage doesn’t make any intentional marketing efforts. She promotes her green practices on her website and via various social media. “I send out e-newsletters that often mention the latest new product we are trying out,” she says, “or new publicity we have recently received.” She also simply answers client inquiries about the space, using the opportunity to talk about her total approach to her practice. “Clients often ask, ‘What are these amazing sheets?” or ‘Wow, that bamboo towel was so soft,’” explains LePage. “I’m also planning an opening party, which will showcase some of our green practices.”

Because the business is so new, LePage doesn’t have a firm grasp on if the intentional marketing she’s doing around her eco-friendly approach is translating into dollars and cents, but she’s seeing growth. “My revenues are growing at a rate comparable to the last few years,” she explains. “Green practices may just be one small addition to what is already a solid massage practice, enough to move it forward in the direction I hope for it to go.”

As passionate as she is about the environment, LePage is even more passionate about massage therapists being true to themselves, encouraging them to find what works best for them. “While I think being green is important, even more so is finding your center and moving from there,” she says. “There are so many choices and options for how to live, spend money, make a living and contribute to the world. If eco-friendly practices for your massage business ring true, then look deeper and find ways to make it happen, now and over time.”