Insider's Guide to Spas


Environmentalism Meets Spa with Deb Berlin

Mary Bemis

The environmentalist behind the green spa movement.

Insider’s: So, what do you do in the spa world?

Deb Berlin: I’m the executive director of the Green Spa Network (GSN), the only organization completely devoted to spa sustainability. I’m also a yoga teacher and an environmentalist; I live in a green house and drive a bio-diesel car. I came from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, where I headed strategic communications for the country, as well as branding and marketing events like Earth Day. It was while working there that I realized how important it is that people live more consciously.

Insider’s: What exactly is a green spa?

DB: Green refers to having a relationship with nature, taking as little as you need from nature, and not putting anything back in that’s unnatural. We also use the broader term of “sustainability.” For spa that means, really tuning into your clients, treating employees fairly, and giving back to the community while making a profit.

Insider’s: Why should consumers care about going to a green spa?

DB: Because they’re motivated by green when it impacts their health or their wallets. Some personal-care products are highly toxic and can contribute to endocrine destruction and even cancer, so if you’re spending $300 on treatments, you can still choose organic or biodynamic products. When you do this, you know that what you’re paying for is making you healthier and that the profits for the spa are going in part to making the planet healthier.

Insider’s: What was your very first spa experience?

DB: When I was 13, my mother took me to a retreat in the Catskills, and I was slathered with warm, delightful, magical potions. I was a sporty kid, but my experience of physical had been limited to being a sporty kid. This was the first time I had a tactile sensory experience — and it rocked my world. The retreat itself was a wonderful community of devotees to yoga, vegetarianism, and environmentalism. That started my lifelong passion for all of those things. A shout-out to bring your teenage girls to a destination spa!

Insider’s: How many green spas are out there?

DB: We have about 100 spas in the GSN, but I’m sure there are hundreds of others that are at various stages on the path to greening. If you’re looking for one, check out, We have a green spa locator map and skin-care directory.

Insider’s: Where do you see the movement headed?

DB: I look back at consumer movements, and in the ‘90s it was exercise. In the last decade it was the movement to healthy, natural, and organic food. I see the next decade as the green-spa decade where people will realize that what you put on your body is just as important as what you put in your body. People increasingly want to unplug, recharge, and have someone deeply connect with them. The spa of the future can do that.

Mary Bemis

Mary Bemis

Mary Bemis is editorial director of She is an award-winning spa journalist, honored with Folio's Top Women in Media Award, and the distinguished ISPA Dedicated Contributor Award. In 1997, she launched American Spa magazine, and in 2007, Mary co-founded Organic Spa magazine. A pioneer in the sustainable spa and beauty worlds, Mary is co-curator of Cosmoprof North America's Discover Green Pavilion. She sits on the board of Wellness Warrior, is a Global Wellness Day Advisor and a co-founder of the Washington Spa Alliance.