The 11th GSN Planet Congress bloomed at the lovely Ojai Valley Inn as a gathering of the sustainably minded wellness community. The focus of this year’s event was Transformation, and the experiences, education, and vibe of the event aligned with this goal.
Congress kicked off with a Fire & Creativity ritual led by Mickaela Grace, founder of Graceline Institute, who also led meditation rituals each morning. Deep breathing, drumming, and intention setting put guests into a receptive and motivated frame of mind, as did the evening documentary screening of The Earthing Movie. The film’s co-producer Josh Tickell introduced the film and led a Q&A. The night culminated in the group discussing ways to bring earthing more tangibly into their personal and professional lives.
Day two of Congress focused primarily on sustainable travel, biodynamic farming, and sustainable self-care. Costas Christ, founder and CEO of Beyond Green Travel, presented a compelling argument for the spa and wellness communities working to support the pillars of sustainable travel, which includes:
- Environmentally friendly practices
- Conservation of nature
- Protection of cultural and natural heritage
- Social and economic benefits to local people
- Inspiring and educating guests
Christ highlighted the economic benefits of adopting these practices, pointing out that the vast majority of travelers are looking to support experiences that are eco-friendly and support the local community, with Gen Z leading this charge and considering sustainable travel to be the norm rather than the exception for their needs. He also provided a case study of The Brando in Tahiti, which truly stands out for its stewardship of the planet and the local people, and highlighted National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World, made up of properties that have made a significant sustainable tourism impact.
“It was both humbling and inspiring to hear directly from changemakers who are actively working in regenerative farming, textiles, ecotourism, and ecosynomics about ways to reorganize our systems.”—Joanna Roche
The next two speakers focused on the innumerable benefits of regenerative agriculture. According to John Roulac, founder of RE Botanicals + Nutiva, it combines four practices—cover crops, perennials and trees, no till, and composting/mob grazing. It creates an environment that sequesters carbon back into the earth, which is vital to reversing climate change. Roulac also pointed out the importance of coming up with an effective strategy for change, and encouraged attendees to read Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. Another regenerative farmer, Steve Sakala, Co-Founder + CEO of Mana Artisan Botanics, further delved into regenerative farming, sharing Robert Rodale’s definition of it: “A holistic approach to farming that encourages continuous innovation and improvement of environmental, social, and economic measures.” He pointed out its main benefits, including:
- Sequesters carbon
- Prevents soil erosion
- Protects waterways and water quality
- Reduces agriculture source point pollution
- Builds a healthier reef ecosystem.
Next up, bringing a case study of local politics and a highlight of sustainable best practices was Kathy Van Ness, COO + GM of Golden Door. Her presentation was followed by a panel of hospitality experts, including Van Ness, Neal Herman from Santarena Hotel in Costa Rica, Douglas Drummond from Esalen Institute, and Sara Irvani from OkaB, who shared their experiences in sustainability and strategized ways to make an impact. Next up was Gay Browne, author of Living with a Green Heart, who provided valuable tips, strategies, and trends from her book. Among the takeaways she provided:
- Breathe clean, fresh air; drink clean water; avoid radio frequencies
- Choose healthy products for your body
- Choose organic foods and beverages
- Create a safe home for you and your family
- Buy only what you need
- Treat your pets with respect: eco-care
- Choose your transportation wisely
- Spend and invest your money with companies that make the world a better place
- Get involved, choose, consciously, and share lovingly
- Vote! Chose a candidate that supports environmental health
The education sessions concluded with a panel about regenerative farming that included Roulac, Sakala, Fibershed founder Rebecca Burgess, and Eduardo Rincón, a biologist, artist, and founder of La Huerta de Vinci. Attendees then gathered for a celebration of art featuring the work of Rincón, Basil Kincaid, and Curt Cheeseman. Kincaid created a special project for the event—The Quilt for Climate Change, which features fabric and garments from GSN members that will be on traveling display at various events throughout the year.
Congress day two also continued the message of transformation, focusing on sustainability and fashion, personal transformation, and strategies for spreading the message of sustainability to clients, colleagues, and more. Highlighted was GSN Planet’s Pledge for the Planet program, which was presented by GSN’s executive director Joanna Roche. This was followed by an uplifting presentation on “The Science of Abundance” from Dr. Jim Ritchie-Dunham, author of Ecosynomics, who presented some of the strategies of Vibrancy is a Choice, a movement that involves investments with organizations, networks, and communities that support social impact. Next, Burgess delved deeper into Fibershed’s movement of farmers, fashion activists, and makers and shared some of her strategies for a new textile economy, and James Gordan, MD, author of The Transformation, expanded on the congress theme via a virtual presentation.
The textile and fiber conversation continued with Kinkaid, who shared his passion for creating fiber art quilts. His use of reclaimed materials to create quilts in support of local communities is in ideal alignment with the goals of GSN Planet. “The resourcefulness of reclaimed art is a call to action to do what you can with what’s around you. I feel like remembering to see things as what they can be is an important practice,” says Kincaid. “It’s important to see the enduring spirit and potential of a thing. It calls to mind the ability for one to reclaim themselves and take an active, intentional, participation in their personal evolution.”
A lively panel discussion on Textiles and the Circular Economy continued the conversation. Panelists included Irvani, Burgess, Noel Asmar of the Noel Asmar Group, and Debbie Leon of Fashionizer. Other presentations included a focus on the importance of tree planting from Michael Stusser, founder of Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary and a founding member of GSN, as well as a Personal Biography presentation from Dr. Lynn Madsen, author of Re-Creation: Laughing Buddha with a Fiddle.
This year’s Congress also featured presentations from supporting sponsors throughout, including Universal Companies, Theragun, Eminence Organic Skincare, and Comfort Zone. Representatives from all offered presentations highlighting their sustainable efforts.
The event concluded with the Transformation in Sustainability Awards, which recognized a property, brand, and individual that/who utilize sustainable practices that are healthy for people and planet, save or preserve natural resources, utilize sustainable materials, and/or implement innovative and groundbreaking techniques, services, and/or programming. The winners included:
Property: Sloco Massage + Wellness Spa (Runner Up: Inn by the Sea)
Brand: Noel Asmar Group (Runner Up: Blue Beautifly)
Individual: Davide Bollati, Founder and Chairman, Comfort Zone (Runner Up: Dr. Dieter Lenoir)
“It was both humbling and inspiring to hear directly from changemakers who are actively working in regenerative farming, textiles, ecotourism, and ecosynomics about ways to reorganize our systems—both large and small,” says Joanna Roche, executive director of GSN Planet. “The wellness industry has the power and the financial impact to change behavior, the work of GSNPlanet is to be the movement catalyst that brings regeneration as an organizing principle to that discussion.”
Julie Keller Callaghan
Julie Keller Callaghan, our Special Correspondent, Wellness, is an award-winning advocate and influencer in the wellness world. The Founder of the American Spa Women in Wellness Leadership Conferences and the American Spa CBD Summit, she was editor and publisher of American Spa magazine for 15 years. Julie has expanded her role in the wellness industry and is an executive recruiter for Hutchinson Consulting.