What could possibly convince a successful corporate executive to change careers and open her own business?
For Laura Kennedy, the answer came by way of a seaweed bath in Ireland.
The seaweed was the clincher. Kennedy had already done some research on the spa industry and was now convinced that she would create a spa that would be the first to offer the Irish seaweed products in North America. What she didn’t know was that the Mount Pleasant medical building that would become her dream spa was about to go “green.”
“I wanted to create a healthy environment for employees and guests, and this led to the green renovation of the spa and the introduction of earth-friendly practices, services and products,” Kennedy said. “Treading lightly on the planet is a natural fit for spas, whose mission is to promote healthy, balanced living.”
You won’t find bottled water at Viridian, the spa Kennedy opened Oct. 19 off Coleman Boulevard. The spa provides glassware and china for its beverage and snack service. Tea bags are biodegradable, brochures are printed on recycled paper, and the signature Voya seaweed imported from Ireland is recycled after treatments and used as an organic garden fertilizer. Viridian guests can also wrap themselves in throws woven from Inego, a soft textile made from corn by-products.
Kennedy also used sustainable practices in the renovation of the two-story, 3,000-square-foot medical building, including countertops made from recycled glass, and bamboo and cork flooring.
“Bamboo is a highly renewable resource, and it’s also beautiful,” said massage therapist Arlene Sudano. “The cork is not only better for therapists who are standing on it all day; it’s also another highly renewable resource.”
The spa’s interior was painted with Sherwin Williams’ Harmony Line, a paint that does not contain volatile organic compounds and does not have an odor.
Kennedy also consulted with The Sustainability Institute and spent $8,500 on replacing the existing insulation with Icynene foam to improve the energy efficiency of the building by as much as 40%. The old insulation was re-used.
“Long term, it is a savings for us,” Kennedy said.
Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, which has adopted the Green Partnership Program, a companywide effort that strives to minimize the operational impact of its properties on the environment. Another hotel chain and association member, Marriott International, has adopted sustainable practices including reducing and recycling waste.
Kennedy was able to implement the green renovation, she said, because she was able to buy the building at 1067 Cliffwood Drive through a Small Business Administration 504 loan that offered more competitive rates.
Viridian is the latest in the growing number of spas to open in the Lowcountry and across the nation although new statistics from the International Spa Association show that the exponential growth of the industry during the past several years has begun to slow.
“This year’s industry figures show something that ISPA has been predicting—spa sector growth can no longer be described as exponential or exploding. Instead, the industry is expanding at a healthy, steady pace. The previous exponential growth allowed a spot for anyone who wanted to add ‘spa’ to their sign. Today’s consumers are savvy about the spa experience, and they won’t accept anything that is not a true spa experience.”
Kennedy’s vision for Viridian included a focus on details, including the exclusive Irish products and the spa’s physical and interior design, she said. Rather than using the typical Asian, Zen-inspired décor, Kennedy has chosen some more traditional furnishings and Lowcountry landscapes that tie into the elements of earth and sea.
“I felt like if I opened another spa with the same interior design, people would yawn,” Kennedy said. “I definitely wanted to differentiate Viridian on a couple of fronts. I think before I even started doing some of the detailed competitive analysis, my vision started to form. And I knew I wanted green. It seemed like a natural fit.”