Titanic Spa in Huddersfield was launched with a flurry of broadsheet reviews in 2007 as 'Britain's first eco-spa,” and its website lists some pretty impressive environmental credentials. It has invested £1.5 million in making the building 'carbon neutral,' including installing a Combined Heat & Power (CHP) plant. CHP systems use the same generator to produce both heat and electricity, so less energy is wasted, and Titanic's CHP unit runs on a biomass boiler, meaning that wood chippings are used as fuel. The trees themselves also absorb CO2 as they grow, so this is a method of power generation with a much lower carbon footprint than fossil fuel boilers, although there are some questions about the effects on biodiversity and food production of growing tree plantations for fuel.
As well as the CHP plant, Titanic also has photovoltaic solar panels to generate additional electricity, a swimming pool which uses salt instead of chlorine to keep the water clean, and an Otex laundry system which claims to “make typical average savings of 60% in electricity, 35% in gas and 80% in hot water.” And Titanic's water supply doesn't come from mains water, but from the spa's own borehole stretching 100m down into the limestone aquifer below.
So when I spotted a 2-4-1 offer for Titanic Spa on Lastminute.com, at the same time as my co-author on my first book and I were discussing treating ourselves to a post-manuscript weekend away, it seemed like the chance to find out what an eco-spa might look like.
Apart from the pleasant no-chlorine atmosphere of the swimming pool, the only discernible effect of these environmental measures are the little plaques explaining the pure borehole water, positioned above the drinking fountain in the Heat Experience area. This is a full-on luxury spa, offering a huge range of massages, wraps, scrubs, manicures, pedicures, facials, hydrotherapy and hammam treatments. The swimming pool incorporates a large jacuzzi and is surrounded by loungers in which to while away the hours or to sprawl on in between visits to the adjacent sauna or steam room. And the fabulous Relaxation Room is home to a squadron of vast, squashy armchairs and loungers, a huge sunken pit full of giant beanbags (just be careful not to fall asleep in there...) and an impressive collection of trashy magazines.
The accommodation for those lucky enough to be staying over at Titanic is also pretty plush. According to a local we got chatting to, the guest apartments were originally designed as flats in this vast renovated nineteenth century mill building, but didn't sell. This means they have top-of-the-range kitchens and nice bathrooms, as well as TVs and DVD players for those too exhausted to do anything but flop after their spa day.
The half-hour Target Massages we got as part of the Lastminute offer package were more than adequate, and in my case surprisingly effective for such a short time. My therapist was confident and able, delivering a back and shoulder massage using forearms and elbows as well as hands, and finishing off with a slick of circulagel to make the effects of the massage last longer.
The biggest reason to head for Titanic, though, is the Heat Experience. This is a dimly-lit circular room with the feel of a Middle Eastern hammam, where you can spend hours working your way around a range of small rooms ranging from a gorgeously tiled blue Steam Room, a roasting sauna or milder saunarium, a clean-scented aromatherapy room or a row of bubbling foot spas, to an ice room or a freezing plunge pool. After a few rounds of this your skin feels fabulously clean, your muscles relaxed, and if you've braved the cold plunge pool after some time in the sauna, your circulation and endorphins are racing.
Titanic is, in my estimation, pretty damn good, and its environmental investments are very impressive. But it's not quite there yet. The small eco-failings seem odd; there things that even hotels that haven't grasped the bigger environmental picture manage to do (if only for PR reasons) which Titanic doesn't. The tea, sugar and orange juice in the apartment kitchens, for example, are neither organic nor Fairtrade, although they all easily could be switched over as coffee is already FT. There are no recycling bins in the apartments or around the drinking fountains, and although there are some paper cones to drink from, there were also plastic cups by many of the fountains. The freebie toiletries in the bathrooms, while pleasant-smelling, weren't from any of the widely available eco or fair trade brands, and were labelled 'made in China.' The products on sale and used in treatments were good quality but not eco or fair trade, and although the Decleor saleswoman in the foyer was lovely, she was totally baffled by our questions about the ethics of the company behind the brand. And the Directions page on the Titanic website only gives instructions on how to get to the spa by car, not by public transport from Huddersfield train and coach station, which are a ten minute cab ride away.
Titanic Spa should be justly commended for its major environmental investments, for using serious renewable energy, energy-efficient and low-chemical technologies and for introducing debates on these subjects into the spa world. And as a destination spa it's well worth heading for (by public transport!) for a top-notch relaxing break. But there are still some changes – and not necessarily big ones - which management could make to achieve ethical perfection. I'm certainly looking forward to going back to see if they've made any of them...
Titanic Spa, Low Westwood Lane, Linthwaite, Huddersfield HD7 5UN, 01484 843 544, email@example.com. Lastminute.com special offer £129 for two people for lunch, dinner, bed & breakfast, full use of the spa and pool/gym facilities and a half hour treatment.
A version of this article was also published in the Ethicsgirls online magazine in January 2010.