HOW SUSTAINABLE ARE YOU?
Beauty is a big culprit in the environmental crisis, but some simple swaps in the way you work could go a long way in helping you, your business, your staff and your clients protect our planet.
The latest report from the Soil Association revealed that half of consumers want to buy beauty and wellbeing products that are better for the environment with 34% attributing climate change as the reason behind their choice. Two thirds of consumers also want brands to do more in helping to improve the planet and reduce the impact to climate change…which leaves the doors wide open for beauty businesses to take the floor. Because if your clients are picking products that align with their eco ethics, it won’t be long before they demand the same sustainable commitments from their therapists and salons too. It could also open up an entirely new customer base from those seeking out environmentally friendly businesses in their area.
WHAT DOES SUSTAINABILITY EVEN MEAN?
Zero waste, carbon neutral, green energy, cruelty-free, vegan, organic, ethical - the criteria for being sustainable covers a lot and is different for everyone and every business. “For us, it means doing what you can, however big or small, being as ethical as possible in your practices and showing empathy and kindness to humanity, other living creatures and Mother Earth,” explains Lou Birkett, co-founder of eco hair salon WhiP.
Sarah Heywood, owner of Blush Beauty, which opened in December 2019, is of a similar opinion: “It’s about making sensible choices to protect our future, whether that be reducing waste, replacing outdated methods of working and seeking out brands and suppliers that align with our ethos. We believe that you shouldn’t have to compromise on luxury to be sustainable.”
WHY THE HAIR INDUSTRY IS AHEAD
So far, the hair industry seems to have adopted a more sustainable approach faster than its beauty counterparts. This is partly down to a greater support network with big brands like Aveda, Davines, Oway and Salon Business Solutions providing help, advice and assets to transform businesses into a more eco way of working. For example, Oway supply salons with essentials such as eco shower heads, Salon Business Solutions plant a tree for every box of Hair Collective foils they sell (which are also natural, recycled and compostable) while the Green Salon Collective help salons recycle every material or substance used, even PPE. “All of the hair cut off gets made into hair booms to help clean up oil spills as well as going into compost to help produce oxygen in the atmosphere, reduce carbon and fertilise soil. Our excess colour is recycled to stop it going down the drain and all of the foils are recycled with any profits made from the recycled metals going to charity,” explains Gina Conway, Aveda’s UK Ambassador for Sustainability and whose salons have teamed up with the collective.
Practicality is another consideration for beauty as there are far less components involved in hair services. “The beauty industry offers a much wider range of treatments - skincare, tanning, lashes, nails - and so uses a much wider array of products and consumables so you have to delve a little deeper to find eco alternatives and brands that share your ideals. Sometimes the disposable nature of some of the items is unavoidable in order to maintain a clinical environment,” continues Sarah.
But it’s not impossible. With more reusable options on offer and schemes for recycling beauty waste, beauty can become greener. “We use muslin cloths instead of hand towels, organic cotton wool, treatment couch sarongs that air dry quickly, 100% natural and organic skincare, forest friendly flooring, metal waxing spatulas, recycled paper couch roll and eco laundry liquid and cleaning products,” lists Sasha Peggs, owner of Langham Clinic.
The trickiest part is often finding suppliers for each asset, which is why Zee Broomhall launched Eco Salon Supplies in November 2020. “I started the company as I had become frustrated for many years in my own salon. I tried to buy more sustainably but would be met with numerous barriers and I ended up with a big list of suppliers which wasn’t sustainable at all,” she explains. “There are still only a handful of companies within the UK offering wholesale eco beauty supplies as it’s a fairly new category.”
A MORE SUSTAINABLE SITE
Besides what you use in your treatments, the bricks and mortar of your beauty business has plenty of potential too. “Turning the thermostat down by one degree saves energy and money and LED lights are more energy efficient,” continues Zee. A green energy company was also the number one priority for Sasha. “We have ecotricity which is better than a green tariff of a standard company as you are still indirectly funding fossil fuels. The Carbon Charter also calculated our carbon footprint and gave us a silver accreditation. The only reason we can’t get gold is because we can’t generate our own electricity as there is too much shade on our roof for PV panels and wind energy is inefficient in small scale projects!”
Kitting out your space is another way you can embrace sustainability, although it does mean rolling your sleeves up and getting creative as there are very few traditional salon manufacturers offering an alternative to plastic or other non-recyclable materials (although some do sell on used items that can be refurbished or repurposed). Instead, expect charity and vintage shops along with eBay to become your go-to suppliers where you can relish in second hand furniture and pieces to upcycle. “My reception desk is a Victorian dough trough and I’ve built in doors and drilled holes for phone and computer wires,” says Gina. “It’s a huge talking piece in the salon.”
And if you do still want to go with a company you know and trust, ask them about their manufacturing processes and what, where and how things are made. “We used REM salon design for Love Beauty Gatley,” explains owner Katie Millington. “Their environmental policy was one of the reasons I chose to work with them as they have a very clear Corporate Social Responsibility Policy in place and aim to operate in the greenest way possible.”
THE REFILL GENERATION
Reduce, reuse, refill, recycle is the mantra of millennials, Gen Z and Generation Alpha (aka today’s children) and brands are going big on all four. Whether it’s cutting out plastic, only using PCR, switching to glass, using FSC boxes, and most recently offering refills, it’s the latter that will help create a circular economy and prevent any waste going to landfill. “As consumers turn away from single-use plastics, manufacturers can leverage a plethora of innovative and sustainable refill designs, thereby reducing not only packaging waste but carbon emissions as well. Additionally, as refill packaging becomes aspirational, brands are creating ‘memorable experiences’ to bolster brand visibility,” explains Namrata Sain, consumer insights analyst at GlobalData. Case in point - L’Occitane. One of the first to introduce eco-refills in 2008, from July, stores will introduce refill ‘fountains’ for five of their bestselling products.
When the pandemic happened, Katie Millington also pivoted her business and utilised an empty space at the front of the salon that used to be a waiting area into a retail space offering refills. “We launched with 8-10 initial refills and now we’ve grown to over 20 varieties of liquid and powder refills. Our bestsellers from day one have been hand soap, washing up liquid and anti-bac spray and they are all from independent UK made brands which are vegan and cruelty-free,” says Katie. “Each of the bulk refills has the safety information attached as well as the ingredients and I also label the customer’s bottles if they’re repurposing a bottle that was previously used for something else to save confusion!” As for legal requirements and regulations around refills, public liability insurance is required, as is a risk assessment, an awareness of COSHH and ensuring you have the safety data sheets available for all applicable products.
Certain brands are also offering both salons and customers incentives to save empty bottles from going to waste. Many like Dermalogica, REN, Beauty Kitchen and The Body Shop have partnered with Terracycle that repurpose empties into new materials while ESPA have recently launched their own version called ‘RecycleME’. A free initiative, it doesn’t matter if the products are from other beauty brands, ESPA will turn the waste plastic into recyclable alternatives to plywood.
SHARE THE LOVE
While you might find some clients hunt you out because of your sustainability practices, others might be glad of some guidance so use your platform to create change. “Salons are in a unique position of influence; we can demand more of our suppliers to create sustainable products and educate our clients on how to take sustainable practices and products into their everyday beauty routine so our efforts can be felt far beyond just the salon itself,” says Sarah from Blush Beauty.
If you employ a team, make sure they’re on the same page as well. “I am constantly communicating with my team about sustainability, and we have all completed the sustainable stylist certification, had our carbon footprint assessed and have made our ‘Pledge to the Planet’. I even have two team leaders as ‘sustainability champions’ - one in each salon to help ensure our recycling and initiatives are being upheld and progressed,” says Gina. A great idea if you’ve got the resources because sustainability is an ever-changing field. Constantly evolving with new materials, new ways of cutting waste, new formulas, any sustainable salon owner or therapist will tell you it’s an ongoing journey.
As for cost, sometimes there is a higher cost associated with it (remember, plastic is cheap!) but the reward you get from your sustainable switches and the reputation your business ensues more than makes up for it. “Be brave to go against the grain and true to what you feel is the right thing to do, even if you’re in the minority,” recommends Lou from WhiP. “Put positive change before profit and have fun in the process!”
7 SUSTAINABLE SWAPS
Still not sure where to start? Be inspired by our below tips and tricks and remember, you don’t have to do everything at once. “I’d advise an ‘eco audit’” says Katie Millington, owner of Love Beauty Gatley and The Refillery. “Be realistic with the changes - if it fits to your budget and is easy to maintain, implement them as soon as possible. If you need more budget, put a plan in place.”
- Ditch the disposables
And if you can’t, look at how much you’re using. “We were all taught in college to use tissue upon tissue for processes which we really don’t need,” continues Katie. “Are you using them to provide a ‘clean’ workspace for your tools? Could this be replaced with a wipe clean tile or tray? Can you split tissues to make more uses? Are they from a sustainable supplier?”
- Say no to plastic
Cotton buds, brushes, spoolies - they can all be sourced without plastic handles. Bamboo is a popular alternative or LastSwab is a reusable cotton bud that can be sterilised between clients.
- Reduce your water
Make sure taps aren’t left on for longer than they need to be and remind your staff to wait until dishwashers or washing machines are full before they are used. Better still, hand wash and air dry! Look at reducing water in your treatments too - Gina Conway offers an ‘eco wash’ where the water is turned off between shampooing and conditioning.
- Ask questions
Transparency is key in the sustainability journey so if you’re stocking brands that claim to be ‘green’, check their back story. If you don’t your clients will and you don’t want any nasty surprises. It’s not just about ingredients either - packaging, the supply chain, how they treat their staff and the communities they work with all play a part.
- Clean and green
Instead of chemical filled products in plastic bottles, head to a refill station to stock up on your cleaning items or use things like Ocean Saver Anti-Bac Refill Drops that you simply dilute in water. Other good eco cleaning brands are Spruce, Everdrop, KINN and Ekologik and for every purchase of the latter, 2% of the RRP goes to Surfers Against Sewage. Or make your own - baking soda, vinegar and lemon juice is a great all-purpose solution!
- Ramp up your refreshments
Why not enlist the local milkman to deliver sundries to your salon to keep glass bottles in circulation and support local? You could also encourage your clients to bring keep-cups (subject to any Covid restrictions) which saves you water from washing up and spurs them on to reuse. You could also offer snacks in recyclable packaging rather than foil and plastic.
- Love your laundry
If you haven’t got the time or space to airdry, tumble dryer balls help air get between towels for a speedier drying time (less electricity and energy). And could you switch from towels to sheets? “Sheets are much more economical and still offer the client comfort and dignity and can be covered by a blanket which can be reused without touching the client,” suggests Katie.
Words: Becci Vallis