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Hairdressing for sustainability: astronomical carbon and cost savings possible

Shampooing twice a week with one shampoo and leave-in conditioner supplemented by one dry shampoo can lower your carbon-footprint by 2,000%

Everyone cares about their hair and most of us pick up our hairdressing habits from hairdressers. Yet hair-care can be extremely resource intensive. Running hot water is typically the most energy-intensive domestic activity and hair-care constitutes a significant proportion of hot water use: the weekly carbon-footprint of shampooing hair daily with two shampoos and  rinsed-out conditioner with hot water running for 10 minutes is 9kg. Whereas the weekly carbon-footprint of shampooing twice a week with one shampoo and leave-in conditioner supplemented by one dry shampoo is 1kg. This is a difference of 2,000%!

Hairdressers are in a unique position, as the practices they model in the salon and the message they give to their clients about ‘greener’ behaviour has the potential to make the world of difference – quite literally – in helping to ensure the future sustainability of the planet – and also save money for both salons and clients. Southampton Business School have been working with industry organisations, including VTCT to embed sustainable practices across the hair dressing sector. The project has culminated in the Sustainable Salon certification and sustainable stylist certification. A small 4-seater salon that adopted their suggestions would save over £5,300 year, save 24,150 kWh energy and 286 thousand litres of water! They now encourage everyone to ask their salon if they are certified sustainable.

Despite efforts to raise awareness of the challenges of sustainable development and environmental issues, individual behaviour has been slow to change. To counter this, the Economics and Social Research Council funded the University of Southampton to explore the potential of using hairdressers as ‘catalytic individuals’ to diffuse knowledge relating to responsible chemical, energy and water use across their social networks.

Why hairdressers?

Hairdressers talk to more people than any other occupation, and haircare can be a very high resource activity so they are perfectly placed to pass on more sustainable practices to their clients. David Fell a sustainability consultant is enthusiastic about using hairdressers to tell clients about more sustainable practices: “When a politician says that you should do something about the environment, nobody pays attention, but when a hairdresser tells you ‘have you considered using less hot water’, and tells them about the benefits of leave in conditioner or dry shampoo, then that’s going to sink in.”

Running hot water is most expensive and energy-intensive activity we do in our homes. A quarter of  UK emissions are residential and of those, the vast majority come from running hot water, the longer it runs and the hotter it is, the more energy intensive (and costly) it is. So for the cost of a 10 minute electric shower that uses an electric immersion heater, you could leave a typical TV on for 20 hours. For the cost of a 10 minute shower using gas heater or combi boiler, you could have your TV on 7-hours. The point here is that a hot shower is very energy intensive, not that you should leave your TV on all day! So any practice that reduces the use of running hot water saves money, saves energy, saves water and is probably also better for the hair.

Ecohair project

The project was led by Dr Denise Baden from Southampton Business School in association with VTCT and Habia and has involved embedding sustainable haircare practices across the whole sector, from salons to training colleges.  For the last five years they have been holding free workshops for salons and training colleges and making their resources freely available on their website www.ecohairandbeauty.com.

This project has culminated in the development of a brand new Sustainable Salon certification. Salons that achieve the sustainable salon certification are listed on their website and promoted via social media.

Dr Denise Baden who started the Ecohair project was amazed at how keen hairdressers have been to get engaged. “Hairdressers are a caring profession and have embraced the opportunity to show that they can be part of the solution to the challenges of sustainable development and water shortages, not part of the problem”.

Dr Baden estimates annual savings of £150 and over 5,000 litres of water per client, (about 10% of their daily consumption) and 100 billion litres of water UK wide via the advice hairdressers pass onto clients.

Sustainable haircare advice: good for hair, good for bills, good for planet

Some of the advice is aimed at hair salons, and exposes them to technologies such as low flow showerheads: “we have invested in aerated shower heads and taps. Our clients love them as they feel lovely on the hair and the energy savings are amazing, we saved over a thousand pounds already ” (Toni and Guy).  A typical salon would also save well over £500 if switched to low energy lighting. They aren’t expensive so would pay off the cost of new bulbs in 4-months.

Another innovation is the ‘Scirocco Smooth’ by Hair Drying Solutions which gently sucks water from the hair, reducing the need to wash towels, thus saving salons thousands in laundry bills. It is also great for drying dreadlocks, smoothing the hair and removing excess product.

Ecohair also promote the use of sustainable palm oil. As the demand for palm oil grows, rainforests are being cleared at an alarming rate. This large-scale deforestation is harming wildlife and the environment. So when buying a product look for a RSPO certified logo or consult the Palm Oil Product Guide, from Rainforest Foundation UK http://www.rainforestfoundationuk.org/media.ashx/rf-palm-oil-guide-update-v3.pdf

Advice for clients

But most of the advice is aimed at clients. All suggestions are based on the idea that using too much heat, water and chemicals on your hair and skin is bad for your hair and bad for your bills as well as bad for the planet.  The benefits of shampooing less often was the top tip that hairdressers said they’d pass onto their clients.  Unless you use a lot of product or work in a greasy environment, shampooing hair once is better for the hair than shampooing twice. Hair and beauty blogger Jennifer Agnuwobi agrees saying “people don’t realise how harsh shampoo is on your hair, most people shampoo far too often and use far too much shampoo.”

Another top tip is using leave-in conditioner. It saves an extra rinse, saving water, energy, time and money and also reducing colour fade. It also gives extra body and weight to the hair which is particularly great for fine or frizzy hair.

Many also shower or wash their hair in overly hot water. Ecohair promote tepid water, as well as saving energy, it is better for those with sensitive skin. Indeed showering for long periods especially if using harsh chemicals typically found in shower gel and shampoo is ageing to skin and irritates sensitive skin.

An increasingly popular product with a really low carbon footprint is dry shampoo. It can transform busy mornings as it requires no water and can be applied anywhere. It makes hair much easier to style, is really quick, reduces colour fade and particularly good for a quick fix in between shampoos or at festivals or camping where there is limited access to water. Once tried, many use it on a weekly basis to extend the life of their shampoo.

The Sustainable Salon certification

Salons become certified by asking their stylists to complete the virtual salon – a training programme that takes 30-45 minutes to complete that exposes them to sustainable haircare practices. It is free for anyone to explore– see http://ecohairandbeauty.com/virtual-salon/

The stylists then receive a sustainable stylist certificate. Once most of the staff have completed this, the salon manager can complete the Salon Certificate to obtain the sustainable salon certification.

This project harnesses the power of professionals to embed more sustainable practices across the population. Hairdressers and barbers can save water, energy and money and attract customers by learning how to be sustainable. In fact everyone can improve hair condition and save time and money and the planet by adopting the suggestions.  Ask your hairdresser or barber if she or he is certified sustainable and if not, tell them to get going. It is free and details are on the website www.ecohairandbeauty.com

Find out more about VTCT resources, including the Eco Hair and Beauty project on our resources page here.

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