This year alone, salons across the United States will contribute more than 150 million pounds of unrecycled foil, toxic chemical waste, and plastic bottles to landfills and water systems.
With 59 percent of Americans receiving hair services more than four times a year, there is a staggering increase in the average carbon footprint as it relates to the beauty industry.
Many salons are taking small steps toward sustainability by incorporating the use of sulfate-free products and offering water bottle refill stations.
For more than 15 years, I’ve had the opportunity to travel the country, meet with salon owners and stylists, and listen to their unique perspectives on how we can be innovative in our industry as a stylist myself.
After analysing my time with so many creative, passionate professionals, I realized that there was one extremely important mission was missing - complete sustainability.
It hit me that so many professionals are completely unaware of the damage our salons and services are contributing to the living planet. When I finally decided to move from stylist to owner by opening my first salon, I knew that I had to challenge the status quo.
I wanted to change our industry’s exertion of resources and set the new, environmentally responsible standards.
In 2018, I devised a replicable, zero-waste business plan that aimed to inspire salon owner’s to take responsibility for the next generation of creatives and the impact our work has on mother earth.
Statistics & strategy
My husband is a commercial contractor, so we worked together to bring the concept to life through strategic design and intentional touchpoints that made green resources accessible to every independent stylist and client who would soon be supporting our dream.
The attention to detail paid off in more ways than one. In its first year, my salon was able to reduce output by 95 percent, diverting more than 17,000 pounds of the waste that traditional salons exert while reaching a maximum capacity of more than 80 artists.
Stylists have doubled or tripled their revenue since moving their small businesses into the completely sustainable individual studios. In addition, the salon has saved more than 35 percent on the energy bill.
We started with what we knew we’d use the most - hair care products. Hair dye has more than 5,000 chemical components, some of which are carcinogenic.
Our team avoided harmful toxins by partnering with one of the top haircare brands in the industry that provides chemical-free, plant-based shampoo, conditioner, color, and additional beauty products. Some brands are even producing shampoo and conditional bars, to avoid plastic bottle usage.
Each time a stylist washes their client’s hair, more than 45 gallons of water are contaminated and with an average of 12 clients a day - water waste in the salon industry is outrageous.
Our first, most important step for reducing the usage was the installation of water-saving fixtures and environmentally shampoo bowl heads that not only double water pressure but reduce water and energy output by 65 percent.
One of the most important things I wanted to avoid was the traditional salon’s distinct smell -- usually a combination of bleach, perm, and ammonia that riddles the air that stylists and their clients breath all day long.
Studies have shown that stylists are exposed to toxins linked to higher risks with female reproductive disorders, as well as a significantly increased chance for bladder cancer.
Another key design element in the salon is a state-of-the-art air filtration systems. This VRF Air System removes recycled air (and any strong chemical smell) while simultaneously pumping 100 percent fresh air back into the 10,000 square foot space.
Another secret to running a zero-waste space is to build partnerships with organizations that help recycle and reuse items that can’t go into the city’s bin.
One company will even go as far as recycling hair to clean up oil spills in the ocean. With more than 10 percent of the world’s plastic ending up in the ocean and the majority of product containers being plastic, the beauty industry has an opportunity to make a huge difference.
Even if they aren’t toxic, it’s best to properly disposes of hair products to ensure they aren’t put back into our water systems. Foil takes more than 400 years to decompose and can only be recycled when clean.
As for more small changes with big impact that can be applied to businesses and homeowners, there are several simple options that will reduce your carbon footprint.
By replacing light bulbs with energy-saving LED light bulbs and adding motion-sensors, you’re saving on your electricity bill AND reducing your energy usage.
Donating a portion of profits to a nonprofit organization that aligns with your brand not only gives back to the community but helps customers feel like they’re giving back by treating themselves.
Another suggestion for reducing toxins and promoting clean air is to bring in plants like Aloe Vera and Snake Plant, that are known for improving air quality.
The real change comes when businesses commit to caring for the earth.
With the Amazon burning, rapid climate breakdown, and coral reef deteriorating -- taking action on a larger scale is more important now than ever.
When you have an organization that takes the torch for change, the real impact happens and inspires others.
Benjamin Novak Hudgins is owner and stylist of Novak Hair Studios.