A Cut Above: How To Know If Your Hair Salon Is Sustainable

Kate Anglestein
There’s a tectonic shift taking place in the beauty and fashion space: a movement towards more sustainable practices. But with all the attention on sustainable clothing, skincare and makeup brands, we’re neglecting a huge component of the broader personal style picture, and that’s hair
Whether it’s a routine blow-dry, a remedial colour or an impulsive haircut, we rarely think about the sustainability credentials of our go-to salons. In Australia, we’re glad to inform you that some local salons are chopping more than your locks. The likes of Stache, Bat Your Lash, Organika Hair, Mitch Studio and Alchemy, to name a few, are implementing rigorous zero-waste standards and recycling practices to reduce their environmental toll. They’re also paying attention to the brands they stock in their product bays and the tools they use every day. Some salons are even considering (and achieving) the prospect of becoming carbon neutral.
But how do you know whether your salon of choice measures up to your standards? Here are some key things to look out for.

1. Waste

The average salon is overflowing with products: everything from plastic containers to latex gloves and aluminium foil to toxic chemicals. According to Olivia Toohey, the Brand Manager for Davines Australia, it's important to evaluate how a salon accounts for its waste, because the industry is a huge contributor to landfill, particularly plastic waste.
“Another point for salons to think about is what professional colour and retail brands salons use and sell, as biodegradability and [use of organic ingredients] is critical in limiting marine life impact,” she says, pointing to the rise of 'clean' beauty brands as evidence.
Sustainable Salons Australia is the governing body for hair salons that vow to do better by the planet. It implores salon members to “reduce their impact on the planet and invest in local communities” by recycling all kinds of waste — think hair, metals, paper, plastics, chemicals, glass, cardboard, razors, tools and more. It even has a directory of sustainably sound salons in your local area, so you can find a hair haven that meets your environmental expectations. 

2. Carbon Emissions

Just like chopping off your hair, carbon emissions aren't something you can undo. Offsetting a salon's carbon emissions is a positive move towards becoming more sustainable.
How does it work? A business needs to calculate its carbon emissions and then undertake tasks that ‘balance’ or ‘offset’ the emissions created. Mitch Studio, a light-filled, two-story hair salon in Ashburton, Melbourne, recucles 95% of all its waste, and has officially become carbon-neutral as of this year.
The founder, Tara-Lee Mitchell, says, “This is a huge milestone in our sustainability journey. It’s so important to us to continue to do our very best for the community and environment. Offsetting our carbon means that we’re running our business without negatively impacting the environment around us."
Davines calculates that Mitch Studio’s annual carbon footprint equals 22 carbon tonnes. This is the amount they then offset through an initiative that supports forest biodiversity in Panama by planting native tree species.

3. Community 

In a post-pandemic era, work-life balance has never felt more important. Despite how much love one has for their career, salon owners are starting to consider the sustainability of their employees’ mental welfare — and that’s an integral part of social responsibility. 
According to Toohey, the three main pillars of salon sustainability are people, planet and community. She says, "The people aspect can refer to how you take care of the wellbeing of staff in the salon, through to creating an inclusionary environment with a healthy work-life balance, which is something many salons are shifting to.”
The community pillar of sustainability can also mean how the salon supports and gives back to their community by donating time or money to local organisations. 
“For salons and businesses there is no ‘cookie-cutter’ path towards achieving sustainability; it is an ongoing and evolving journey where it is more important to strive to do better each day, even if it is just with simple actions,” says Toohey.

4. B-Corp Certification

The certification gets bandied around a bit these days, so you might be wondering: what even is a B-Corp? B Lab is a nonprofit network trying to transform the global economy to benefit all people, communities and the planet. It defines B-Corps as “businesses that meet high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency”.
Nicole Inskip has been growing her sustainable, B-Corp salon Sessions for over 13 years, having tested a number of initiatives for a business “that is good for all”. She defines the five key pillars she focuses on to uphold peak sustainability standards as staff, clients, governance, community and environment. 
“If salon owners focus on improving their impact in these key areas, they can build a sustainable business," Inksip says. "The B-Corp journey was long and challenging [it took 12 months of reviews], but let me say it is the most rewarding thing I have ever undertaken as a business owner. The assessment allows you a third-party view of your business which as a small business owner can be impossible to have when you are focused on the day-to-day.”
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