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Adapting Post-Pandemic: Salon Sustainability on Wheels

It's a particularly chilly December morning and the youngest employee pulls up the gates of the salon. She knows from experience to turn on all four of the stand-up hair dryers and thermostat to warm up the space. Next, she organizes all of the recently laundered towels. As her colleagues arrive, they continue to prepare for the first clients of the day by carefully arranging the stylist’s station with a comb, containers, aluminum foil and meticulously stirring together the color and peroxide.

That was nearly a decade and a half ago and I was that young employee in my mother’s small business. I couldn't articulate it then, but there was an understanding that working in the salon required caution; because products were either toxic (such as hair color, relaxers, keratin treatments), resources were expensive to consume (water, energy, products) or difficult to recycle (packaging & waste). In fact, here are three hair-raising realities about the salon industry at-large:

  • The beauty industry sends 877 pounds of waste to the landfill every minute
  • 42,000 pounds of hair color, lightener and toner are rinsed down the drain every day and eventually finds its way into our drinking water and soil
  • Every day, salons throw away 110,000 pounds of used metal, including hair foils. That’s half the weight of a commercial airplane!

Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, my mother along with many of her salon owning colleagues found themselves in the difficult position of closing their businesses. In fact, “Service industry businesses such as hair salons, nail salons, and restaurants generally operate with only one month of cash flow on hand. This means that adapting and embracing new ways of operating is crucial for so many business owners to survive this crisis.” (source) Some hairstylists and former salon owners have evolved their business models to be more personalized as well as to limit health exposures by traveling to their clients homes, accepting limited appointments in their own households, or even per diem contract work for a specific audience, like a nursing home.

Here are a few tips for the remote hairstylist (one without a brick and mortar business) who would like to know how to be more sustainable:

1) Leverage social media and/or a website to: 

  • Accept pre-order for future appointment (helping with cash flow) 
  • Use a website as a tool to reduce paper use. This will provide a “touchless” approach to scheduling and check out. “Even the salon menu is presented virtually, on a tablet, which also displays beauty images and product photos.” (source)

2) Consider switching to single- use biodegradable towels, linens and accessories (and then recycle them!) especially when you are on the go. 

  • Rossendale, Lancashire-based Polished Beauty Clinic started working with Scrummi Spa in 2018, a range of single-use biodegradable towels, linens and accessories. “Scrummi Spa reduces our laundry cost by nearly 90% while cutting down drastically on the amount of micro-fibres entering the water system,” explains co-owner Elizabeth Wilkinson. (source)

3) Swap out products and supplies that are more environmentally-friendly. 

  • Samantha Davies, owner of Luna Organic Beauty Boutique in Cardiff, looked at every product used by the business and replaced as many as possible with substitutes that are better for the planet. 

4) Consider using a low pressure water nozzle

  • A water system (whether simple or more complex) that limits the water that is consumed. This is particularly important for the remote hair stylist in less traditional settings outside of a hair salon, as the water consumed may be for all residents in a building. 

5) Look for options for recycling your waste.

  • Equip your travel station with recycling bins for paper, plastics, glass, hair-coloring tubes and foils. Look for organizations in your area that will use your hair for wigs etc.

About the Author

Tatiana Soto

Tatiana Soto lives in Western Massachusetts while earning her MBA in Sustainability (‘24) from Bard College. Tatiana has experience in the education industry, NGOs and is an entrepreneur with skills in strategic planning and innovation. Tatiana is passionate about wellness, food justice and community wealth building in order to create a more sustainable future for communities of color. You can contact Tatiana at ts4129@bard.edu