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The University of Southampton
Southampton Business School

Embedding sustainable practices across the haircare sector

Research at Southampton Business School has investigated the sustainability of products and practices in the hairdressing industry, and has identified pro-environmental behaviours for hairdressers to adopt and pass on to their clients. This has contributed to environmental benefits and improved economic competitiveness for the UK’s £6.2bn hairdressing industry.


Hair Salon

Business activities account for 18 per cent of UK carbon emissions. Sectors with a high carbon footprint bring to mind heavy machinery, engines and oil – yet haircare, both as a sector and as an individual activity, also has a vast carbon footprint. There are 36,000 registered hair salons in the UK, using high levels of hot water, energy and often toxic chemicals.

Research led by Professor Denise Baden was the first to examine sustainable practice in this highly visible, but often overlooked business sector.

Research challenge

ESRC logo

In a 2012 ESRC-funded study, Baden interviewed hairdressers and convened focus groups to assess sustainability practices across the sector and understand what pro-environmental behaviours (PEBs) hairdressers were willing to adopt. Win-wins were identified, as more eco-friendly practices tend to be better for the hair and skin, save time and lower bills.

Baden designed a successful intervention, the Green Salon Makeover, to raise awareness of PEBs among hairdressers and encourage them to devise their own ways to reduce environmental impacts, which they could pass on to their customers.

A further ESRC study embedded sustainability in the hairdressing curriculum for colleges and large salon chains. A key recommendation is to apply shampoo only once, using a leave-in conditioner to reduce rinsing and lowering water temperature. This is in response to a technical assessment by Southampton’s Centre for Environment Sciences that revealed that heating water consumes the most energy.

Changing occupational standards and vocational qualifications

Hair Salon

In 2015, as a direct consequence of the research, the Hair and Beauty Industry Authority (HABIA) added sustainability practices to all technical units within its new National Occupational Standards, which form the basis of all hairdressing training and professional practice in the UK. This meant that hairdressers across the UK’s estimated 55,000 salons were advised to abandon the default shampooing practice of ‘rinse and repeat’, to shampooing only once.

HABIA also integrated these new sustainable standards into its own skills training, and sustainable practice is now taught in all hair and beauty qualifications across the country and internationally by the Vocational Training Charitable Trust and City & Guilds.

Baden herself presented on sustainable practice to more than 2,000 trainers and industry professionals across 60 workshops and training events. She also produced a bespoke sustainable hairdressing video for, who provide online hairdressing training internationally.

Embedding sustainable guidelines through training, toolkits and certification

In 2016 Baden attended a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Hair Industry, which seeks to promote the professionalisation of the sector. Baden proposed introducing a formal sustainability certification programme, which was endorsed by major hairdressing bodies.

Baden created the website for colleges and salons to access training materials, presentations and information on eco-products and suppliers. An online ‘virtual salon’ training programme, leading to a Sustainable Salon Certification, was launched in October 2016. Thousands of stylists at hundreds of salons have obtained this certification.

Baden secured funding from the University’s ESRC Impact Acceleration Account to further promote sustainable hairdressing practices to the sector, in particular the sustainable salon certification scheme and toolkits on the Eco Hair & Beauty website, over a 12-month period from March 2017.

Additionally, L’Oréal have requested to partner with Baden to help design a bespoke sustainable salon certification scheme.

Delivering financial and health benefits

Following sustainable guidelines, a four-seater salon can save £5,300 per year, leading to an estimated £750,000 saving across all certified salons in the UK. Customers following the advice can each save £200 per year.

The introduction of sustainable haircare practices can also benefit health, as less heat, water and chemical products can improve hair and skin condition.

Public recognition

In 2019 the project won an £10,000 ESRC Outstanding Impact prize, which Baden used to promote sustainable hair practices overseas, particularly in Malta and Mauritius – two countries that experience acute water shortages.

List of all staff members in
Staff MemberPrimary Position
Denise BadenProfessor of Sustainable Business
Swarna PrasadMBA Programme Manager, Senior Enterprise Fellow
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