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Building sustainability into hair and beauty

The UK’s £6.2bn hairdressing industry has a huge environmental impact, through its use of water, energy and chemicals. Southampton research is reducing the carbon footprint and cutting costs.

Published: 21 February 2019

Dr Denise Baden, Associate Professor at Southampton Business School, is investigating how hairdressers can reduce their environmental impact and inspire their customers to save energy, water and use fewer chemicals at home. Her Eco Hair and Beauty project to encourage hairdressers to embrace sustainability won the £10,000 Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Celebrating Impact Prize 2018 for Outstanding Impact in Business and Enterprise.

“Hairdressers are in a unique position to combat climate change,” says Denise. “As they chat to their clients while styling their hair, they have an ideal opportunity to highlight practical ways that individuals could adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.”

Working with 20 salon owners and colleagues in the Centre for Energy and Environment at the University, Denise and her team identified key areas in which hairdressing salons could save energy. They found that heating water is the most energy-intensive activity in a hair salon – far more than, for example, hair drying.

“Reducing the use of hot water is a clear win-win: using tepid water and shampooing once instead of twice is better for hair, saves time, money and is good for the environment,” says Denise. Adopting these eco-friendly practices can save the average four-seat salon 286,000 litres of water and 24,150 kWh of energy per year, equating to an annual saving of £5,300.  

Industry impact

In 2017, Denise launched an online sustainable salon certification and virtual salon training programme for salons and stylists. So far more than 50 salons and 1,000 stylists have gained this certificate, which is endorsed by key industry bodies such as the Hairdressing Council, Hair and Beauty Industry Authority and the Vocational Training Charitable Trust.

Her research has also shaped the sustainability component of the training programme for the UK’s 14,000 hairdressing apprentices.

Acting on our recommendations, hairdressers are now taught to shampoo once instead of twice, which is a massive saving in water and energy.

Dr Denise Baden - Associate Professor in the Southampton Business School

Denise’s team has run more than 60 sustainability workshops and training events, educating over 2,000 trainers, colleges and industry professionals about greener products and practices, including new water-saving technologies such as low-flow showerheads, leave-in conditioner and dry shampoo.

The research is also having an international impact, with salon owners from countries across the world – including Malta, Mauritius, South Africa, India and New Zealand – completing the virtual salon training programme.

“My aim is for this trajectory to continue, and for more and more salons to adopt our eco-friendly practices,” says Denise. “A key factor in the success of this programme is support from the industry, and I’m keen to continue working with industry partners such as the Vocational Training Charitable Trust to embed and promote these sustainable practices.”

Did you know?

  •  A 10-minute shower, powered by an electric immersion heater, uses the same amount of energy as leaving your TV on for 20 hours.
  • Running hot water is typically our most energy-intensive activity in the home; much of that hot water goes to wash our hair.
  • Shampooing hair once rather than twice saves water – and is better for your hair.
  • Tepid water is better than hot water to save energy; it also promotes healthier hair and skin.
  • Leave-in conditioner saves water, time, energy and money and is great for adding body to fine hair.
  • Dry shampoo makes hair easier to style and is a quick fix between shampoos.
  • You can find salons that have the sustainable salon certification on or ask your hairdresser to get the free certification; stylists simply need to work through the virtual salon, which takes around 40 minutes.

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