Smells like green spirit

With the UK hairdressing industry worth an estimated £5 billion, it’s time to cut to the chase and blow (dry) some resource efficiency into the arena. Leonie Butler talks to Élan Hair Design, which has embraced the green (rinse)

Smells like green spirit

Hairdressing is not commonly associated with waste and resources, but a salon in Scotland has shown that focusing on resource efficiency can be good for the environment as well as business.

Based 16 miles northwest of Aberdeen in Inverurie, family-run Élan Hair Design has made ‘going green’ central to its ethos. The business, established in 1971, is run by Lorna and Gordon Milton and their daughters. Describing themselves as a regular family, who “did our recycling, but that’s about it in terms of being green”, their green journey began with a refurbishment. They met salon designer Charlie Hearn, who told them LED lighting could cut electricity usage by 80 per cent and that, as they say, was that. Lorna Milton explains: “We found that when we started looking into efficiency measures, doors automatically opened. We then looked into solar panels and photovoltaic [PV] panels and everything else that would make the salon green. It was making a big commitment, but it meant we were unique to other salons and a better option.”

Resource Efficiency Scotland’s funding pot, launched in April 2013, was key to the transformation. “We secured an interest-free loan for £82,000 that we are paying back over eight years. And that covered the cost of our PV panels, our solar thermal, our air-source heat pump, LED lights, water-efficiency backwash unit and also our air conditioning.”

And whilst clients directly experience the compostable towels that save on washing and drying (cutting water consumption by 18 per cent and saving around £900 a year), many measures are not immediately visible, like the eco-friendly flooring, sustainably-sourced furniture and motion-sensor lighting systems. “Not one thing really stands out”, says Milton when I ask her to name the most efficient measure they’ve adopted. “Everything works in unison... The biggest saving we made was our electricity, and that was from £6,100 a year to just under £800, which is huge.” She adds: “The new basins use water that is aerated, so you don’t need to use as much. That alone has reduced our water consumption by 64 per cent.”

Already, the company’s carbon management plan, endorsed by the Carbon Trust, has resulted in a 90 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions – equivalent to 110 tonnes in 2013, and a 38 per cent improvement on the previous year. 

This article was taken from Issue 80

You might be forgiven for thinking that hair salons wouldn’t face many specific waste challenges, but Élan diverts 95 per cent of its general waste from landfill (including foils and empty colour tubes, which are particularly harmful when disposed to landfill) and it was (perhaps surprisingly) the first salon to send cut hair for composting: shorn locks and other biodegradable waste is collected fortnightly in a 240-litre wheelie bin (which is always full, says Milton) by Keenan Recycling and eventually spread as compost on local farmers’ fields.

The approach has yielded a hoard of awards, having been shortlisted for a total of 42 accolades including the National Recycling Awards (in 2013), Zero Waste Awards (in 2013), and a Scottish Waste and Resources Award (in 2012).

Milton says it’s been “quite a simple process to go through”, and the media interest has really helped. And news is travelling fast: “We’ve had visits from salons in Aberdeen and even some up from England. There’s also a college in Kirkcaldy who we’ve shared ideas with and who’ve just put a green salon in the college so their students can learn about eco-hairdressing and what impact it can have on your business.”

It’s certainly been good for Élan: since implementing the changes, the salon has seen turnover increase by 16 per cent to £373,749 in 2013, while visitor numbers have increased by 25 per cent year on year – with feedback citing the green ethos as a major factor. “We’re making savings and we’re earning more.” And that is definitely because it’s ‘worth it’.