Kate Henderson talks to Live for Less about how and why Elysium Hair committed to building a sustainable hairdressing salon, and provides tips for how other small business owners can rethink their impact.

Hair salons aren’t known for being eco-friendly. Think single-use plastic bottles, chemicals, high water consumption and power-sucking devices like hairdryers.

Determined to provide a quality service without the environmental footprint, Kate and Oscar Henderson, owners of Brisbane’s Elysium Hair, have transformed their salon into an award-winning eco-haven.

LFL: Why did you decide to turn Elysium into an eco-friendly salon?

KATE: Our personal values didn’t align with owning a hair salon, which is quite a wasteful business. We did as much as we could at work to reduce our footprint, but when the Sustainable Salons social enterprise was launched, it was everything we had been dreaming of. We were one of Australia’s first salons to get onboard.

We also have Green accreditation through the Australian Hairdressing Council.

LFL: What is Sustainable Salons?

KATE: They’re an Australian and New Zealand social enterprise that rescue waste products from salons and diverts it from landfill.

LFL: With the support of Sustainable Salons, how do you manage your waste?

KATE: We have separate bins for everything! There’s one for plastic bottles, one for leftover chemicals, one for aluminium foil, one for hair, etcetera. The only thing we aren’t currently diverting is food scraps, but we’re working on introducing composting soon.

Our waste is collected weekly by the Endeavour Foundation who sort it and sell it to recyclers. The proceeds are then donated to OzHarvest. So far, Elysium Hair has provided more than 95,200 meals through OzHarvest from the money our waste has generated.

LFL: In what other ways is your waste used?

KATE: Hair is one of the most absorbent materials on the planet, and the cuttings from our salon are used in Hair Booms. They’re similar to giant stockings stuffed with hair and are used to soak up oil spills in waterways. So far, the waste hair from our salon has created more than 106 Hair Booms, which can soak up more than 26L of oil. Hair longer than 20cm is donated to Variety Club and used to make wigs.

Our old plastic bottles are turned into things like outdoor benches, and even the leftover chemicals from mixing up hair colours is scraped into a chemical bucket for safe treatment to avoid contaminating groundwater.

We are also implementing a take-back program for our customers to encourage them to return their old plastic bottles for recycling.

LFL: How else do you reduce your salons use of resources?

KATE: Since leasing our store, we have been focused on reducing our impact. We have a green lease, we worked hard to create a low-impact shop fit-out and have consistently updated our environmental policy.

We use unique shower heads called “eco heads” which reduce water usage by up to 50% and don’t heat as much, because heating the water is also a significant drain of energy. Our lighting is energy-efficient, and we encourage our staff and customers to use public transport. If we can source a recycled product, we do that, so the foil we use for highlights is already recycled, and we then recycle it again.

LFL: How do you ensure your team stays motivated?

KATE: We have a designated sustainability ambassador, and they help us to develop community initiatives and bring new ideas to our weekly meetings. We also have a private Facebook page for our team to ensure communication is easy.

Sustainable Salons also provides regular information to help keep us informed and motivated.

LFL: Any tips for small business owners who want to reduce their business’ impact?

KATE: Write down everything you use, everything you buy and everything you throw away. Start with that and change your purchasing decisions. Ask yourself if you need it or if a better option exists. Also, consider what is leaving your business and how you can ensure customers recycle your products.

It’s also vital to educate your team and get people thinking together. Get everyone in the room together to solve the problem. Ask them, what is sustainability? Why is it important? And keep educating them. Get an expert in to talk to them. Watch a Youtube video or documentary together.

Ensure you have good communication and create pathways for people to come to you with ideas.

LFL: What has been the best thing about transforming your business?

KATE: It’s a great feeling to know you are turning a business that traditionally has so much waste into something beautiful and sustainable. We’ve got to look after this planet, we only have one, and we can all do better. It all makes a difference.

LFL: What has been the hardest thing?

KATE: Keeping motivation up, especially when you have new employees. You have to allocate time to educating new staff members and ensuring they understand the reasons on more than just a procedural level. They need to feel personally motivated and have to believe in what you’re trying to do together.