Savvy consumers want you to wash their hair, not your marketing

Greenwashing is not just a dodgy marketing practice – it’s a dangerous game for businesses to play. Today’s consumers are more eco-conscious than ever before, and they can sniff out bad faith sustainability marketing from a mile away. Do your research and make lasting change; it will positively impact you, your staff, your customers and your bottom line.

As hairdressers, we know what we’re good at – washing, cutting, drying, curling, straightening, perming, crimping, teasing…maybe I’m just pining for the 80s. It was a pretty glorious time for hair, and also the decade that gave us the term ‘greenwashing.’

It’s a term first coined by an environmentalist, Jay Westerveld, criticising the ‘save the towel’ movement in hotels. Westerveld claimed that encouraging hotel guests to re-use their towels was not about saving the climate but saving the hotels the trouble of washing every towel every day, i.e. one of the first notable instances of greenwashing.

It means precisely what the above example indicates. A company makes grand claims about how environmentally friendly it is, but its business practices haven’t changed in a meaningful way. Plenty of big corporations have been accused of greenwashing and with good reason. Oil and gas companies, big players in the aviation industry, even rock bands are not immune to accusations.

The truth is, we’ve likely all been guilty of greenwashing at some point, whether intentional or not. The movement toward sustainable hair and beauty products makes our industry particularly vulnerable to falling for it ourselves or unintentionally our businesses. However, it’s worth remembering that in this case, impact trumps intention. You can be as well-meaning as you like, but your unintentional greenwashing can still have a significant negative impact.

As a salon owner, when was the last time you really investigated whether the companies you buy your products from actually follow through on the promises they make on the bottle? Not whether they give your customers silky soft strands, but whether that bottle really is made from 30,50 or even 80 per cent recycled plastics, or whether the shea butter used in the product comes from a sustainable source. The answer is probably never.

And that’s okay. You should be able to rely on what a company says about itself and its eco-credentials without turning in to a private detective to verify the claims. Your customers expect the same.

If you say your salon is sustainable, your customers expect you to walk the walk on sustainability too. It’s not good enough anymore to just recycle via your council curbside recycling; your customers expect you to be taking one for team earth and making some real changes to your business model.

The good news is that the process of greenifying your business isn’t as daunting as it might seem. Think about where and how you can make sustainable changes. Some of them are so easy you’ll barely notice a difference, but the planet will thank you. Start by thinking about where and how you can minimise waste in your salon:

  • Can you replace your regular coffee pods with refillable pods?
  • Could you invest in a mineral water maker rather than buying bottled?
  • Could you switch to biodegradable garbage bags?
  • Can you join a program like Sustainable Salons?
  • How about starting a mismatched crockery collection from your local op-shop to give your employees a sustainable option for when they grab a coffee or lunch?

Once you’ve made the easy changes, you can move on to some more complex sustainability challenges:

  • Can you switch to a sustainable banking provider?
  • Could you switch energy providers to have your salon run on renewable energy?
  • Better yet, is it possible to install solar panels and generate your own electricity?

There are likely a million little things you can do to minimise your salon’s impact on the planet, and you should do these before you start marketing yourself as sustainable.

Consumers know what they want, and they are not afraid to punish businesses that try to pull the wool over their eyes. Don’t risk alienating your client base by making unsubstantiated claims about how green you are, especially when going green is simple and affordable. Be transparent with your clients, and they’ll keep coming back, not just for your great haircuts but because they know they’re putting their money into a business that cares for the environment.

Greenwashing can seem like an attractive way to engage with the customer base you’re trying to woo, but it’s not the answer. You can take simple steps in your salon that will have you walking the walk (not just talking the talk) on sustainability in no time.

Stick to washing what you’re good at!