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This post is part of a series featuring local businesses who have “gone green” – adapted sustainable business practices. This series supplements the Going Green – Sustainable Business in Scotland faculty-led study abroad program. 

During my 2017 exploratory visit to Inverurie, Scotland, I encountered a truly green business. On a tour of Elan Hair Design, a full service hair salon and spa, I was astounded by the sustainability efforts made by this small business to complete level two (of five) of the Green Tick Scheme, a program sponsored by the UK non-profit Bright Green Business.  Part of their mission is to help UK businesses create an environmental management system that helps businesses reduce costs, boost competitiveness, enhance customer perception, and meet supply chain obligations. As part of Scotland’s 2015 adoption of the 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development, the UK government created grant programs to help small businesses and communities fund sustainability initiatives and administer award programs to highlight green accomplishments. The Green Apple Award winners’ list is where I started my search for businesses to visit when I built my faculty-led study abroad program in sustainable business to Scotland for Winona State University’s College of Business. Elan Hair Design is a major Green Apple Award winner, nominated for over 80 awards and winning over two dozen. In speaking with a local group recently, a member of the community asked if anything we had learned in Scotland had been brought back to Winona. While it is difficult to continue the learning experience with students beyond a semester, this series serves as a local look at sustainable businesses in Winona.

My first stop was my local AVEDA salon, Nostallja Studio, on Franklin and 3rd Streets. I’ve known Nostallja owner Wendy Sandvig for over a decade. She’s the only one with whom I entrust my short hair. I noticed a Facebook post by Nostallja in February that highlighted their new partnership with Green Circle Salons, a certified B-corporation out of Canada. Green Circle’s mission is to “provide the world’s first, and North America’s only, sustainable salon solution to recover and repurpose beauty waste ensuring that we can help keep people and the planet beautiful.”  By building a proprietary platform for recycling beauty industry waste, they can recover up to 95% of the resources that were once relegated to landfills.

At my next hair appointment, I asked Wendy about their decision to “go green.” She did not hesitate when she described how it bothered her that salons were adding items to the waste stream that should be able to be recycled. Earlier that year Cassie Roland, a Nostallja stylist, was inspired by a talk on clean water and recycling at their annual AVEDA congress. Cassie learned that the beauty industry creates 877 points of waste every single minute. She read about other salons partnering with Green Circle on AVEDA’s artist forum and pitched it to the Nostallja team. By partnering with Green Circle, Nostallja Studio is part of a turnkey program that repurposes and recovers up to 95% of what was once relegated to the landfill: leftover hair color, color tubes and caps, foils, aerosol cans, paper, plastics, and even hair itself.

With this change, Wendy admitted, a large learning curve was needed–mostly for herself. Behavior modification is always part of culture change and going green is no exception. Green Circle provides recycle boxes that are placed in strategic locations within the salon. Leftover liquid hair color must be double bagged with all the air extinguished to avoid chemical bloat. The team has been trained how to store and package materials that get shipped to Green Circle once a week in large boxes aptly labeled “hAIRmail”. While touring the salon’s back room with Leah Dold, the salon manager, I was surprised to see discarded wax strips and wood sticks, pedicure flip flops, used coloring foil and more—things that would have once be considered trash are now opportunities to treasure.

How does one turn trash into treasure? Foils, color tubes, aerosol cans and other metals are cleaned and repurposed by Green Circle for conversion into uses such as building bicycles. Leftover hair color and single waste items such as plastic gloves, cotton balls and wax sticks are turned into clean water and clean energy which is injected into local power grids. Large bags of hair are converted into hair brooms for oil spill cleanup, specialty bio plastic, stormwater filtration, commercial insulation, and compost. Other items that can be included in their weekly hAIRmail box include batteries, light bulbs, broken salon tools, and printer cartridges.

American business owners need more than just a perfunctory “green business” label in order to invest in new opportunities. Green Circle charges a startup fee for salons and promotes a simple formula for green change: be green, save money, gain clients. By reducing hair color usage and implementing energy and water savings, salons who invest a bit of money and effort can reap long-term financial benefits while also positively contributing to sustainability. Nostallja notified customers via email that they will be charging a $2 eco fee to all salon services, explaining that last year Green Circle diverted 560,856 pounds of beauty waste from landfills and waterways and they wanted to be part of that movement.

Similar benefits were mentioned on my visit to Elan Hair Design. In 2012 Elan applied for and received £250,000 (about $323,000) in grants for improvements to their space. As a result, they recycle over 90% of their salon waste and use biodegradable salon towels and capes. They swapped old floor tiles, ceiling tiles, and HVAC equipment for efficient and sustainable alternatives. They fitted new wash basins that reduce water usage, installed energy saving motion detectors, and invested in low-temperature radiators and photovoltaic panels that generate energy. Solar-thermal panels heat their water and a new air-source heat pump results in an 80% savings on heating costs. Eco-friendly salon chairs made with sustainable materials and LED-lighting that lasts a decade rounds out the major improvements done by Elan. In one year, Elan Hair Design reduced their energy savings by 762% and their water consumption by 64%. Their next goal was replacing their gasoline-powered business vehicle with an electric alternative.

The United States government does not offer the same level of financial support as the UK, even though 193 member states of the United Nations adopted the Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes the 17 Global Goals. Small businesses and communities will need to be creative and research how to best understand how and why they should pursue sustainable initiatives. By leveraging our purchasing power, consumers can insist that business take sustainability seriously and invest for our planet’s future.

My 2017 experience at Elan and our subsequent 2018 study abroad visit is chronicled on our public Facebook page (@WSUScotland). Details on the next Going Green: Sustainable Business in Scotland faculty-led study abroad trip can be found on the Business Administration’s Scotland travel abroad program page. The community is invited to apply.

By Jana Craft, Ph.D.