It’s fair to say that we’re in an industry where it’s easy to get caught up in the magic – the hair and beauty biz sells the hope of transformation, self-improvement and inclusivity, and on the most part, it really delivers. But given all that’s happened in the last 12 months and the growing number of conscious consumers, I’ve started thinking about how we ‘sell sustainability’ in our businesses… and do we deliver?

Let’s agree that the ‘green-washing’ movement has (finally!) moved out. When eco was introduced to the mainstream, it was kind of a trend; a label spruiking ‘natural’, which was enough to propel your business into the ethical category and satisfy the new eco-consumer. But there was rarely an actual eco-impact in that bottle; it was full of empty promises.

We’ve come a long way since then, though. Young Aussies are living the consequences from past actions and now they actually care about what’s behind the label – they’re passionate, informed and armed with the power of a dollar they won’t give up easily.

I’m normally a big fan of ‘fake it til you make it’ (words to live by when you’re trying to get a start-up taken seriously), but when it comes to adding sustainability practices or statements into your business, this MO needs to go in the bin.

And with the help of the Junkee Media 2020 Youth Research report, I’m going to show you why.

FACT: 70% of young people really give a sh*t about Sustainability and the Environment

Second only to mental health, and coming in above gender equality. It’s one of the big, profound issues of our time, and we can no longer pretend it’s just the hippies who care.

FACT: 89% are taking environmental action in their own lives

They’re reducing the amount of fast fashion they buy, actively avoiding single-use products, increasing their reusables collection and even reducing their meat consumption – the youth market is not just aware they now have environmental choices, they’re making them. You know what else? 51% said their environmental actions had not changed because of COVID-19. I think Junkee summed it up best: “It’s a passion so deep that not even a global pandemic could stop them.”

FACT: 79% are willing to sacrifice chemical-based beauty treatments to help the environment

You can only work with what you have available to you, I completely understand. But are you researching your suppliers’ sustainability practices like a young Aussie is researching yours? It’s true that the hair and beauty industry has a long way to go to provide more sustainable product options (it’s a single-use wasteland!), but there are incredible companies out there innovating and offering solutions – even if they’re small ones for now. Think biodegradable, compostable, recycled, recyclable, machine-washable, FSC certified (for paper products), and certified organic.

FACT: 56% say the most important quality in a brand is acting ethically/with integrity (and 33% say it’s giving back to the community)

Now that I’ve put the hard word on about your product choices, I’m sorry to say, but stocking eco-friendly haircare is just not enough anymore.

56% need you to prove you’re acting with integrity – that’s more than half. And I should point out that it was the third-highest on a list of 19 options, beaten only by “has good quality products” and “is environmentally-friendly” (see above facts 1, 2 and 3).

This is where faking it won’t just hurt your client’s feelings, it could eventually really hurt your bottom line. Offering a trend-based ‘green’ statement, whacking up a social media post claiming your virtual support for a cause, or introducing a practice you can’t explain end-to-end is eventually going to catch you out.

Believing what you’re implementing and understanding it start to finish, creating a staff culture that accepts and advocates this, and visibly acting upon these practices in full view of your clients is the only way to satisfy (and grow!) this important segment in your business. At Sustainable Salons, we’re passionate about helping our salon members successfully introduce sustainable practices through an awesome induction, ongoing education and transparency, fun and meaningful engagement opportunities, and a super simple recycling and community benefits system that your clients can actually touch and feel, and see you do.

And nothing is more real than that.