Change the Way You Wash Your Hair to Help Save the Environment
By Denise Baden
When you hear about businesses with a high environmental impact or activities with a high carbon footprint, you are probably more likely to imagine heavy machinery, engines and oil rather than hairdressing. Yet hairdressing, both as a sector and as an individual activity, can have a massive carbon footprint.
Hairdressing uses high levels of hot water, energy and chemicals. Similarly, in our homes, heating hot water is typically the most energy intensive activity. For the cost of a ten-minute shower that uses an electric immersion heater, you could leave a typical television on for 20 hours.
So while it helps to turn lights and appliances off, the real gains in terms of reducing energy usage are in slashing our use of hot water. A quarter of UK emissions are residential and, of those, the vast majority come from running hot water. The longer it runs and the hotter it is, the more energy intensive (and costly) it is.
Little Changes, Big Results
Most people use too much shampoo and wash their hair too often. A daily routine of shampooing your hair twice followed by a wash out conditioner uses annually about 14,222 liters of water and 1252kWh of energy, costs about £245, and has a carbon footprint of 500kg of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO₂e).
On the other hand, if you shampoo your hair twice a week (supplementing that with a dry shampoo if needed) and use a leave-in conditioner, you will use annually just 613 liters of water and 55 kWh of energy, produce a carbon footprint of 25kg of CO₂e, and cost yourself about £27 a year.
Research has also revealed how shampoo can contribute to pollution. Maybe this in part explains why sales of shampoo have fallen over the past few years in the UK—with many people choosing to wash their hair less often.
Washing your hair less doesn't just save you money, it's also much better for your hair condition. It can also help to limit the aging effects of over exposure to hot water and chemicals on your skin.
My latest research project looks at the issue of sustainability across the hairdressing sector. Not only is the hair sector a high user of resources, but hairdressers probably talk to more people than any other occupation—and are in a great position to pass on advice about lower resource hair care.
From speaking with hairdressers, it seems that ever since the episode of Blue Planet II in which David Attenborough explained how a whale mother was still carrying her dead baby which, it was claimed, had been poisoned by plastics (though scientists working on the show have confirmed there was no actual evidence to prove this) salons have been seeing a massive increase in clients wanting to know that their hairdresser is doing their bit.
Our research has found that many hairdressers are keen to make changes that are better for the environment. The opportunity to present their industry as part of the solution rather than part of the problem is very attractive to hairdressers, as it boosts their sense of professional identity and pride in offering a well informed service.
A large focus of the project has been on equipping hairdressers with the skills and knowledge required for them to talk to their clients about sustainable hair care. There are many products out there that are better for the environment, not because they have "organic" or "eco" on the label, but because they reduce the need for hot water.
Dry shampoo is a great example. It is fast, convenient, and great at festivals and on the move. It also makes hair easier to style, is cheap and avoids the need for any hot water. Similarly, leave-in conditioner avoids the need for an extra rinse and again makes hair easier to style. It is also fantastic at giving body to fine hair, and saves water, energy, money and time.
Our ecohair project, run in association with the Vocational Training Charitable Trust and the Hair and Beauty Industry Authority, provides a sustainable stylist certificate at no cost, once hairdressers have completed the training program. The salon owner can also obtain a sustainable salon certificate to let customers know these things are important to their business.
Getting certified as a sustainable salon has numerous benefits, and not just in terms of reputation. Adopting the changes as part of the scheme saves the typical salon 286,000 liters of water, 24150 kWh of energy and £5,300 a year.
And with new research showing the increased threat of climate change and the need for urgent behavioral change, it is great that simple alterations to our hair care routines—and where we choose to get our hair cut (you can find sustainable salons here)—can make such a difference to the planet we call home.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
By Peter Giger
The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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