Spearheading the eco-conscious efforts for an international professional beauty brand is no easy feat. We chatted with Dr. Elmar Mussenbrock, global director of sustainability for KAO Salon Division, to get the lowdown on how he’s continuing to help the company and its brands make meaningful changes.
Tell us about yourself and your role.
I’m a bit of a generalist, which is important for my role. I’m a doctor in chemistry, so I can speak on a high level to our R&D folks. I’ve been working in the beauty business for 26 years in marketing, so I know the business side very well. I need to be able to talk to the brand to push them to be more sustainable, so it’s very important that I can speak to both—I understand the business needs and the technical challenges. Lastly, I’m a son of a hairdresser.
What are some of the key points of difference in KAO’s sustainability strategy?
For KAO Salon Division, sustainability is not only something we do with our products and services but also in our partnership with salons. It’s a journey that we can only make together, and it’s really important to help salons be better. When I’m talking to salons, the topic of sustainability is often a complex topic. Sometimes, we’re overwhelmed by what’s good and what’s bad. For us, the first step is to ramp up the knowledge of our salon partners so they’re confident in making the right decisions, and that means we’re spending a lot of effort to communicate what sustainability means. When you build knowledge, you have to plant the seed to help salons start their own journeys.
Using recycled materials for packaging seems to be one of the first steps that many brands take on their environmental journeys. What are some of the challenges around this in our industry?
Our priority in our packaging strategy is not to ensure that everything is recyclable but to reduce packaging as much as we can. I always say that what has not been produced can’t harm the planet. That’s why we’re coming out with a lot of pouch solutions, even when some hairdressers are resistant because [the pouches] aren’t as beautiful. If you educate them on how much waste and emissions you’re saving, they’ll likely go that route since there are some products in the salon, like treatments and shampoos, that are used in high quantities. For us, it’s important to reduce as much as we can.
More and more brands are setting big sustainability commitments. How do you work with KAO to ensure that the goals and initiatives you set are realistic?
If you’re only setting low goals for yourself to be able to achieve them, I think that’s the wrong strategy. For us, it’s very important to continuously report where we are. Because we always want to do things the right way and be fully transparent, I think it’s not always bad to say when you didn’t crack it. If you have 20 goals and you reach 19 of them, I think that’s absolutely fair. We know that consumers don’t expect you to change the world in one day. You have to inform consumers that you’re making steady progress.
Any tips for salon owners and stylists on how they can do their part?
Something clever that a leading salon in sustainability in Norway has done is to collect colour waste over a day or a week in a glass bowl. With that visual alone, your team sees—and might be surprised by—how much colour is wasted in the salon. Seeing is believing, and it’s a little step to having that sustainability mindset to start a team challenge to reduce colour waste by 10 per cent, for example. Another salon leader in sustainability from the U.K. has saved 25 per cent of colour waste, which equates to money and makes a huge difference.
First and most importantly, look at your energy. Are you using renewable energy? If not, change your contract or provider. Second, watch not only your water consumption but also your warm water consumption. Third, separate your waste, and partner with a company like Green Circle Salons to dispose of plastic separately. Build your awareness, and create a mission as a team.
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