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They've even got sustainable haircuts now? Greening beauty at Toronto's worldSalon

On a chilly November afternoon, the sun streaming through the big windows of worldSALON on Adelaide Street is doing such a good job of keeping the place warm, there's no reason to turn the furnace on. The hot water heater is similarly out of a job; the solar heating system on the roof keeps 300 litres of water piping hot for the five on-duty stylists working their hair magic. Getting a regularly scheduled trim, devoted customer Chantelle tells her long-time stylist Brian Phillips that her family has installed solar-panel lighting and a gravity-based water supply at their off-the-grid cottage.

"We talked about the solar panel thing back when you were looking at that property," says Phillips, worldSALON's CEO.

"I like to pick your brain for ideas," says Chantelle, a former model who has known Phillips "longer than my husband."

Not your typical beauty parlour talk, but worldSALON is not your typical beauty parlour. Over the last 17 years or so, Phillips has turned the place into something of an eco-hub, reducing the business's electricity consumption by more than 50 percent and purging their hair and beauty product of what he considers to be environmentally harmful and personally toxic ingredients. A member of the Windshare Cooperative (co-owners of the Exhibition Place Wind Turbine with Toronto Hydro Energy Services) and the Toronto Environmental Alliance, Phillips has earned several awards for his efforts, including most recently, a Green Circle Award for Environmental Stewardship at the Mirror Awards honouring Canadian hairdressers, stylists, salons and spas. In an industry known for excess, glitzy surfaces and throw-away ideas, Phillips has tried to create a green heart at its core.

"Believe me, I love glamour," says Phillips. "Making beautiful photographs with beautiful models is one of the joys of my life. But the plastic side of fashion has to change. When I started out, nobody thought of the environment, but a lot of people have evolved. It's something my customers appreciate. By coming here, they can feel they're doing something and learn about what they can do themselves."

Phillips's ah-ha moment arrived in the early 1990s when he developed contact dermatitis on his hands. By the process of elimination, he narrowed down the cause to a solution used in perms. He stopped doing perms, his skin got better and he started to wonder about other aspects of the hair and beauty industry that might be hurting the world in the quest for beauty. He started to rethink the way he did business.

In 2001, worldSALON launched its own product line, all plant-based ingredients with no artificial colour or fragrance, and no sodium lauryl sulphate or parabens, chemicals which are hot-button topics among health-conscious consumers. Meanwhile, Phillips set about shrinking the salon's carbon footprint. He had a new door made in the back of the salon that improved air circulation so much that air conditioning is necessary only occasionally -- and comes from one of the most energy-efficient AVACs on the market. He replaced all the light bulbs with compact fluorescents and low-voltage halogens. The cotton smocks worn by patrons are air-dried rather than tumble-dried. He banished the old upright hair dryers, which were electricity hogs. As for recycling, at the peak of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill crisis last spring, worldSALON put its hair clippings to good use by donating them for use in soaking up the spill -- human hair makes for an ideal oil sponge.

Phillips points out that greening up a business is one of the few endeavours that both saves money and attracts customers. Other salons are starting to catch on. The Toronto-based website GoGreenSalon provides consumers with an ever-growing directory of salons around the world that have adopted at least some green practices. Green Circle Salons, which was a sponsor of the green Mirror Award, was founded in 2009 as a tool to help salons become more eco-friendly. It now has almost 100 members in the GTA. President and CEO Shane Price says many salon operators have the best intentions when it comes to the environment, but they just don't know where to start.

"When you change the oil in your car, you know that oil goes somewhere and that it has to be dealt with," says Price. "When you go to a salon, you come out looking beautiful, but where is the accountability for the products that are used, which often go down the sink, into the lake? We wanted to shine a light on the industry."

Phillips has no worries about other salons catching up and invading his eco-friendly market niche. His efforts have always been meant to set an example.

"The most important thing for me is to pass on the information," says Phillips. "It's fulfilling to see people embracing what you've been talking about for a long time."

Paul Gallant is a Toronto-based freelance writer who lives in the emerging Brockton Triangle neighbourhood.
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