Grooming Goes Green

By implementing eco-friendly practices and using natural products in the salon, groomers will not only keep themselves, their four-legged clients and the Earth healthier, they will improve their bottom line.


The green movement is the biggest thing to hit the pet industry since the inception of the super-premium food category. Consumers who look for natural and eco-friendly products for themselves are increasingly doing the same for their pets, and many groomers are responding to this trend by making their operations more environmentally friendly and providing clients with a host of natural options. It is a move that holds a lot of potential for salon owners, says Jeanne Caples, director of operations for Forever Stainless Steel. “Being able to comfortably say that you are still able to provide a full line of services, but with a ‘green’ ethic, should be a definite advantage,” she says.

Liz Czak, owner of The Yankee Clipper in Rockport, Maine, is a good example of how groomers are making their salons greener. Back in the 1980s, Czak found herself wanting to get away from chemicals, in part, because she didn’t like putting pesticides down the drain—especially since her home shared a septic tank with the shop, and her family and dogs played in the yard. Her search for a non-toxic way to handle fleas led her to Tropiclean’s Neem Flea and Tick shampoo, which the salon still uses and sells.

“Tropiclean’s products are botanically based, don’t have a lot of difficult-to-pronounce chemicals in the ingredients, and they work,” says Czak. “We’ve tried a lot of what is available in the natural/organic line, but not all of them are effective, and some seem to develop resistance in the flea populations. Neem hasn’t done that.”

For Czak, it was only natural to think about what other practices could be changed to make the salon more eco-friendly. The Yankee Clipper uses biodegradable shampoos, only compact-fluorescent light bulbs, and Hydrosurge recirculating shampoo systems to conserve water and shampoo. Labeled bins remind employees to sort out recyclables, including shampoo containers. Czak even tried donating dog hair for use in mopping up oil spills, a practice that didn’t work out logistically. However, the Yankee Clipper does send some clients home with dog hair to put around their gardens, where it helps deter deer from snacking in the lettuce beds.

Although Czak hasn’t wholeheartedly gone after the green niche in her salon’s retail section, she does stock some recycled collars, as well as some made of bamboo, which is a renewable resource. She reports that customers do not often ask for green alternatives, but once they are told about what is being used in the salon, they are very pleased. The care exhibited for their pets and the environment, says Czak, promotes the positive, caring relationship so necessary for her business’ success.

Driven to be Natural
Maureen Holderied, owner of Aussie Pet Mobile in Atlanta, agrees that although there may not be direct and measurable results from following an eco-friendly path, there are certainly plenty of positive indirect effects. Her business has increased 25 percent over the past year, a trend that she attributes to excellent customer service, repeat customers and the 80 to 100 new clients she gains each month from brand recognition. A local newspaper article identified Holderied as the innovator of Aussie Pet Mobile’s now standard practice of using solar panels on its vans, which had a positive impact on her business’ image.

“To power the grooming equipment, we had to keep the vans on high idle, which was loud,” says Holderied, explaining how she came up with the idea of harnessing the power of solar energy. “Using the solar panels brought diesel consumption down by about a third, plus it was much quieter.”

The disinfectants that she uses are biodegradable, like Simple Green—or plain vinegar, depending upon what is being cleaned—which prevents harsh chemicals from going into the water supply. She also uses re-circulating bathing systems and biodegradable shampoos, focusing on high-quality options so that little product is needed—her favorites are Quadruped and Nature’s Specialties.

While such eco-friendly practices can make a grooming business more appealing to consumers, Holderied says that they can have a more direct impact on a salon’s bottom line. “Being green in these ways saves both time and money,” she says.
Holderied also points out that mobile grooming is innately a green way to do business, because it ultimately saves gas. “Instead of many customers driving to the shop and back home, only to make another full trip to pick the dog up, we just make the single trip to them,” she says.

Eco-Friendly in Oz
Located in Mt. Ommaney, Queensland, Australia, Nose 2 Tail Pet Care has followed the green path because owner Reeda Close wanted to be proud of the business she was running. She believes it is groomers’ responsibility to make smart choices in their businesses in order to avoid detrimental and irreversible effects on their health, the animals they groom and the environment. “Eco-friendly, all natural and organic” has become Nose 2 Tail’s tagline and the benchmark Close uses to evaluate anything new that she might want to implement in her business. All of the products used in the salon are eco-friendly, right down to the disinfectants. It’s a distinction that Close says is going over well with clients.

“We have a lot of customers that use our services because they know that this is our philosophy,” she says. “People are more aware these days and are looking for businesses that make choices that are positive for the environment. When we initially changed our focus to eco-friendly, all natural and organic, there wasn’t as much desire for it. But now it is really a high priority for people. They are choosing to make decisions that are more environmentally friendly and can now do this for their dogs and cats too.”

By promoting an eco-friendly philosophy in its marketing, Nose 2 Tail has established itself as a place to go for natural alternatives to mainstream products. The company website uses terms such as all natural, no additives and paraben free to drive home the message.

Because Nose 2 Tail’s green reputation is so important to its success, Close carefully researches products to make sure they are not the victims of “greenwashing”—the practice of spending more time and money seeming to be green than actually implementing practices that minimize environmental impact. She often ends up getting products from multiple suppliers, as she has found that while a manufacturer may make one product that meets her criteria, the rest of the line may not.

Shades of Green
There are some popular phrases commonly used to promote the idea that a product is green, such as “natural,” “pure” and “organic,” and they are sometimes used interchangeably—and incorrectly. Natural, in this context, means existing in or produced by nature: not artificial. That’s a pretty broad definition, and many ingredients could be lumped under this umbrella quite easily. Pure means unmixed with any adulterants, and it is another broad term that is mostly marketing speak meant to create a natural impression. Organic is a much more specific labeling term, which is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as meaning that a product is produced using approved methods that do not include synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation or genetic engineering. In order to include the term “organic” on a label, manufacturers must meet those criteria or else run afoul of the USDA, which regulates the term’s use in labeling.

Unfortunately, labeling in the pet industry is generally not as regulated as, for example, the human beauty industry. In human personal care products, any chemicals used must be listed according to the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients (INCI). Pet care products are under no such requirement.

It is pretty much up to individual manufacturers to decide what, if any, ingredients they list on a product. The exception is a product that claims to kill fleas or other pests or most medicated shampoos, which will then be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Even here there is room for confusion. Many flea shampoos with all-natural ingredients have, quite sensibly, chosen not to go down the slippery slope of inviting government regulation on a flea-killing shampoo by avoiding the claim that the product kills fleas. Instead, the label might state that the product helps alleviate redness or itching connected with flea infestations. Empirical use may have shown many groomers that the product does kill fleas, but the label doesn’t actually say so.

It can be difficult for pet manufacturers to tread the line between being honest and informative, or frightening and incomprehensible on their product labels. The same shampoo that might list sodium laurel sulfate and dimethicone as ingredients, could just as easily call these ingredients oils derived from coconut and silicon derived from sand. The former sounds scary, while the latter comes off sounding all natural. In reality, they are different names for the same thing. Sodium laurel sulfate is a much-maligned type of surface acting agent, or surfactant, that starts as a type of coconut oil and goes through many chemical processes. Dimethicone is a type of silicone that is derived from sand and provides excellent detangling and shine, as well as speeds the drying process.

If there is no easy way to read labels, and no actively regulated labeling requirements, how does one select products to use or sell in the salon that will truly accommodate both a groomer and her customer’s desire to minimize their impact on the environment while keeping pets safe and well groomed? The same way groomers have been providing their four- and two-legged customers with the best products all along—by finding suppliers, whether distributors or manufacturers, that can be trusted.
Ask these suppliers questions about what is in their products, tell them your concerns about what ingredients are used, and see what they say. With a little effort, you’ll find that you’ve built a relationship you can count on. After 30 years in the pet industry, I still often go back to Bio-Groom, which makes simple formulas that are as safe as possible for pets and the environment, according to owner Frank Pohl.

Pohl says it is important that manufacturers put enough of a beneficial ingredient in their shampoos to make a difference, not just enough to put the names of those ingredients on the label. Whether it’s lanolin and protein, chamomile and silk, oatmeal, or natural pyrethrins to kill fleas, there has to be enough to do the job at hand. Bio-Groom avoids adding ingredients based solely on marketing—every ingredient has a specific function and in sufficient quantities to have an effect.

A more recent addition to the ranks of manufacturers that I’ve come to trust is Opie & Dixie. The company lists all of its ingredients—which are almost entirely organic—with both INCI descriptions and the more common names, on its website. And Debbie Guardian, the owner and founder, writes great blogs with links for other eco-friendly products.

Although many groomers may initially make their businesses more natural and eco-friendly to ensure the health of their clients’ pets, as well as to do their part to conserve the earth’s resources, such a move often garners appreciation and loyalty from both new and existing customers. Sometimes, it really does pay to do the right thing.

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