Beauty runs eco-deep

For this shop, the path to green didn’t start with a plan

Gary Federico stands in front of the institute’s solar carport system.

Gary Federico stands in front of the institute’s solar carport system.

Photo By Sena Christian

When Gary Federico went to a conference in Las Vegas last month, he rode a shuttle instead of a taxi from the airport to hotel. This business owner made the conscious decision to carpool, even though he knew the trip would take much longer. But it was cheaper and, in his mind, the right thing to do.

“I would never have done that without a greater awareness in my person,” Federico said, sitting in the conference room of the Federico Beauty Institute in Natomas.

This awareness came slowly as he made efforts to green his business over the last four years—with the original intent of saving money.

The institute was recently named a 2008 Business Clean Air Champion by Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails for maximizing its energy efficiency. The nonprofit organization awarded six recipients, including a youth advocate, real-estate developer and school district, to recognize the importance of reducing air pollution. The awards seem especially worth noting in light of a recent report by the American Lung Association that ranks Sacramento’s air quality as one of the worst in the nation.

Federico’s path toward sustainability didn’t begin with a master plan. He wasn’t fully conscious of what he was doing until, all of the sudden, there was a solar-panel carport in the parking lot, ceiling fans and skylights above the hairdresser stations, lighting had been switched to compact fluorescent light bulbs and recycling bins were set out to collect paper and plastics.

Sure, he used to curse when lights had accidentally been left on, but this was basically the extent of his eco-awareness. Beginning in 2004, Federico had the chance to reinvent the institute—and himself—when he moved the business into a 23,600-square-foot building he’d purchased.

He partnered with SMUD to install an 88-kilowatt photovoltaic carport system. The project took about three years to complete and cost the owner $550,000 out of pocket, after the SMUD rebate. The system generates about half of the energy used at the facility. Federico saves about $2,000 a month on his electric bill and earns a federal tax credit, but the payback will take at least 13 years.

Solar power will reduce the institute’s carbon-dioxide emissions by 165,643 pounds, or equivalent to removing about 14 passenger cars from the road annually.

Building-occupancy sensors were installed to eliminate energy waste (lights are turned off when no one’s in the room), and the heating and air conditioning is managed by a control system for maximum efficiency. The institute uses nontoxic janitorial products and paper towels made from recycled content. As part of Federico’s own Paper Reduction Act, he’ll cut down paper use. One gray area: what to do about toxic products used in the beauty industry. He’s ready for chemical-free products to hit the market big-time.

“If companies manufacture those products, it’s up to me to purchase them,” Federico said.

The institute’s educators also teach the more than 240 students how to be better eco-crusaders. After the students earn a license, many start their own salons, giving them the opportunity to spread the word about green practices.

“All we’re trying to do is plant seeds,” Federico explained.

He’s planting as many seeds as possible before he retires at the end of this year and passes his business over to two of his sons. His third son runs AJF Salon in Midtown.

In 1946, Gary’s father, James, started what was then called Federico College of Hairstyling. Growing up, Federico woke up at 8 a.m. on Sundays and went to the school, where his dad would do maintenance and put him and his brothers to work. When the boys returned home in the late afternoon, his mother would have spaghetti and meatballs cooking on the stove. His parents came out of the Depression era with the philosophy that you do everything for yourself, a value imprinted on their son.

During retirement, Federico plans on fishing and seeing the world. Of course, he’ll stop by the institute from time to time, and he’ll continue his home-improvement projects. He’s already installed a tankless water heater and planted drought-tolerant bushes in the front yard. He’s considering solar panels.

“I’m feeling good knowing that I’m doing what I can do to make a small difference,” he said.