In his 2019 article in the Harvard Business Review, titled “The Top Sustainability Stories of 2019”, sustainability expert Andrew Winston wrote about the nature of the luxury industry. He wrote how, barring a few brands, the luxury industry has seldom cared for environmental sustainability, wellness and human rights.
In fact, just a few years ago, no one would have thought that luxury and sustainability could have gone hand-in-hand but, as the need for eco-conscious luxury became more pressing in 2020, luxury brands have transformed themselves to meet these changing needs.
In this article, we explore how luxury brands can be sustainable and what’s in store for the eco-conscious luxury industry.
The ecological revolution
The move towards an eco-friendly luxury landscape started a few years ago, predominantly as a result of a burgeoning in commerce. As the number of HNIs and UHNIs increased across the world, more people found luxury goods and services accessible. Products made from eco-friendly resources and services that had a minimal carbon footprint became a superior variant of luxury goods. These were designed to entice the ultra-rich to continue their patronage of brands that had ceased to be exclusive.
Additionally, the population demographics in emerging luxury markets such as China, India, Vietnam, Brazil and Indonesia consisted of both rich and poor and made a lucrative landscape: For many brands which used local manufacturing resources, having sustainable practices became a way to upgrade their brand image. With sustainable luxury, they shifted from being exploiters of poor workers to conscientious employers.
But, the real, conscious drive towards sustainable luxury started in late 2017 and early 2018. It was at this time that climate activists like Greta Thunberg exploded onto the scene and customers started holding luxury brands accountable for their anti-climate operations. Soon, films like Blood Diamonds came back and revived discussions about the highly-unsustainable and inhumane ways of sourcing luxury jewelry. Discussions started around rejecting the use of real animal parts in luxury fashion and having high-end automotive technology that wasn’t bad for the air or the seas. As the voice of the customers grew, so too did the intent to move towards green luxury.
Today, Gen Z and millennial HNI and UHNI buyers in particular, have been active advocates for eco-friendly luxury products and services.
Brands that have gone green
In 2021, we have now come to a time when luxury brands are increasingly eco-friendly and sustainable. Here are a few examples of how brands have been able to effortlessly make luxury products and services sustainable without compromising their quality or aesthetics:
- Vivienne Westwood
This fashion behemoth has always been one brand that has been an ardent supporter of eco-conscious fashion. Westwood’s “Handmade with Love” collection is made very responsibly by sourcing leather naturally and not harming animals in the process. This leather is prepared using organic practices that don’t bleach the earth or affect local biodiversity. Given that handbags are one of the top-performing luxury items right now, this type of sustainable manufacturing ensures an eco-friendly product.
But that’s not all. Vivienne Westwood works with many large slums in Nairobi, where she hires locals to source recyclable items from garbage and uses them in her line of luxury, unisex clothing, jewelry, bags and more.
Mercedes-Benz is out to prove that luxury automobiles can be sustainable as well. The car manufacturer uses recycled plastic fiber seat covers (called Dinamica) and dashboard trim and floors made from harvested rattan (called Karuun). The company also uses a combination of natural materials like wool, coconut, natural rubber and cellulose to create component parts of some of its models.
- Washed Ashore
Jewelry designers Washed Ashore have in place a robust sustainability policy that focuses on preserving the world’s ocean and marine life. Each piece is 100% recycled – using stones, gold, silver and bronze from old jewelry that are purchased second-hand from vintage jewelry stores.
This approach reduces their dependence on mining, which has a history of labour exploitation, child abuse and ecologically-destructive mining practices. The recycled gemstones and metals also reduce CO2 emissions, thereby reducing the greenhouse effect. Any abalone shells used in their jewelry are rescued from garbage bins after the abalone have been harvested for food. This ensures nothing goes into landfills.
- Benziger Family Winery
This high-end winery focuses on sustainability by championing biodynamic practices. They have created vineyards that are organic and which use zero pesticides. Their wetlands and farms surrounding the vineyards are grown to allow endemic flora and fauna to thrive.
The winery generates its electricity using solar panels and has a water recycling plant inside, which recycles and reuses water used to grow the grapes to maintain the surrounding biodiversity.
- Solo by Tankoa shipyard
Solo the superyacht is the definition of sustainable travel. The superyacht’s uniquely sleek architecture makes her more fuel-efficient. The automotive uses a specially-designed urea injection propulsion system that reduces carbon emissions. The entire interiors of the superyacht have been made using natural stones, organic fabric and real wood – making the entire construction leave a very small ecological footprint.
- Nihi Sumba
Nihi Sumba is Indonesia’s most luxurious, high-end beach-front resort. This luxury stay offers extremely sustainable, natural and organic experiences to ensure the vacation is as eco-friendly as possible. Right from all-walking tours to spa treatments using naturally-sourced ingredients to vegan meals to room interiors decorated in jute, natural fabric & wood, everything is highly-sustainable. This offers a wholesome, one-with-the-earth experience to guests without minimizing the luxury services.
It would seem that our transient evolving world, the risk of not tackling sustainability is extremely high for the luxury goods and services sector.