A more philosophical note for the start of the year: whilst sustainability and shared value may have had little to do with the luxury sector previously, things are changing fast. And about time, perhaps. Brands are accountable like never before because individual consumers now have a voice like never before.
FMCG and consumer brands have long been aware that behaving in a responsible way towards societies, the environment and employees makes good business sense. Why? Because talking-up ethical behaviour resonates strongly with consumers and politicians. For a global company, with a high profile and multiple sponsorship deals, it’s not just good business practice, they can’t get away with anything less. Many, like Proctor and Gamble, aim to put it at the heart of their business and brand.
Provenance and authenticity have always been key drivers in the luxury sector but now, too, are ethics and responsibility. Even the most traditionalist brands can’t ignore this. “Positive Luxury” – social and environmental concerns considered alongside the benchmarks of quality, style, design and innovation that lie at the heart of luxury goods and services – is now really gaining traction in the sector.
The Sustainable Luxury Forum in Lausanne addressed attendees with, “The question is no longer why to create a sustainable value chain, but rather how to transform your existing one to address your stakeholders’ growing concerns around environmental and human rights issues.”
1.618 is a public event on sustainable luxury held yearly in Paris. It combines a transversal trade show, a contemporary art show and an area dedicated to prospective innovation.
These concerns are on the global agenda, so there’s simply no hiding. And the last five years has, indeed, seen a discernable difference between efforts to embrace the new environment and labour standards within the luxury sector.
Whether package redesign to reduce waste, investing in product innovation to reduce energy consumption or insisting that suppliers practice fair labour policies, luxury brands are taking action. Some have even risen to the challenge of complex global problems that were previously the domain of governments and charity foundations. In the wake of public concern regarding conflict diamonds, highlighted by the film Blood Diamond, De Beers worked with the United Nations to help stamp out illegal and unethical diamond trading.
Everyone from Zenga to Gucci is embracing Positive Luxury, but the luxury industry must be in it for the long haul, making ethics and accountability integral to brand strategy. These issues can no longer be ignored by any modern business, luxury or otherwise.