Is the Luxury Industry Serious About Sustainability?

The annual 1.618 event, founded in 2010, was held in Paris this weekend where the focus was on "Sustainable Luxury." With the luxury industry under mounting pressure to provide transparency and accountability, 1.618 brought together some 40 firms, foundations and innovators to discuss cleaning up luxury's act. However, the three largest industry players -- LVMH, PPR and Richemont -- were largely absent. Since they control the majority of the luxury industry, will luxury ever truly green its ways?

The big three have all implemented wide-ranging sustainability initiatives, from sourcing and packaging to transport and energy use, but is it enough?

"Some luxury groups will be very active in one field, on the environment, say, but not so good on labour practices," said Barbara Coignet, 1.618's organizer. "If they trumpet what they are doing right, they are afraid to be attacked on what they are not doing - and accused of 'greenwashing'."

Coignet may actually have a point. A survey of 966 French luxury consumers revealed that 70% of them thought the luxury industry should be more transparent when it comes to sustainability, particularly considering the hefty price tag that comes along with buying the good life. Another 52% found the luxury industry to be lacking in sustainability while 44% considered it wasteful.

On the other hand, Anne Ponsard-Delliere, head of international marketing at Richemont which counts Cartier and Chloé among its stable of luxe labels, claims that the voracious appetite for luxury goods particularly in China and Brazil overshadows concerns for how they are made.

Ponsard-Delliere concedes  that there might be an eco-friendly light at the end of the tunnel with China's rising green awareness and demand for authenticity that could lead to a return to "real luxury," where the emphasis was on craft over the luxe-label-whoring that has sprung forth over the past few decades.

Certain areas of the industry, however, will face serious challenges to sustainability, such as jewelers limited by the small number of ethically-run mines, hotels with water management and fashion with pollution from dyes. Tourism, Coignet purports, faces the biggest challenge since "there is no non-polluting alternative to air travel."

Financial analysts have started to factor in social responsibility into their assessment of luxury brands so that an unwillingness to work towards sustainability might end up tarnishing their calling card -- the image of the brand. So it seems luxury will have to embrace sustainability as long as "going green" remains a popular and widely-discussed concept. Fashion, after all, loves a good trend. [US Fashion Mag]

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