Can Luxury Be Environmentally Friendly?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 10/09/2008 12:23:00 PM
We usually associated luxury products with conspicuous consumption little concerned with such things as energy conservation (think big-engined luxury cars, private jets and yachts, etc.), animal rights (think making fur coats out of endangered species or shark's fin soup), and the like. For some reason I can no longer remember, I was led to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) UK site where I found this recent work entitled "Deeper Luxury." The WWF's goal is to prod luxury goods manufacturers to become more cognizant of social and environmental objectives that us little people fret about, e.g., "quality and style when the world matters." Most of the luxury brand makers surveyed did not perform very well, although L'Oreal does better than the rest likely since it has acquired The Body Shop [click for larger image]:

Read for yourselves and think if luxury and environmental concern are mutually exclusive things; I leave you with some of the WWF's arguments in favor of the idea they aren't so:

Myth 1: “Luxury is about conspicuous personal indulgence, so it can never be moral”
Wrong! Luxury is about being and having the very best. Products that cause misery or environmental damage, now or in the future, are no longer considered by affluent consumers to be best in class. They do not feel luxurious to the more ethically and environmentally concerned consumers of today.

Myth 2: “Luxury consumers in new markets do not care about ethics or the environment”
Wrong! As new markets mature, their more affluent citizens increasingly follow international trends, including awareness and concern over social and environmental issues, and a desire for their purchases to provide meaningful experiences. In certain regions, this arises not only from international influences, but also from local sets of values, such as lien in China. (See “Challenge 1”, Chapter 3).

Myth 3: “Brands cannot tell consumers what to care about”
Wrong! Brands tell consumers what to care about all the time, both directly and by implication or demonstration. Examples include models selected for their body shape, fashion and personal care tips in the media, and advertising.

Myth 4: “Luxury brands can only build in value through materials, design and marketing”
Wrong! Value can be provided via benefits to the people, communities and environment affected by production, marketing and distribution. These benefits help to build the intangible value of the brand. This implies and requires a high level of collaboration between marketing, design and other business functions.

Myth 5: “Heritage will maintain luxury brand value”
Wrong! 50 years hence, what a luxury firm does today will be part of its heritage, and another company that is created today will also have a heritage. A company’s heritage from the 19th or 20th centuries will not stay the same, but will be interpreted on the basis of contemporary values and the company's activities during the 21st century. Luxury brands need to see heritage as an evolving phenomenon, and work at contemporary heritage creation, by being pioneering in shaping the future.

Myth 6: “Legal action is the best way to address counterfeiting”
Wrong! Changes in technology and communications, combined with the promotion of labels by luxury brands, mean that counterfeiting will continue in the face of legal challenges. Therefore, luxury brands must reconsider their emphasis on logos, and seek to connect with deeper values.

Myth 7: “Luxury brands have less impact on society than other companies, so need offer nothing more than philanthropy and compliance”
Wrong! Luxury goods involve diverse supply chains that have impacts on communities and nature throughout the world. Various stakeholders, including investors, increasingly expect verifiable and comparable information on social and environmental performance, resulting from a systematic approach. In many cases, non-luxury consumer goods companies outperform luxury brands in aspects of corporate sustainability (see Chapter 5).