For more than a decade the concept of “sustainable luxury” has been afoot. Sustainable luxury can relate to all kinds of luxury brands, from fashion to hospitality. Rather than offering an “eco-friendly product seeking a premium image”, the idea of sustainable luxury is to embed sustainability values and practices into a luxury good or brand.
But can sustainability and luxury really go hand in hand?
According to an article on HuffPost, sustainable products “share the same ‘essential’ qualities of luxury goods.”
- They call for ‘extraordinary creativity and design’
- They must be made from ‘exceptional materials’
- They should be good quality and are often rare
More and more luxury brands around the world are adopting the concept of sustainable luxury in the hope to attract more discernible customers, improve their brand image, drive innovation and reduce risks associated with climate and ecological breakdown.
Whilst this has given rise to greenwashing, many luxury brands do or are starting to see sustainability as a core value integral to the way in which they operate. Gucci CEO, François-Henri Pinault, said: “My deep conviction that sustainability creates value is part of my strategic vision…Sustainability can – and must – give rise to new, highly ambitious business models and become a lever of competitiveness for our brands.”
What about our planetary boundaries?
Within the past year, the critical climate and ecological crisis our planet is facing has become ever more apparent and it is clear that all parties, including luxury brands have not done enough to become sustainable.
Considering the science which now states we have very limited time to prevent further ecosystem collapse and global warming, luxury brands have no choice but to deepen their commitment to sustainability on all levels – and fast. Not only to do better by people and the planet but to increase their own resilience against these issues.
According to an article written in the 2019 Sustainable Hospitality Yearbook, “The global trend is moving towards full decarbonisation. Hotels…who do not prioritise climate mitigation will be left behind.” The same can really be said for any brand in the luxury sector.
Should we be rethinking luxury?
Our complex world is changing quickly and if we are to survive as a species, increase long-term business resilience in the luxury sector and restore what is left of the biosphere, we may need to rethink our definition of luxury altogether and redesign the industry to one that is restorative and promotes social equity.
If done right, sustainable luxury items will create minimal harm (to people and planet) and be designed and produced to last a lifetime. The item’s full life-cycle should be taken into account when produced so that the product does not fall prey to our current linear take-make-dispose model, but rather one of circular economy. In the case of hotels, or any built environment, every element of design, refurbishment and operation needs to be done with sustainability at its core – and with the intention of ending reliance on fossil fuels and becoming carbon neutral very soon.
Luxury brands also have a responsibility, as trendsetters in our current world, to communicate sustainability and the need for customers to “buy less” and “choose well” as fashion designer Vivienne Westwood says.
Interested in being at the forefront of sustainable luxury?
At SUMAS, we offer an MBA and MAM in Sustainable Fashion and Sustainable Hospitality. These programs are designed with cutting-edge curriculums aimed at integrating responsible leadership in the luxury sectors of Fashion and Hospitality.