Green and gold leaves

Sustainable luxury seems like a oxymoron. On the one hand, luxury conjures up images of glamour and sophistication, while sustainability implies almost the opposite.

While the notion of sustainable luxury is something that’s been talked about, we’re increasingly moving into a new era where it’s something that needs to be championed. And obviously, articulating how your brand is sustainable needs to be a key thread of any luxury content marketing campaign.

Consumers are demanding sustainability

This is due to a variety of reasons, the first being the very real threat of climate disaster - this week, nations vulnerable to climate change have warned they are on the "edge of extinction" if action is not taken - and this is of course a subject that’s no longer confined to news coverage but populates our social feeds, even if we’re not seemingly directly affected. It's a concern that is filtering down into consumer behaviour: recent research by Kantar and Europanel shows that a quarter of all global consumers now fall under the 'most environmentally conscious' category of households, dubbed 'Eco actives'.

Another key aspect of the revolution is due to a new wave of luxury consumers (younger-Millennials and Generation Z), who are starting to have their first jobs and are driven less by the old ideas of glitz and glamour.

While these new high rollers are empowered, highly demanding, convenience-driven, time-poor, sophisticated and knowledgeable - nothing new there - these generations want better from their brands, from equality to the environment.

As GWI reveals, these groups are

‘reimagining the value of certain goods and services in light of new forms of consumerism.’

Interestingly, the GWI research reveals that those who regularly purchase luxury items for themselves are 25-44 year-olds who now make up the lion’s share (67%) of this audience.

Transparency and corporate social responsibility

The data shows that for these consumers, there’s a much more pronounced expectation of value beyond the purchase alone - and so, for businesses both in and outside of luxury, there’s a need to be transparent about corporate social responsibility. The greater expectation for locally-sourced materials and clear information on supply chains also ties into this.

IBM’s 2020 report into consumer habits reflects this, revealing that today’s consumers are motivated by a search for value that goes beyond price comparison. They are hunting for specific products that conform with what they consider important or valuable

“It’s now important to offer items based on specific qualities tailored to meet consumers’ demands, such as products that are certified as organic, fresh, environmentally friendly, parabens-free, and the like.”

45% of those surveyed, when choosing a brand, rate products that are sustainable and/or environmentally friendly as very important to them and another 32% rating them as moderately important.

Even as ecommerce offerings develop and people return to in-store shopping, consumers are citing sustainability as important to them.

“The need for businesses to operate in an ethical and responsible way is apparent now more than ever,” said Greta Moser during a webinar hosted by Luxury Daily, global director of product line management, brand protection and factory automation solutions at Avery Dennison which supports the luxury industry.

Luxury industry response to sustainability

Fortunately, the sector seems to be responding.

There are a number of existing and emerging luxury manufacturers upgrading or embracing more ethical ways of operating from arguably the most famous, Stella McCartney and Mercer Amsterdam to others like Aspinals of London, Futura Jewellery, Ffern fragrances and Belvedere vodka.

Though obviously, much more needs to be done.

Positive Luxury and Bain & Company’s LuxCo 2030 report imagines what a successful and sustainable luxury brand will look like in a decade’s time - and reveals that the sustainability decade is now underway with Generation Z at the heart of this, rewarding brands that have a positive impact on the environment. But even older consumers are leaning the same way, with Covid-19 only having escalated this demand.

As a result, luxury brands must step up to the challenge of identifying actions needed to ensure long-term sustainability while balancing post-Covid recovery and profitability. As John Truelove, solutions director at Europanel, has commented: “brands needs to find a way of elevating the carbon agenda into shoppers’ decision-making processes”.

What makes a sustainable luxury brand?

The impact of sustainability will no doubt cause diversification for some luxury brands in not only how they operate but the marketing messages that they need to create in order to attract this new audience.

Dr Anna Brismar from Green Strategy which advances sustainability and circularity agendas, proposes that any green strategy needs to address the following factors in order to promote itself as sustainable.

- on demand and custom made products including made to order, tailor made, bespoke and DIY

- green and clean for all aspects of a product’s lifecycle

- high quality and timeless design

- fair and ethical inc traditional productions, artisan crafts and animal rights

- repair, redesign and epicycle

- rent, lease and swap

- secondhand and vintage

It’s easy to see how some of these agendas, like timeless design and on demand production, naturally align with luxury values while others require a more involved approach. But you can also see a handful of luxury brands starting to tackle these approaches. For example, fashion giant Burberry became the first luxury brand to pledge to become 'carbon positive' in 2021, and it seems that others may soon look to follow. 

Whatever the case - much like digital which luxury initially shunned - sustainability is a subject that’s not going to go away and is only going to be more important for consumers and brands alike as we go through the 2020s.

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