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Luxury and sustainable development: what strategies do brands adopt?

In a world where social and environmental issues are at the heart of concerns. Sustainability is becoming an important purchasing criterion for the consumer. Aware of their role to play in sustainable development, luxury brands are mobilizing to create a product that conveys ethical and ecological values. 

Luxury and sustainable development
A lively, strong brand, rooted in the Earth, which is developing thanks to the notoriety provided by its illuminated signs.

Sustainable procurement

Whether from animal, vegetable or mineral species, the majority of the raw materials used to shape luxury products come from nature. At a time when resources are becoming increasingly scarce, brands are working towards supply chains that are ever more respectful of biodiversity and the planet: preserving resources, respecting animal welfare, fighting deforestation, eliminating dangerous chemicals and reducing air and water pollution. This can be seen, for example, in Chanel, which is renouncing the use of crocodile skins. Yves Saint Laurent, for its part, favours vegetable leather for some of its models. 

By acquiring tanneries, LVMH, Kering, Hermès and Chanel are taking control of their supply chain and internalizing know-how while improving environmental practices. 

For its part, Chopard uses only Fairmined gold, from a responsible and artisanal extraction site, which limits its impact on the environment. This gold is extracted without the use of heavy metals and applies the principles of fair trade. 

For their part, consumers are increasingly demanding about traceability and ethics for precious metals or exotic leathers, for example. These new challenges are forcing brands to innovate, while preserving their profitability.

Emergence of new materials

Aware that more sustainable materials must now be used, luxury brands are tapping into a new kind of natural resource to save the planet.

One of the first brands to communicate its commitment to the environment is Stella McCartney. Refusing to use leather or fur, she has chosen to replace them with biomaterials: synthetic materials made from natural fibres (bamboo, soya, algae,...). The latest innovation to be found in its collections is a fur made of Koba, a mixture of corn and polyester, which is entirely recyclable; this imitation fur produces up to 63% less greenhouse gases. 

For its part, the luxury group Kering, owner of brands such as Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga, is investing in biotechnologies to develop an ecological and ethical leather made in the laboratory from living animal cells. 

Jewellery, too, is questioning itself in the face of the increasing scarcity of precious stones and the complexity of their extraction. In 2017, Courbet is entering the ecological and ethical niche by focusing on synthetic diamonds. It thus dispels any suspicion of contributing to the financing of conflicts, social exploitation or environmental devastation. 

Recycling is also a real revival for the luxury industry and some brands do not hesitate to innovate. Among the many initiatives, Breitling recently launched a new watch case made from recycled plastic bottles, available from the beginning of 2021. 

In the watch sector, Swatch Group launched "1983", a collection composed of two new biosourced materials extracted from castor beans. The packaging, composed of an innovative mix of potato starch and tapioca, is entirely biodegradable and can be recycled at home with paper waste or even composted. 

In the same sector, the Baume brand launched in 2018 was the first watch brand to use recycled materials and to ban the use of animal skins and precious metals. It is based on the concept of an eco-responsible watch, made from sustainable materials and on demand, in order to avoid stocks. 

Green initiatives and the circular economy

To preserve the environment, luxury brands are also improving their production processes by adopting more responsible methods. 

LVHM created the LIFE Programme (LVMH Initiatives For the Environment). The aim of this initiative is to integrate environmental issues into production systems. For its part, Cartier is one of the founders of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC), the largest international organization that promotes responsible practices for the jewellery and watchmaking industries. The RJC and its members are helping to transform supply chains to make them more sustainable with the aim of building confidence in the industry. 

With the objective of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2025, the luxury giant Kering uses an internal tool, the EP&L, to measure the environmental impact of the entire supply and production chain of the group's various brands. Currently, Kering has already reduced its impact by 14% compared to 2015, and is counting on sustainable innovation to keep up the momentum. 

All these initiatives are part of a new model of circular economy whose objective is to produce goods and services in a sustainable way by limiting the consumption and waste of non-renewable resources and the production of waste. The notion of circular economy is emerging as an essential link for luxury brands that consume large quantities of raw materials. This is the case, for example, of the French brand J.M. Weston, which offers consumers the opportunity to become players in the circular economy by recovering their used shoes in exchange for a voucher valid on all the brand's products, with a view to renovating them in order to offer them again for sale and meet this objective of sustainable and ethical consumption. 

A pearl in a case like a brand on the Rade de Genève with its illuminated sign on the roof of a building.

Reflections of a society that has become aware of a global emergency, ethics and sustainable development are becoming major concerns for luxury brands. From sourcing to packaging and production methods, the major players in the luxury industry are reinventing themselves. They are demonstrating their creativity to satisfy consumer demand and to be part of a sustainable development approach. While having a strategy oriented towards respecting ecology throughout the value chain, brands still need to confirm and develop their reputation by using supports anchored in time and spanning all eras, such as illuminated signs, which are precisely sustainable and consume very little energy.

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