Luxury and sustainability

Luxury and sustainability... Two words that are seemingly opposite. It is a fact that when we use luxurious transport options like an airplane, it is less sustainable as against a train. But luxury also implies to brands and good they offer for also our day to day usage. It is a fact that more there is an increase in the number of people wanting prada bags, super cars, luxury bathrooms and the likes. In this column, I want to share my views and findings on how well luxury brands are embracing sustainability and its effect in the consumer market.
Re-designing consumerism by using behavioral economics may offer an enjoyable path - and may work. Reducing, reusing, recycling and disposing responsibly have been the mantra for saving the planet for decades. However, another workable option could be increasing spending on our aspirations by channeling our purchasing power to where we might do the least harm - by buying sustainable luxury goods.

Here is a pop quiz question: Which iPhone hurts the environment most when produced? An iPhone 6 (requiring 95 kg CO2) or an iPhone 6 Plus (requiring 110 kg CO2), which is 15 percent more CO2 than the former?

The correct answer is the iPhone 6 Plus with 110 kg CO2. What is important is how much environmental hurt one can cause per dollar (EcoValue) and the iPhone 6 Plus sucks up twenty percent more capital per unit CO2. When the iPhone 6 Plus sucks up three hundred dollars more of your purchasing power, it prevents you from doing environmental harm with your cash somewhere else. Just imagine how much a $50,000 Chanel evening gown, a $1,500,000 Ferrari or 100,000,000 Monet painting reduces your ability to hurt the Mother Earth. (S. Petersen, 2014)

If we see luxury in the light of durability or the shelf life of goods, the energy in production and recycling is far less than the ones with a shorter shelf life. Luxury items are typically ones with a high quality which implies a pride in buying less. In that sense, it is far less a burden in buying a good quality product. However, when the term sustainability to the product itself is applied, it is not sufficient to label them as sustainable to drive the market towards buying these goods because customers will not give up quality or style or fashion appeal, or a competitive price for a sustainable product. (M.A Gardetti and M. E. Girón, may 2014)

Gardetti and Girón in their research define the need for traceability, also their approach to define if a product delivered to the consumer in light of sustainability. Where do things come from? What is the story behind the products we consume or the services we use? What footprints have these products left on the environment and on the people who create, manufacture, sell or consume them? The journey to the past to understand where a product comes from, its components, raw materials and their extraction, is what is known as traceability.


According to the research by Added Value Group, a brand developing and marketing service, This new spirit of luxury is starting to creep in across categories and geographies:

Yves Saint Laurent's New Vintage III range: a contemporary, fashionable form of up-cycling that re-exploits unused fabrics from past seasons, employing them to reinvent the emblematic silhouettes of the designer. Hence, the range reinterprets the brand while maintaining its authenticity.

Hermès creation of Shang Xia, a new Chinese luxury brand of graceful, contemporary handcrafted decorative objects. By supporting local artisans in China, Hermès offers a modern and localized adaptation of authentic savoir-faire.

BMW's Efficient Dynamics technology was created to deliver reduced emissions and fuel consumption with no sacrifices made to driving pleasure.

So, all in all, to make a sustainable luxury product, the companies involved should take the following into account:

Redefine the product life-cycle
Give importance to supply chain
Consider upcycling old products ( and in turn generate employment ? )
Re-invent luxury experience by new materials/ better sustainable performance of products by not compensating the quality.

Last but not the least, although the luxury goods are meant for the rich and the affluent, the sustainable luxury should aim to slowly trickle down to the less affluent masses.


References: (analysis by added value group

‘How Sustainable Luxury Can Save The Planet‘; S. Petersen, Dr. Gjoko Muratovski; 2014 (

Sustainable Luxury and Social Entrepreneurship Stories from the Pioneers; M.A. Gardetti, M.E. Girón, May 2014


Pinal Desai , Pinal A. Desai

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