Rewarding authenticity: sustainable luxury

Yolanda Regodón. Associate Director of Communications. IE Business School

25 July 2014

Sustainability is closely linked to durable materials that last and wear well. Such properties embody the origin and raison d’etre of luxury products, and the examples they set deserve a prize.

You don’t have to be a treehugger to contribute to and form part of building a better and more sustainable world. Sustainability implies complex and changing environmental dynamics that affect human life and wellbeing, along with interwoven ecological, economic and socio-political elements on both a global and local level. Sustainability is a quality whereby an element, system or process is kept active over the course of time, the capacity to ensure something resists, endures and remains. Defined thus it is only logical that sustainability has become the most sought-after object of desire in the corporate world, and the luxury sector is no exception. Sustainability is innate in the origin of the luxury industry and the sector has the responsibility to raise awareness of the importance of using materials and nature in a responsible way to make sure they last. In effect, sustainability occupies an important place in the luxury sector.

It is never easy to change things and you can only change things that you understand, which is what we have to do in order to live better. Jem Bendell, co-author of the report on “Deeper luxury”, talked about the potential of the luxury sector to shape the way in which we should relate with products and services in the future if we want to live in a sustainable society. Although we notice that something is changing, and that perception of change extends to products’ life cycles, we still have to work to manage to live in harmony with our social and natural environment in order to build a more sustainable future.

Following the examples of large luxury conglomerates like Kering or LVMH, many companies in the luxury and premium sector are now integrating an awareness of sustainable issues and sustainable models into their operations. Given that luxury brands are seen as examples to follow, clients, celebrities and NGOs are hyper-vigilant, continually monitoring how the different brands are tackling social and environmental problems. Let’s hope that it is an incentive for the luxury and premium industry to launch more initiatives, and create more new sustainable materials and products. A change of mentality is needed in order to see sustainability and the opportunities it brings as a tool to achieve a competitive edge.  More initiatives are needed in addition to those run by the large firms mentioned above. There are some entrepreneurs in the premium sector that already use this business model, such as Kavita Parmar  with her IOU Project, and her focus on the importance of traceability of product so that we know what we are buying when we acquire one of her products. Another example is the initiative comprising the sustainable luxury movement "1.618" in France, which is exploring ways to launch a new, more ethical type of luxury, based on art, creativity, innovation, and sustainability.

The world of academia is also serving as a catalyst for new initiatives resulting from entrepreneurialism and socially responsible practices.  IE Business School has joined forces with the Center for Sustainable Luxury to launch the IE Awards for Sustainability in the Premium & Luxury Sectors  which will be held on July 2 (, in a highly sustainable place built using 173 paper tubes, namely IE’s Paper Pavilion. The Pavilion is the work of architect Shigeru Ban, winner of the 2014 Pritzker Prize, and was constructed by Shigeru Ban Architects Studio – Paris, in collaboration with Serrano Suñer Arquitectura. It is an elegant and functional place, designed to foster the exchange of ideas and permanent transformation of knowledge.

The key objective is to promote and recognize the culture and practice of sustainability in the luxury and premium goods sector. The idea is to reward the most sustainable, and therefore most authentic, form of luxury. There are different categories of awards: Clothes and Accessories: Jewelry and Hospitality (including hotels and restaurants). The Consultation Committee will also be awarding three honorary recognitions in the following categories:  Dissemination, Trajectory of the Company, and the Best Project in Latin America.

We should not forget that concern for the future and a long-term vision is often what fuels corporate success. One of the key principles of sustainability is the aim of achieving financial sustainability, but we also have to be in constant search of new but pragmatic ideas to improve our planet.  It is a major challenge, achieving sustainability coupled with the overriding need to couple it with craftsmanship and authenticity, while focusing on the good of society and the environment. In effect, there is a great deal of empty space that could be filled by sustainability. We are talking here about the kind of sustainability that conjures up the idea of value creation from a long-term perspective and which takes into account both the requirements of shareholders and society as a whole, coupled with the environment. Looking forward into the future is a good place for us to start and to write our future

Published by The Luxonomist


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