Green Luxury

Money can’t buy love, but can it buy a conscience?

According to the Wall Street Journal, furs aren’t the only environmentally friendly (?) luxury good. Here’s the story:
Luxury-Goods Makers Brandish Green Credentials

The bad economy and a fundamental shift in the market for luxury goods are forcing an industry that reveres names like Chanel and Versace to embrace a different icon: Mother Nature.

Over the past year, many of the world’s best-known luxury labels have started to introduce ecofriendly products, snap up brands that tout their social responsibility and weave environmental themes into their advertising and marketing. In May, French luxury conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton took a stake in Edun, an organic-clothing company founded by the singer Bono and his wife.

Other companies have begun to advertise steps they took years ago to promote resource conservation. This summer, the windows of Tiffany & Co.’s retail stores world-wide feature images of coral reefs, publicizing Tiffany’s commitment since 2002 not to use coral in its designs….

I suspect many people’s reaction, here, will be similar to their reaction to the reaction to (Product) Red. Is this really supposed to do some good for the world, or is it just a way to make people feel better about rampant consumerism? Is this just high-end greenwashing?

I think we can usefully tease apart two questions here. First, what’s the motive behind the greening of luxury brands? And second, what will be the effect? As to the first question: well, who knows? We can make assumptions, but that doesn’t seem useful, except to the extent that we think the answer to the first question tells us something about the answer to the second. So, what will be the effect of greener luxury goods? A few points:

1) There’s been talk lately about how going green is itself a luxury: what people want during a recession is cheap goods, whether or not they are the most environmentally friendly products available. That probably doesn’t apply, though, to a $700 Louis Vuitton handbag. If the eco-conscious version happens to cost a few bucks more, the fashionista is unlikely to care.

2) On the other hand, the market for luxury goods is a tiny market. So how much effect can greening it really have?

3) In terms of promoting environmentalism as a trend, the greening of luxury brands has to be a good thing. After all, there are plenty of people out there who will follow faithfully whatever example Jennifer Aniston sets.

4) It’s also worth considering that environmental promises made by high-end brands may be among the most reliable such promises out there. They’ve presumably got the resources required to do very careful sourcing, in order to make sure that the organic, low-carbon, union-made, fair-trade cotton that goes into their $200 t-shirts really is what it claims to be. And furthermore, these brands also have plenty to lose if they don’t live up to their eco-rhetoric.

3 comments so far

  1. BrandCowboy on

    I’m not saying this is how it will work, but this is how it SHOULD work: Once upon a time, spending more meant getting better. Better meant, among other things, lasting longer and being more functionally effective and delightful to own. The fact is that better quality products need to be replaced less often, and thus the environmental damage caused by production and disposal is theoretically reduced. Nothing has done more damage to the planet than the endless quest for cheaper stuff and more of it.

    To me, the greatest gift that premium brands could give the world is products that are made to last. And the worst curse they could impose on the world is to sanction pointless consumption with greenwashing.

    And I agree wholeheartedly with your last point: The fact that these brands have so much to lose is our best chance to make them set an example.

  2. Diego on

    Given the fact that Louis Vuitton produce luxury items (which implies that doesn´t produce a big number of units), my only fear is that, to capture international attention, they would expend more natural resources in advertising than what they would´ve actually spent in the first place. I think a 4 million campaign makes a lot of waste.

  3. The Greenwasher on

    I agree with BrandCowboy. In my mind “luxury good” means long-term and heritage. I would like to give my Paul Smith purse to my daughter or lend my Italian shoes for a special occasion. In a way luxury brands are more than ever challenged to make items that last.

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