Why luxury goes hand in hand with sustainability

Exclusive goods and services with sound environmental and social credentials does not have to be a contradictory idea.



Luxury and sustainability are two words you may not particularly expect to find in the same sentence. You may even think they are antithetical concepts.


But stop and think: what is luxury? Traditionally, luxury may be defined as an inessential, desirable item that is expensive or difficult to obtain; nowadays, we could fit within that category things such as time, copper, cod… 

As social and environmental stresses increase and global resources come under greater pressure, the concept of luxury, always fluid, will keep changing.


There have also been positive efforts within the sustainability movement to redefine luxury as something that embodies the social and environmental credentials of a product or service.


Leading the way in this area, the WWF report Deeper Luxury, by Jem Bendell and Anthony Kleanthous, defined authentic luxury brands as "those that provide the greatest positive contribution to all affected by their creation and that identify their consumers as having the means and motivation to respect both people and planet".


If we read 'luxury' as placing an importance on durability, pride in buying less and better, the link to sustainability becomes less jarring. Vivienne Westwood, in a recent interview, encouraged customers to "choose well and buy less" and she does not stop there. Westwood recently launched a collection of up-cycled bags and iPad cases in partnership with the UN and the World Trade Organisation. The project helps to create jobs amongst Africa's most impoverished women – single mothers, widows and HIV/Aids victims.


And she is not alone in using up-cycling as a means of cutting waste and turn it into luxury. Elvis & Kresse, whose products are stocked in Harrods, make a stylish rage of high-end bags, wallets, belts and cases from decommissioned fire-brigade hoses that would normally end up in landfill. Fifty per cent of profits from the fire-hose line are donated to the Fire Fighters Charity. Taking into account social and environmental impacts as well as quality and style in design and innovation processes results in "positive luxury".


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Comment by Bryony @Ethical Consumer mag on October 3, 2011 at 13:02

Ethical Consumer's recent report 'Style Over Substance' follows on from WWF's Deeper Luxury, providing an ethical ranking of the major designer brands.

It is available for free download here.

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