Historically, luxury has been associated with a lifestyle of excess, indulgence, extravagance, prestige, status, wealth, power and ostentation. However, this perception or association with luxury is evolving into a new paradigm of concern for social and environmental issues in which luxury consumers are increasingly opting for more ethical and environmentally friendly products. Similarly, the sector is embracing the brand of sustainability in its luxury products, where social and environmental issues are becoming a central priority in the industry. Notable examples of entrepreneurial companies addressing social and environmental issues include Montblanc, Querciabella, Karmoie, VANA and Sana Jardin.
Social and Environmental Concerns
The new generation is becoming an adult cohort that rewards brands that have a positive impact on society and the environment. Similarly, adults are also becoming more inclined to consume goods that contribute to social and environmental concerns. Experiments conducted in real consumer environments revealed that using a green product (versus a conventional one) increases the enjoyment of the consumer experience. Using a green product causes the consumer to perceive an increase in its valuation, leading to feelings of warmth and, consequently, greater enjoyment of the consumption experience (D’Arpizio et al., 2021; Tezer & Bodur, 2020). The shift from conspicuous consumption to conscious consumption leads consumers to be better informed about the brands and products they consume. Luxury consumers want the brands they use to reflect their concerns and aspirations for a better world. Consequently, consumers expect luxury brand managers to address the ethical aspects of luxury products and provide compelling responses to environmental and social responsibility issues (Hennigs et al., 2013).
Commitments of Luxury Companies
The luxury industry is feeling the heat of change, many of them are becoming agents that promote environmental respect and social welfare in their products, such as the following companies:
Montblanc: For more than ten years, Montblanc has been working with UNICEF. In 2004, a first joint project involved the launch of the “Sign Up for the Right to Write” campaign to promote quality education for the world´s children. Then, in 2009, Montblanc and UNICEF unveiled the Meisterstück “Signature for Good” initiative, working together to fight illiteracy around the world. The project raised USD 4.3 million. Most recently, in 2013, Montblanc continued its support for UNICEF’s education programs, focusing on the most vulnerable children through the Schools for Africa and Schools for Asia initiatives and programs in Latin America. Montblanc built on the success of the first “Signature for Good” initiative and, with all projects taken together raised more than USD 10 million (Montblanc, 2021).
Querciabella: With hectares of top-quality vineyards, Querciabella has the largest expanse of vegan (certified organic) vineyards in Italy. Since its beginning in 1974, the vineyards offer ideal living conditions for billions of microorganisms in the soil, but also for many wild animals, such as endemic birds and insects. This leads to a natural state of balance above and below ground that results in great vitality in the wines. Querciabella is a sustainable wine from Tuscany. Their viticultural manifesto condemns reliance on agrochemicals that disrupt the ecosystem, pollute water supplies, harm wildlife and, above all, affect the vine’s ability to organize its own nutrient system. Instead, they advocate conscious viticulture that naturally creates a balanced environment not only for the vines to thrive, but also for the microorganisms that support their activity. Querciabella strongly opposes the use of GMOs and rejects any artificial manipulation (Querciabella, 2021).
Karmoie: Buy one, donate one; Karmoie’s goal is to create beautiful, uncompromising eyewear while making a committed and conscious contribution to a better future. For every pair of Karmoie frames sold, a pair of corrective eyewear is donated to a person in need, thanks to a partnership with Eyejusters. Karmoie has donated to several projects in Africa. For every pair of sunglasses purchased by their customers, a pair of Eyejusters is donated to one of these projects. Each project works with a different local organization that is responsible for vision testing and distribution of the Eyejusters. Each organization conducting a project also receives guides, training instructions and testing materials, along with the Eyejusters, to ensure that testing and distribution runs smoothly (Karmoie, 2021).
Vana: Vana sponsors the WEF (Wildlife Education Fund) educational program that educates young children about wildlife and the environment. VANA is also passionate about supporting the sustainability of community driven projects; their collaboration with the Woza Moya Hillcres Aids Centre affords them the opportunity to give back directly to grass-roots communities and they commission local crafters to produce their beaded adornments and dust bags (VANA, 2021).
Sana Jardin: Sana Jardin is a socially conscious luxury perfume house. The company’s mission is to harness the power of commerce for social good; and the company’s vision is to use clean and sustainable perfume as a vehicle for social impact and the economic empowerment of women. Sana Jardin is built on the principles of a circular economy – their alternative business model enables the women in their supply chain to become micro-entrepreneurs by up-cycling the waste products from perfume production. They believe that if they’re innovative about the way we use commercial waste, they can recycle it for the benefit of the women at the beginning of their supply chain and help them to flourish and thrive (Sana Jardin, 2021).
Leading the way forward
The luxury industry must redefine its business model in response to increasingly socially and environmentally conscious consumers. How can the luxury industry lead the way? Social and environmental commitments in luxury products are the key to leading the way to profitable growth. This change requires not just management, but real leadership. Moreover, as has been demonstrated repeatedly throughout history, consumers’ desire for the extraordinary creates the path to success for the luxury business. Therefore, the luxury industry’s response to growing demand must be to increase the value of luxury products through environmental and social commitments. Some considerations that the luxury industry must take into account are: redefining the company´s purpose; establishing key sustainability guidelines; defining objectives based on a positive impact on society and the environment; aligning the organization with new challenges; and being prepared for change and evolution in the luxury industry.