‘Global Warming’ Threatens Luxury Lifestyles Of The Rich
By Ollie Williams
As London Fashion Week approaches this weekend, luxury brands talk about sustainability as if it were going out of fashion. But do their buyers really care?
Consumers of some of the most expensive luxury brands are also connoisseurs of the most polluting types of consumption available. And they’re now buying more than ever.
Take private jets, on which any multimillionaire worth their wealth hops from Davos to Dubai. Despite “flygskam,” the new Swedish word coined for flight shaming frequent flyers, deliveries of new private jets are expected to rise 9% this year according to a report from Honeywell International.
Deliveries are also expected of a further 800 superyachts this year, as the 5,000 strong fleet of these 24+ meter ships grows around the world. Each of these burns an average of 500 litres (110 gallons) of fuel an hour, according to Towergate Insurance.
And, if last year’s sales of sports utility vehicles (SUVs) and supercars are anything to go by, deliveries of these will increase as well. In the U.K., high-emission SUVs now outsell electric cars by 37 to one the UK Energy Research Centre found.
So when luxury brands talk about sustainable sourcing of materials or carbon neutralising their products, who is actually listening?
Just 10% of mass luxury consumers surveyed by Lucid for brand agency Sunshine strongly agreed with the statement “when it comes to luxury goods, it is vital that products are made in a sustainable way.”
A flash poll of half a dozen multimillionaires in London for this article yielded a flat 0%, though one did note he might buy “fewer expensive cars” this year as he didn’t really need another supercar cluttering up his driveway.
Do The Rich Really Care About Sustainability?
Luxury firms, on the other hand, are concerned about sustainability according to a new poll by McKinsey for British luxury collective Walpole. Of the U.K. luxury firms they surveyed, nine out of ten said sustainability was now a priority for them.
“Big brands have to take a view on what the consumer wants”, Jocelyn Wilkinson, responsibility programme director at Burberry told Walpole’s Future Of British Luxury Summit on Tuesday, February 4.
“Its only in the last two to three years that [sustainability] has come front-of-mind for consumers”, adds Simon Cotton, CEO of Johnstons of Elgin. While the majority of buyers still look for the same old things in luxury brands (quality, fashion and a certain amount of bling), a growing number look at environmental impact.
Luxury consumers are being influenced by the young, who, says Sunshine, are more aware of their purchases, as well as celebrity culture. “With fashion you could maybe think a little bit before buying something brand new,” said Kaitlyn Dever whilst walking the red carpet towards the 92nd Academy Awards in a Louis Vuitton dress made from responsible silk satin.
Climate Change Could Kill Luxury
But when brands talk about sustainability it is not just consumers they have in mind. Their own businesses are at stake.
“Global warming is effecting the supply of material everywhere,” says Cotton. Take the cashmere used in Johnstons of Elgin products, for example. It comes from Mongolia where a near 2% increase in the country’s climate since 1940 is spoiling grassland. Less grass means less grazing for cashmere producing goats.
It is for this reason, not consumer conscience, that Johnstons of Elgin works with NGOs such as Sustainable Fibre Alliance to look after their raw materials. Educating herders about managing grassland is crucial to maintaining supply lines, and their bottom line.
Cashmere is just one of the thousands of raw materials used in the luxury industry that could become unsustainable. Also at risk are crops such as cotton, vines and hardwoods as well as precious metals and stones. Plastic, like ivory before it, is becoming a taboo for luxury brands. Other materials might follow.
Only then will luxury consumers pay more attention to their unsustainable lifestyles. They might be thankful that brands are one step ahead.