One of the standout events of last year’s COP26 summit was the landmark inclusion of key players in the luxury industry. Key luxury brands committing themselves to the climate crisis and to achieving net zero by 2050.
Global powerhouse LVMH set a conspicuous example, holding a climate week last year and making a bold commitment to a 55% net emissions reduction by 2030. Stella McCartney became the first ever fashion designer to be invited. To kick off the event she opened “Future of Fashion," an eco-material exhibit at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Gallery.
If we can predict anything about 2022, it’s that luxury brands as a whole need to start making actionable changes to show how they are environmentally conscious. While morally it’s the right thing to do, it’s also probably the most profitable in the long term.
In 2021, 73% of millennial consumers globally were willing to spend more on a product if it came from an eco-conscious brand. This is significant given that Gen Z and millennials are driving 85% of global luxury sales growth.
Now is the time to get involved in redefining what sustainability means for the luxury industry. Sustainable fashion in particular, is a key area of growth and antidote to the profligacy of fast fashion.
How can brands translate this into their online presence?
As the luxury industry strives towards making the necessary changes towards being more green, demonstrating and communicating this to your online following is crucial. This needs to be done in a way that is genuine and authentic, as well as followed through with physical changes.
YouGov’s survey of more than 2,000 UK adults found that 52% of adults were influenced by a brand’s eco-credentials. Further, 21% of consumers had made the decision to stop interacting with a specific brand or product because of environmental concerns about the company, demonstrating just how much power this can have.
With so much misinformation available on the internet, luxury consumers are both discerning and skeptical of claims made online. It’s not enough to simply state company values; these need to be translated into quantifiable, demonstrable actions that build trust between brand and audience. We’ve laid out five key considerations when trying to translate your commitment to the environment into your online presence.
1. Be transparent
First and foremost, transparency over supply chains and raw materials shows that the ethical and environmental soundness of production is a consideration right from the outset (as opposed to shoe-horned in at the end). This is the kind of information that can very easily be added to product pages, in the same breath as the description of materials.
As a strategy, transparency can be an effective way to combat any questions about the nature of goods and products. When McDonalds were targeted with claims about the ingredients in the meat used for their burgers, they launched an online Q&A Forum. This allowed consumers to directly ask the brand their concerns–and receive radically honest responses. The result was a platform that directly reassured customers and retained their following.
For the luxury industry, deciding how transparent to be with followers is a delicate balance. The very nature of luxury relies on its mystique, but keep too much to yourself and you risk looking like you have something to hide.
At a minimum, showing transparency over production (who makes your products and how) is something that consumers want to see. They want to be reassured that they are making good choices when it comes to their purchases. Telling the story of production also often aligns with brand style and digital marketing objectives, attracting interest from consumers who are searching for highly specific aspects of a product.
2. Form ethical partnerships
Many brands are choosing to partner with environmental groups to bolster their online credentials. Selective partnerships can fulfill many purposes, providing guidance and credibility as well as enhancing the overall customer experience.
At the beginning of last year, Stella McCartney, Burberry and the Kering Group all joined forces to launch The Italy Project, with the aim of lowering the environmental impact of their supply chains in their Italian bases. Driving this change is the Apparel Impact Institute, a third party environmental company who specialise in water, chemical and energy use in supply chains.
There are very real logistical barriers to achieving climate neutrality for large retailers, The Kering Group disclosed that 90% of the group’s environmental impact is outside their own operations. Working together is a way to collectively lower the impact on the environment and ease burdens on production.
Partnering with environmental companies gives leadership teams guidance in how to go about making changes and utilising technologies available. It also lends weight to any steps implemented through this professional advice by giving them credibility.
3. Get certified
Online green certification is nothing new, and there are a number of companies who accredit supply chains as a service. However, a new development is the emergence of organisations targeted towards the luxury market.
Positive Luxury partners with luxury brands to assist them in making necessary changes and eventually give them their butterfly stamp of approval. In 2019, research by PEFC (an organisation caring for the world’s forests) showed that 54% of consumers regarded certification labels as the strongest proof that environmental and sustainable practices have been taken into account.
We’ve long seen the cosmetic and food industries display the certified organic seal of approval on lists of ingredients. Similarly, it’s now possible to certify the sustainability of a whole range of other products. Sometimes they even provide guidance and support towards overhauling supply chains.
4. Donate to good causes
On Black Friday this year, some brands chose to make a contribution to an environmental charity for every purchase made as a way to demonstrate their priorities and offset their carbon footprint.
Philanthropy doesn’t only have to be around the festive season, but an annual initiative. It can serve as a regular reminder to followers that you’re doing your part and keeping up the work. The easiest thing about this action is that it requires a low investment on time or workforce labour to execute.
Luxury brands are perceived as having the capital to make charitable giving an easy expenditure, so some form of giving back should be a part of brand image. Making a point of doing this as an annual activity, also shows that it is embedded in your brand messaging.
5. Avoid greenwashing
2022 is the year where the Contents and Marketing Authority (CMA) plans to crack down on companies making false claims online about their products (greenwashing). The luxury industry will be no exception to their scrutiny, and penalties will be dished out for companies making unsubstantiated claims.
At the end of last year, they released their “Green Claims Code” detailing how businesses can comply with consumer protection laws around the environmental claims they make. This came after 40% of the statements made online were found to be greenwashing, and not suitably substantiated.
Taking care that any claims you make about your eco-activities or actions to offset your carbon emissions are properly evidenced before you post about them online, avoids any mishaps in the first place. Meanwhile they advise a full audit of any claims you currently make to make sure they are visibly proven.
Why 2022 is the year for brands to get serious
With pressure on the luxury industry to do more to help meet sustainability goals and brands starting to really commit to making actionable changes, in some ways it feels like the countdown is on to 2030.
Just as with the above search for “sustainable brands”, there’s an increasing appetite on search for other keywords relating to climate change. In the annual Google trends data released for this year, the world searched for “impact of climate change” in 2021 more than ever before.
The luxury industry is sure to face challenges in revolutionising its supply chains and keeping on track to reaching sustainability goals. As consumers become more and more aware of sustainability issues, and make efforts towards conscious consumerism, they look to the brands they love to lead the way and be informed. Being able to communicate the changes you make and your commitment is crucial to keeping (and growing) the loyalty of your client base.