“Sustainability has grown beyond a level of mere awareness”, according to Antonio Achille, a partner in charge of the luxury industry worldwide at consultancy firm McKinsey & Company (source: Fashion Network). He continues that “in the years to come, labels which will not take (environmentally and socially acceptable behaviour and governance criteria) into account won’t simply lose market share, they will be driven out of the market itself”.
Currently, just 20% of the market invests in sustainable development. That figure is expected to rise to 85% within 10 years, according to Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability officer and head of international institutional affairs for Kering.
This fundamental shift in consumer attitudes has not been lost on Caroline Scheufele, co-president of the Swiss watch and jewellery maker Chopard, as she told the Financial Times that “once you become aware of the issues (that consumers care about), you cannot turn back.”
But how can a company producing luxury items – items which reflect more “want” than “need”, items which are personal and selfish to the core rather than driven by societal requirements – be sustainable when the focus is on the deliver of excess? How can the restraints and ethics embodied by sustainability find a natural fit in products designed to cater to individual pleasure, passion, and self-indulgence?
According to Scheufele, these paradoxes were not lost on her when her company began its own voyage of self-discovery on the impact its activities had on the world – a project she calls Chopard’s “Journey To Sustainable Luxury”.
Chopard’s “Journey To Sustainable Luxury” began back in 2012 when Livia Firth, founder of the Green Carpet Challenge and Eco-Age, asked Scheufele where the gold the company used in its jewellery and its watches came from and whether the gold was mined with sustainability in mind.
While Scheufele and the company long had a focus on sustainability of the quality of its manufacturing process and the training of its staff, she found she could not answer Firth’s question in a way that satisfied herself and, aware of the growing consumer demands on companies to be responsible corporate citizens, she offered Firth the opportunity to partner with the company.
Scheufele and Firth threw themselves into the project. Chopard defines sustainable or “ethical gold” as gold sourced from small-scale or artisanal mines which are part of the “Fairmined” or “FairTrade” programs overseen by the Swiss Better Gold Association or via the “Chain of Custody” certification run by the Responsible Jewellery Council.
Scheufele wanted Chopard to assume further responsibility so it teams up with the Alliance for Responsible Mining to recruit more mines to join the Fairmined program. This produced an additional benefit in greatly increasing the quantity of gold sourced sustainably meaning that, from 2018, the company was able to make a commitment to use 100% sustainable gold in all of its manufacturing processes. The gold it buys from miners is then forged in its own in-house foundry – a facility unique to Chopard in the industry which also allows it to recycle its own gold.
The gold it buys through the Fairmined program costs it more than the price paid bycompetitors which have not yet made the commitment to sustainability. Miners use the extra income they receive to improve environmental outcomes, to invest in the latest efficient machinery, to avoid the use of toxic chemicals in extraction, and to better pay its staff.
Scheufele’s passionate advocacy of sustainability has led to further advances within the Chopard business. It has now committed to only buying diamonds and gemstones through suppliers who comply with a rigorous set of guidelines on environmental, employment, and human rights factors.
The company also joined the Responsible Jewellery Council whose membership numbers have grown from 14 in 2005 to over 1,100 today. Scheufele and Firth also have pledged that the company will meet the 17 goals set out in the “Global Goals for Sustainable Development” program originated by the United Nations.
The wider sustainability movement
Although Chopard were not the first company to take this step, they are arguably the largest to have made the commitments that they have made. The company is privately run but they are estimated to turn over US$845m per annum across the world (source: Owler). Their sustainability program continues to develop and they continue to invest millions of dollars every year in meeting and exceeding their own ambitious goals.
Tiffany and Co now also offer consumers a guarantee that they can trace all of the gold it uses to their origins and French jewellery giant Carter is making impressive progress towards that goal. Smaller companies like Anna Loucah are investing time, money, and energy into sustainability indicating that this trend, still early in its cycle, will become the norm within 10-15 years.
It’s not just the luxury jewellery and watch sectors that see the business case for investing in sustainability. The fashion industry now has its own “Charter for Climate Action” with Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Gucci, Hugo Boss, Burberry, H&M, and Puma signed up as participants. The fur-free movement, which enjoyed its greatest public aware in the 1980s, continues to make progress – London’s Fashion Week 2018 did not feature any clothing made from fur.