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By Nastassja Salem
As climate change becomes an increasingly worrying reality, the concept of sustainability has taken the corporate world by storm, re-incarnating into a very necessary ‘added value’ and proving crucial to a modern business strategy. This is true for all kinds of companies, including those focused on fashion. Once, the ‘greenest’ apparel brands were associated with quirky, hippy designs or scratchy, wooly materials. But no longer.
Leading global fashion group PPR, which includes some of Eluxe’s favorite brands, such as Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen and Saint Laurent, published its first ever Environmental Profit & Loss audit for Puma in 2011, putting a price on natural capital and describing the details of Puma’s carbon footprint throughout the supply chain. Since then, the group has been devoted to putting an action plan in place that will have all PPR brands carry out the EPL audits by 2015, which will be available for the public to see on their website, www.ppr.com.
Right Choices, Right Now
We needn’t wait two more years for Gucci to go green–the group is already practicing several strict sustainability policies. All PPR’s jewelry brands, which include Boucheron and Girard Perregaux, closely adhere to the Kimberley Process and the Jewellery Council Certification rules to ensure all the mines they source from are following best practice; Gucci and other PPR retailers are using 100% recyclable packaging for their glamorous goods; and PPR’s Luxury group, Puma and PPR Headquarters offset their 98,729 tonnes of residual CO2 emissions in the first-ever Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) project, verified under the Voluntary Carbon Standard program.
PPR is not only concerned about the environment; they care about ethical work practices too. Their luxury men’s brand Brioni, for example, monitors the risk of forced labour, human trafficking and slavery in the supply chain through unannounced audits and other measures conducted by SAI (Social Accountability International). PPR itself has certified various businesses under the SAI standard, raising awareness of the need to “advance the human rights of workers around the world”.
One of the more notably famous-for-philanthropy fashion houses under the PPR umbrella is none other than Stella McCartney, whose brand supports 8 charities, including PETA for the ethical treatment of animals, Oceana for clean water and the Linda McCartney Centre for cancer treatment. The brand does not use any leather or fur in their designs, and has never tested any of their beauty products on animals.
Not all PPR’s brands are vegan, however–indeed, the high fashion world is rife with fur and leather. However, PPR ensures that all the cattle used for their leather are raised on existing farmland (as opposed to recently razed rainforest, as is often the case with much leather from South America or Asia); sends inspectors to insure that all animals used for their skins are treated humanely, and is phasing out toxic dyes, metals and preservatives from the tanning and dyeing process.
PPR aims for nothing less than making ‘eco-friendly’ the new definition of luxury: “We should make it part of the DNA of brand as a new definition of quality,” said Jochen Zeitz, the Director of PPR and Chairman of the board’s Sustainable Development Committee. “We are pioneering the redesign of the concept of luxury”.
Clearly, the group’s decisions towards greater sustainability is more driven by the bottom line rather than coming from the bottom-of-the-heart: with a growing awareness of and serious concern with a changing environment, both Zeitz and PPR CEO Francois-Henry Pinault believe consumers will soon be buying products based mainly on the eco-credentials of the business and not necessarily on the product itself.
Big Business, Big Changes?
With frightening changes in biodiversity, weather patterns and pollution affecting us all, it seems that small eco-pressure groups are no longer the driving factor behind corporate sustainability policies; rather, it seems key stakeholders, specifically investors and managers, are now recognizing the competitive advantage and importance of being ‘green’ to the success of a business.
While some, such as Seth Godin, author of ‘Small is the New Big’, still believe that small eco-companies are the best, if not the only, way forward, as they can better control their supply chain and offer an advantage in flexibility of response to demand, we believe big business has more of the necessary resources available to them to permit–and demand– stricter quality control in the production process, and moreover, when a large group like PPR instigates major sustainability programs, the resulting impact is huge and precedent-setting.
To keep up, PPR’s main competitor, Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey, has just purchased organic brand Edun. It will be interesting to see how the two luxury conglomerates battle it out in the future to be the greenest of them all.