Luxury goods and responsible consumption need not be contradictory terms — that was the core takeaway from a livestream Q & A session held earlier this week by Kering, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of luxury apparel and home to brands such as Gucci, PUMA, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen.
The event marked the launch of a new report, Beyond Our Limits, which presents the company’s progress on its 2012-2016 sustainability goals, and details how greater transparency and a stronger emphasis on innovation and collaboration within the industry can improve the long-term sustainability of high-end goods.
During the event, Chief Sustainability Officer Marie-Claire Daveu stressed the importance of transparency to Kering, a value embodied in the report, which details not only the goals the company has succeeded in reaching since 2012, but also those in which progress has been slower.
Daveu also underlined Kering’s commitment to wider systemic change that stretches beyond the boundaries of the company.
“With these targets we have not only considered the impact of our own operations, but our entire supply chain,” she said. “That goes beyond traditional corporate approaches,” she continued, observing that Kering had often found it necessary to create new tools to analyse and process those more distant impacts.
Daveu reflected that one of Kering’s biggest assets during its sustainability journey has been its landmark Environmental Profit & Loss methodology, created in 2013.
“EP&L gives a monetary value to environmental footprints,” she explained. “It’s been very important in helping us to understand where our major impacts are and where to prioritise.”
Alongside targets for resource efficiency and improved monitoring of suppliers’ social impacts, one of the core development areas for Kering has been in the production and processing of raw materials, which together account for 75 percent of Kering’s environmental footprint.
The eradication of PVC from product lines has been a particular highlight for the company.
“In 2012 we set a target that all our brands’ collections would be free of PVC by 2016,” Daveu reflected. “Now 99 percent of our products have attained that target.”
The report explains that the company’s success in this area has led Kering to redefine its original targets and evaluate the full range of plastics within its supply chain with the aim of incorporating lower-impact materials such as renewable and recycled plastics. To achieve this, the company is investing heavily in innovation, including an ‘idea lab’ to help its brands analyse their plastics needs and assess alternative materials.
The fruit of this investment can be seen in products such as Gucci’s biodegradable shoes and Stella McCartney’s eyewear range, which is now made from plastics containing over 50 percent natural materials.
“It just goes to show,” said Daveu, “that it is possible [for the luxury goods industry] to employ innovative, creative, sustainable solutions.”
Beyond Our Limits also details the efforts Kering has made to ensure 100 percent of gold and diamonds used in its products come from non-harmful operations.
While Daveu reported the company making “the biggest purchase of responsible gold in the whole industry,” referencing the 250 kg of certified gold the company has purchased since 2014, the report acknowledges that in general, progress towards this target has been challenging — just 12 percent of the total gold used by the company meets the required standard.
Overall progress on Kering’s leather goals has also fallen short of intended targets. Although 91 percent of bovine leather now originates from operations that do not involve the destruction of natural ecosystems, other types of leather have struggled to reach beyond 70 percent compliance to that goal.
“In areas [such as these] we recognise a need for greater change to come from within our supply chain,” Daveu remarked. “Although a single company can wield influence, we have found it is difficult to create this change alone.”
The report supports this by noting that a single leather supplier can be shared between hundreds, if not thousands, of manufacturers. Combined with the relatively low value of leather within the meat industry, this has made it hard for Kering to influence the ranching and rearing processes at supplier farms.
“That is why we are increasingly keen to work with other stakeholders [both within the luxury goods industry] and in other sectors such as automotive and food industries,” she added.
With this in mind, over the past four years Kering has placed significant focus on partnerships and the sharing of resources. In a particularly noteworthy move, Kering has chosen to make its original EP&L open source, to support the development of corporate accounting of natural capital and to encourage other corporations to clarify their impact on the environment.
“If you want to make progress in sustainable manufacturing then you need to create great tools,” Daveu explained, “but if you want to change the entire paradigm, then you need to make those tools freely available, shared with competitors and other sectors alike.”
As for Kering’s development beyond the 2016 targets, Daveu said the company would continue working to achieve its goals through innovative partnerships, as well as setting new objectives for materials such as cashmere, cotton and wool.
“Our ongoing ambition is to scale up our pilot projects and push beyond our current boundaries. We want to grow in our role as a sustainability leader and continue to reach milestones that change the manufacture of luxury goods.”