Luxury brands have not been traditionally associated with robust action on environmental impacts or sustainability, despite these two trends becoming the new 'business as usual' in the mainstream consumer goods sector. However, according to a new report titled 'Predictions for the Luxury Industry: Sustainability and Innovation', the sustainability gap is finally starting to close.

The company behind the report, Positive Luxury, points out that, among others, the ratification of the Sustainable Development Goals, COP22 and an increasing consumer demand for transparency have left luxury companies with no option but to improve or risk losing business. Apart from putting together this latest industry snapshot, Positive Luxury has also initiated the Butterfly Mark - a unique trust mark awarded to luxury lifestyle brands in recognition of their commitment to sustainability, providing wordless reassurance that a brand can be trusted.

We had the pleasure of interviewing Diana Verde Nieto, one of the two trailblazing entrepreneurs behind this innovative company we now have the opportunity to partner with. Diana emphasises that sustainability is no longer nice-to-have for luxury brands - it is now a requirement.

Positive Luxury

At Positive Luxury, you are dedicated to putting sustainability at the heart of luxury consumerism. Why did you choose to focus on the luxury industry?
Diana Verde Nieto (DVN):

The definition of luxury has changed – present day luxury is about inclusive exclusivity, encompasses experience innovation and has a more concentrated focus on social and environmental issues. It is no longer enough to solely produce goods; savvy consumers are demanding transparency. Knowledge is the new consumer currency. Information is becoming increasingly accessible and luxury brands have had to respond with transparent and trustworthy communications.

The luxury industry is not one based on mass production and therefore brands have the resources to invest in areas such as supply chains, materials and company procedures. They need to look after their customers by ensuring that they are trustworthy and working to create positive social and environmental change. The luxury industry has the voice and the power to gradually push change on a global scale.

We at South Pole are committed to driving environmental sustainability. Where do you see the next big opportunity in that space for luxury brands?

Luxury brands must continue to see the value of sustainability – it is not an 'ego driven' project, it is now a fact that by embracing social change, you can drive business growth and ultimately see a more substantial increase in profits. But transparency is key – providing access to a company's sustainable credentials is of utmost importance, to luxury consumers but especially to millennials. These consumers are new to luxury, but not new to finding out what they want about brands online. The competition is fierce and luxury brands need to find a way to differentiate as consumers want and expect more from brands. They need to gain the trust of savvy millennials.

Would you say that the luxury industry is a "quiet leader" in sustainability? If so, should it shout louder, or is a cautious approach more sensible, and if so why?

I personally don't believe leadership is about how loud you shout. Luxury & sustainability are two sides of the same coin. They both have at their core the ethos of building lasting brands. I enjoy working with luxury brands because they 'walk before they talk' - action first, talk after - which I personally believe is the best approach in a modern world that is more interconnected, interdependent and transparent than ever before.

Are there any trends that you see in the luxury sector that you think will cascade down into the mainstream?

Having worked on our debut retail report in partnership with the EY Beacon Institute, it quickly became apparent that an essential trend is that of the 'purpose-led company'. Put simply, brands need a clear philosophy that nurtures stakeholder relationships and contributes something 'extra' to society.

Where do you see Positive Luxury in 5 years from now?

Our ongoing goal is making the Trust Mark the definitive standard and globally recognized seal of approval for positive lifestyle brands - in turn encouraging consumers to buy from Positive brands. There are a number of exciting incentives that we are working on at present that will help us to reach our goal. We want to continue assisting brands in reaching their social goal and in educating the consumer about both our work and our brand portfolios. We are furthermore looking to expand into the territories of the United States, Asia and the UAE with the desire of becoming a globally recognised by 2020.

What is your favorite memory of being part of a brand’s sustainability journey? Perhaps a success story of a poor performer growing into a butterfly star?

Stephen Webster immediately springs to mind! Quoting Stephen himself, when Stephen Webster (the brand) first applied to be part of Positive Luxury they "didn't quite make it". The most rewarding part was that after sharing with them the fact they didn't meet the criteria to be part of the community, Stephen personally championed the change within the organisation. Our teams have worked together to achieve those changes. After a year, Stephen Webster (the brand) reapplied to be part of our community and were awarded the Butterfly Mark. It's one of my favourite memories from our brands because Stephen Webster is one of the jewelry designers that I really admire and dreamed about working with when we started Positive Luxury. Stephen Webster Jewelry Designer

Image credit: Stephen Webster

Our CEOs know each other from WEF. Tell us about the inspiration that WEF gave you to pursue the journey we are on to create a more sustainable world?

My experience at the WEF is as a Young Global Leader (YGL). The WEF is brilliantly positioned to conduct multi-stakeholder conversations and follow up on them in a successful manner. One of my greatest sources of inspirations was WEF's approach of fearlessly striving towards multi-stakeholder collaboration. I truly believe this is the best way to work in order to solve some of the most pressing challenges the world faces today.