The Future of Luxury: Can we have our world and sustain it too?

Our guests this week on Sea Change Radio talk about the development of green luxury, and suggest that products that are both luxurious and sustainable may be an important trend. First, Sea Change Radio host, Alex Wise, speaks with Dr. Jem Bendell, a sustainability professor, consultant and author. Next, Alex talks to Beth Gerstein, the Co-founder and Co-Ceo of Brilliant Earth, a socially responsible jewelry company.

Green luxury. The two concepts seem diametrically opposed. We usually equate sustainable lifestyle with one involving sacrifices – driving a smaller car, turning down the AC, or reaching deeper into our wallets to buy pesticide-free fruit. And we think of luxury as something involving “no sacrifice.” But ever-increasing consumer awareness and demand, coupled with product innovation has led us to the dawn of the green luxury age. One in which sacrifices can be minimal.While it may sound more virtuous to forego luxury entirely, the reality is that people in the developed world continue to be attracted to luxury items. Furthermore, the market for these items is expanding rapidly in parts of the world that are experiencing fast-paced economic growth. But perhaps this luxurious consumption need not necessarily contradict principles of conservation and social responsibility.

In a recent poll of U.S. consumers 34% said they were more likely to buy “green-tinged” products under current economic conditions. And luxury brands are responding by aligning themselves with green themes of all kinds. The world now has a Chanel-branded Segway, Tiffany’s website boasts that the company obtains its materials for jewelry in environmentally sensitive ways, and Gucci’s parent-company has sponsored a documentary film about environmental crises. Some of these efforts may fall into the category of insincere “green-washing,” but if world brands are actually beginning to engage in more responsible practices, could it be considered an important step in the sustainability transition? Are we on the cusp of an era where a product’s low carbon footprint or social responsibility credentials are integrated into its luxury status?