Blogging From the Luxury Summit: Luxury Brands and the Green Movement
The green movement in luxury and the new philanthropy go hand in hand and have the same basic charge, finding a way to do good and do well. Unfortunately it's not quite as easy as it sounds. After all, the luxury consumer wants to have it all they want the feeling of being green and knowing they are doing something to combat climate change but they aren't really willing to give anything up. For the companies at the American Express Publishing Luxury Summit this week, green seems to be something that they are all wrestling with, wanting to satisfy a public clamoring for green but also knowing the customer expects the same level of performance and service as they have always enjoyed. While other tiers of the green market seem to be about compromise and perhaps restraint, luxury consumers want green and fabulous in the same package.
Knowing where and how a product is made is an important part of the luxury green movement. In some cases this can extend the feeling of luxury and people are willing to pay more for it such as leather goods that are made in Italy. People are starting to look behind the label as an assurance that a product is made under certain conditions. Fair trade, organic and sustainable are new value-added buzzwords but they can also be good for the businesses too. Barbara Banke told of the new efforts by Jackson Family wines including sustainable agriculture, using GPS and other techniques to conserve water, collecting water for use later, building wineries and facilities that are LEED certified and the use of beneficial insects and wildlife (owls for catching mice). These are all steps that benefit the company and the environment but are also a value-added factor for consumers who want to know that the delicious wine they are drinking is made by a company that cares for the earth that produces the grapes.
One of the terms that I keep hearing about Web 2.0 is transparency and this also applies to the green factor of a product. Companies find themselves in a bit of a conundrum. They know they need to be green to appeal to customers but this can take time. Everyone wants organic these days but it can take several years for a product to be certified organic. Also when it comes to eco-friendly practices the customer also may have to be willing to at least compromise. I have to give an award for honesty to Jeff Klein, the passionate hotelier of the JK Hotel group, which is behind the fabulous Sunset Tower in Los Angeles. He spoke frankly about the "greening" of hotels. He explained that it is very hard to run a hotel in a green manner. For example, take the use of air conditioning in a tropical climate like Costa Rica, you can't really ask guests to not use air conditioning and be uncomfortable but obviously powering the air conditioning is a huge energy drain. You can find different ways to get the energy used but it has to not inconvenience the customer. He also debunked the theory of leaving your towel on the rack (you know, those little cards you see in hotels explaining that if you leave the towel on the rack they won't wash it) saying that overall hotels are still just washing as many towels. He also mentioned that for a time he was turning the lights off in hotel rooms to save energy but that customers complained that they didn't want to check in to a dark room so now the hotel leaves the lights on. He makes a good point that in the service industry especially part of the onus of being green has to be on the client too. If the client isn't willing to participate and adjust then hotels can't really make those moves. Alan Fuerstman, the founder and CEO of Montage said that they are building LEED certified hotels but echoed Klein's words that the biggest challenge for the hotels is energy use. Finding ways to be sustainable but still provide luxury is a big challenge. One method is to cut back on packaging or use more sustainable products (recycled plastic and paper, etc.) but being conscious of energy use is key for hotels.
How green was the Luxury Summit itself? There wasn't really a much of a nod to the world of green here. Fresh white pads of paper awaited all participants at the tables along with small bottles of bottled Fiji water (one of the conference sponsors) everywhere. Also the amount of printed materials in general for the conference was fairly large. Also the Four Seasons is luxurious but not very green, unless of course we are referring to the color of the perfectly trimmed grass on the grounds of the resort.
There seems to be a fair amount of speculation about just how long the green trend will last. Already stories of "green fatigue" are starting to hit the news. I've talked to people who have questioned just how passing a fancy this is, citing the 1970s as an era of eco-awareness which was followed quickly by the materialistic 1980s. I've also talked to people who firmly believe that green is no longer a method or a movement but is in fact the new reality. In the end, the companies will follow the needs of the customers, as long as they say stay green, companies will do their best to try and comply.