Sustainable Luxury:
Re-aligning your brand strategy to embrace an evolving consumer landscape

Creating a sustainably run business is the biggest challenge of our generation for many companies, particularly those in the luxury industry with a large reach and intricate supply chains. This article explores the change in consumer behaviour and how re-aligning your brand strategy with integrity – and living your brand promise – can re-invigorate your organisation and help to restore the planet too.

Sustainability and Luxury: A history

Luxury, to me, represents quality and longevity. They are the types of products we may have for a lifetime, perhaps a watch you have for many years before passing it on to a son or daughter, a winter coat you adore that comes out year after year, still looking and feeling impeccable.

I always remember my father would want to buy the very best quality items, researching for weeks for one purchase, choosing the most reputable brands, knowing it would come with the assurance that it would last. As it turns out, the view of my parent’s generation is confirmed by, 

“Baby boomers inherently considered luxury brands to be sustainable by nature due to their exclusivity, high price, exceptional quality, and scarcity. Therefore luxury brands discussing the matter of sustainability were deemed unnecessary and uncouth.” Cais, Forbes Agency Council

A new wave of consumer

Times are most definitely changing, and consumers are demanding a lot more from brands expecting honesty, truth and transparency about what they are buying and how it is made. Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen Z (born between 1997 and 2012) are the prominent buyers in luxury right now, owning 85% of luxury sales growth in 2018.  And they are demanding transparency in all areas of sustainability: “Consumers’ increasing concerns with environmental and social problems are the greatest cultural shift of the 21st century” Katharine Hamnett, Ethical Fashion Designer.

Why brand strategy matters more than ever

Your brand purpose and everything you stand for is becoming increasingly important as premium buyers become more educated through the transparency of information now offered to us as consumers. It’s not good enough to say you are doing something, you need proof that you ARE doing those things. Furthermore, consumers are happy to pay a premium for sustainable goods, a blessing for many luxury brands.

Much of consumer behaviour and brand loyalty is driven by trust.  And up until recently, a high price was equal to a seal of approval that your product would be doing good for people and the planet.

“The implicit promise [in luxury] is that consumers need not worry about anything.

Everything is taken care of… Until it isn’t, at which point the whole impression of invulnerability and perfection can deflate.” – Andrew Winston

Build trust by aligning your values with the new landscape

There are mixed views about “values” and their validity.  Some see them as just a box-ticking exercise, something you need to have on your website to show you have thought about it. But values can be such a powerful tool for your business.  They give your directors and team rules to live by, they show your customers you understand what they need and what it is they want. Ultimately, they build a trust that buying from you will support their own internal perception of who they are, their own values set and how they want to be seen in the world.

“The reason why leaders and organisations need to embrace and live their most deeply held values is because that is how they generate trust. Trust builds internal cohesion and external goodwill” Richard Barrett

This can be seen only too well by the wealth of celebrities who now promote charitable causes. Celebrities are the centre of many luxury brands’ marketing efforts and are often key to the launch of new products.

“Examples have been set by Angelina Jolie, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bono, George Clooney, Emma Thompson, Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and many more. Actress Natalie Portman works with FINCA, a group that supports women entrepreneurs with loans in poor countries. Brad Pitt, a face of TAG Heuer, and involved in African peace and development initiatives, spoke in 2007 of the need for people to buy products that would help African development.” (WWF Deeper Luxury report)

Re-aligning your values

The WWF Deeper Luxury report requests the values of luxury brands search for deeper meaning, the title of the report speaks volumes: “Quality and style when the world matters.” It’s very easy to add “sustainability” to your values and agenda, but it requires substantial time, planning and effort to ensure they become ingrained in your culture, that you live by them, and that they actually start to make a difference for your people, and the planet. 

Choosing your company values needs to be more than an exercise to put a few words on your website.  They should come from the heart of your leadership, define your culture, and influence every decision, from who you hire to who and how you do business.

“As Founders, we are a bit like a flight of geese! They always fly in a formation where the lead goose takes a rest at times and another one takes over. But they all fly together in a direction that all have agreed on. And they get there. So, take care, connect and communicate within your teams.” Helen Ambrosen, Co-Founder of Lush

Bringing your values to life

Your values must engage your entire workforce. Therefore, they need to be clearly communicated in everything you do.  It should be part of your team objectives, and your team should be encouraged to weave those values into their every day. It is essential to take your team on the journey with you, so talk your stakeholders through your objectives to encourage them to engage with your goals. A complex goal like net zero requires the support of your entire organisation, so involving your teams to brainstorm ideas to live and breathe your values through your company will be an empowering and collaborative process for everyone.

Prove you are doing what you are doing

“The industry is lagging behind according to July’s Fashion Transparency Index, which reveals that the majority of major fashion brands (99%) do not disclose the number of workers in their supply chain that are being paid a living wage, 96% do not publish a roadmap on how they plan to achieve a living wage for all workers in their supply chain.” (Positive Luxury Report 2022)

If you are serious about making a difference, it is crucial that you have transparent reporting. Start to communicate more transparently today. The technology is already there, and there are no more excuses. If brands expect consumers to believe their sustainability story and come along on the journey, they must act. Most importantly, they need a certifier that can independently validate their claims – whether a specific certification or a systemic one like the Butterfly Mark. Bold commitments like net zero are impossible without transparency. You must start where you are – and define that – transparency has to lead the way.

Start with the sustainability mindset. Building transparency is far easier at the start than at the end.

  • Audit your supply chain. This is crucial. Audits are fundamental to transparency.
  • Work with suppliers on building transparency. Keep going and support each other through the process, as it might take some time to get right.
  • Map the full supply chain and post the information online. Show clearly how you are going to source your materials and minerals sustainably.

Get the seal of approval

Several organisations can support brands in the luxury space to clean up every part of their supply chain.

The Butterfly Mark certification is an independent, globally respected trust mark awarded to luxury brands, retailers and suppliers that meet the highest standards of verified ESG+ performance. The certification has been created in consultation with the Positive Luxury Sustainability Council and is rigorous, independent, and is underpinned by the latest international standards, global legislation and best practice principles.

“The Macallan sought the Butterfly Mark accreditation in 2020, in order to hold ourselves to the highest standards of external, independent accreditation within our industry, both now and in the future.  We also strongly believe in the power of unity and of business collaboration and community to challenge the global issues we all must face head-on now in the coming critical years.” Igor Boyadjian, MD, The Macallan

Join brands like Garrard, Flemings Mayfair, Ridgeview Wine Estate,Bamford,and The Macallan, who are certified here.

Positive Luxury also recognises a brand’s actions across these key areas: governance, social and environmental frameworks, community impact and innovation.

Become BCorp Certified: BLab is a non-profit network transforming the global economy to benefit all people, communities, and the planet. B Lab creates standards, policies, tools, and programs that shift the behaviour, culture, and structural underpinnings of capitalism. We mobilise the B Corp community towards collective action to address society’s most critical challenges.

“I often wonder to what extent business can help society in its goals and alleviate poverty, preserve ecosystems, and build strong communities and institutions… B Lab has proven that there is a way.” Madeleine Albright, Former U.S. Secretary of State

Join brands like Coutts, Up Norway, Minimum Wines and Milieu Property who all have accreditation and start your accreditation process here.

Do you need help in re-aligning your brand strategy to meet the needs of an evolving consumer landscape?

From conducting deep research and insight reports to facilitating values alignment workshops, we offer end-to-end support to help you create and execute a refreshed brand strategy. Get in touch to see how we can help you here.

Article by Naomi Thrower, Brand Strategist


Luxury Brands Can No Longer Ignore Sustainability by Andrew Winston
2023 Predictions Report – The Way To Win by Positive Luxury
2022 Predictions Report – The Is Not a Drill by Positive Luxury
WWF Deeper Luxury report – by Jem Bendell and Anthony Kleanthous
Is sustainability the next frontier for Luxury Brands,, Christophe Cais
The Values-Driven Organization: Cultural Health and Employee Well-Being as a Pathway to Sustainable Performance by Richard Barrett

Defining Luxury in the Hotel Space: in conversation with Pennyhill Park

We sat down with Rachael Stevens, Rooms Division Manager to discuss the shape of luxury hospitality and the future of the luxury experience.

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