Q&A Christopher H. Cordey, Sustainable Luxury Forum


Sophie Doran | February 25, 2011

Christopher H. Cordey brings together stakeholders working on sustainability issues within the luxury sector, for the second annual Sustainable Luxury Forum in Lausanne

Christopher H. Cordey brings together stakeholders working on sustainability issues within the luxury sector, for the second annual Sustainable Luxury Forum.

Speaking at the International Herald Tribune’s conference in 2009, PPR chairman Francois-Henri Pinault remarked, “today, more than ever, people want a return to genuine values, such as timelessness, sincerity and exemplary standards. These are all qualities which are inherent in sustainable luxury.”

Initially it was a difficult battle for brands to embrace sustainability authentically, as the New York Times put it best: " luxury often carries with it connotations of excess and waste, and it is associated with fashion, an industry prone to fads that change at least as quickly as the seasons".

“ Our ambition with the Sustainable Luxury Forum is to federate transversally across the luxury industry and accelerate systemic change towards Sustainable Excellence ”  

But now that the concept has a bit of maturity, longstanding programs by LVMH, PPR and BMW have been accepted and acknowledged by consumers and the industry. And as the cost benefits become more and more obvious to brands, more organisations are following suit. As recently as this week it was reported that Daimler, BMW and Audi will collectively hire thousands of workers in 2011 to deal with ‘Sustainable’ luxury car demand.

Diamond giant DeBeers has commissioned a special report on the subject and elected to report not only financially but socially, incorporating economics, employees, communities, ethics and environment into their annual public results. Fairmont Hotels developed an initiative back in 1990 to address its operational sustainability, focusing on improvements in waste management and energy and water conservation at company properties as well as innovative community outreach programs involving local groups and partnerships.

To learn more about the current climate, we caught up with Christopher H. Cordey, a long-time luxury industry executive and director of the Sustainable Luxury Forum, an event designed to bring together all those working on sustainability issues within the luxury sector.

What do you think is driving the luxury industry to engage CSR? Has it been consumer-led or business driven?

Until now it was mainly business driven and predominantly undertaken by a minority of progressive luxury brands (or groups) willing to minimise the potential damage on their brand’s reputation and optimise costs. What we have seen in the last few years is a growing awareness (thus pressure) of the general public on brands.

Arguably sustainability is an intrinsic value of true luxury. When the industry has such a timely history, why do we only talk so much about it now?

You are right sustainability is an intrinsic value of true luxury. But, today what is true luxury? For me the real challenge is wider. It is how do we take advantage of increased population and consumption and work collectively to implement solutions to manage the negative social and environmental consequences associated with this growth? … we will be about 9.5 billion on earth in 2050 !

How are brands engaging CSR? Are they developing in-house departments or outsourcing to environmental and sustainability experts?

Both ways. Some brands have a clear sustainable vision, invest the necessary human and financial resources to engage their whole organisation towards Sustainable Excellence. Others are still doing what we call “strategic philanthropy” and will sooner or later, realise the added value of Sustainable Excellence.

Are there any sectors and countries where luxury buyers are more sensitive to CSR and sustainability? Who is doing it particularly well?

The level of “buyers’ sensitiveness” to CSR differs by type of product, region and price point. My role is not to give awards, but rather to inspire CEO’s to engage wholeheartedly their organisation towards Sustainable Excellence; not just because it’s trendy. My mission is to make them realise that they can also contribute – within their sphere of influence – to solve complex environmental and social issues and be part of the solutions; and then assist them driving change in their organisation.

The theme of the Sustainable Luxury Forum in 2011 is How to drive change in your supply chain to secure your reputation? What are some key discussions you hope this topic will enable?

For this year’s edition, they key discussion will be: How to manage global luxury supply chains in the 21st century ? How to map your stakeholders ? How to engage your suppliers in your sustainability agenda ? What is beyond the RCJ certification for jewellery brands ?. The forum will be again highly participatory and interactive.

Our ambition with the Sustainable Luxury Forum – a not-for-profit association – is to federate transversally across the luxury industry and accelerate systemic change towards Sustainable Excellence. We thus created a learning and sharing platform, offering news, research and capacity building services to our members. Aside of this initiative, we lately formed a specific group on Luxury Society called “Sustainable Luxury”, with the objective to federate beyond, engage newcomers active at luxury brands and exchange ideas and good practices related to Sustainable Excellence.

Photo: Alila Villas Soori, Indonesia. A sustainable luxury resort built in accordance with EarthCheck’s Sustainable Design Standards.