Style and Substance: Going the Distance with Sustainable Luxury – Part II

Fashion, Full-Circle

In an age where “veganism is fashionable; electric cars are the new supercars; and every major fashion brand is suddenly talking about sustainability”, more upmarket brands are calling themselves “cruelty-free” or “sustainable”. But beyond speaking the lingo, how many are actually walking the talk and steering impactful change in the industry?  Designer Stella McCartney is an exemplary trailblazer in this regard. Her namesake fashion label has been fully committed to the sustainability cause since its birth in 2001—a time when the “triple-bottom-line” was still only an emerging concept. Today, the support for ethical and responsible brands has grown considerably, but McCartney is already well ahead of the sustainability curve with a comprehensive strategy

Like her famous parents Sir Paul and Linda McCartney, the designer is also an outspoken vegetarian and animal rights activist, and her views are reflected in 

her organic and cruelty-free fabrics that include biotech silk, no-harm and hand-selected wool, regenerated cashmere, vegetarian leather, organic cotton, and fibres from sustainably managed forests. She is also advocating for more brands—and the luxury sector—to embrace circular solutions that support regenerative farming and use of eco-friendly materials: the company is partnering with various institutions to invest in circularity, restorative solutions, biodegradable materials, and has collaborated with other brands to raise awareness on sustainable and responsible behaviours in fashion production and consumption. 


Clean Beauty

In the beauty industry, The L’Oréal Group is clearly taking the lead in sustainability. Home to high-end brands like Lancôme, Giorgio Armani, Yves Saint Laurent, Biotherm and Shu Uemura, among others, it was voted “Global Leader in Corporate Sustainability” in 2018 by CDP, a non-profit that runs the global disclosure system measuring and managing environmental impact. The cosmetics giant achieved for the third consecutive year a triple-A score in climate change, water security and forests—a testament to the efficacy of its sustainability programme

Its 2017 sustainability progress report showed that 76 per cent of newly launched or re-released products already have an improved environmental or social profile. For instance, Biotherm, one of its brands, launched in 2017 the “Waterlovers” sun care range made with a 96 per cent biodegradable formula base, which decreases the product’s overall environmental footprint by 80 per cent compared to the average sunscreen formula. But the Group has set even higher targets for 2020. By that year, it aims to be using 100 per cent renewable and sustainably sourced raw materials, and to have reduced the environmental footprint of its plants and distributions by 60 per cent, from a 2005 baseline. To track their progress, The L’Oréal Group uses a specially developed Sustainable Product Optimisation Tool (SPOT) to measure impact across brands and determine areas for improvement.  

Green Getaways

We are living in the experience economy, where people prefer to invest their wealth in experiences rather than owning goods. With today’s luxury vacationer more mindful of the environmental impact of tourism, five- or six-star establishments offering both stylish and eco-friendly stays are increasingly in demand. The success of the following sustainability-focused resorts are proof that when it comes to luxurious hideaways, green is the new black. 

The award-winning Song Saa Private Island and Luxury Resort is home to Cambodia’s first marine reserve. A pioneer of conservation-based luxury tourism in the Koh Rong Archipelago, the property was built with upcycled and recycled materials, and has its own waste management system. The owners Rory and Melita Koulmandas Hunter believe resort developers should not only use the land to build their facilities, but also assume the task of nurturing the environment and its people—in their case, preserving the region’s marine life and rainforests, and supporting the local community. The island was previously polluted and in disrepair, but has since been cleaned and rehabilitated, through the joint efforts of surrounding villages, the Cambodian government, financial investors and donor partners. The result is this stunning tropical getaway, complete with a pristine private beach, spacious wooden villas, exclusive spas and a preserved coral reef.

Over in Thailand, the Soneva Kiri is an elegant option for immersive experiences in eco-luxury travel. Under the leadership of founders Sonu and Eva Shivdasani, this resort has achieved positive results in regard to environmental sustainability and social impact: among other things, it has a sophisticated food waste and compost system, prohibits single-use plastics, and has been carbon-neutral since 2012. Its unspoiled surroundings are also a major draw: Soneva Kiri is situated on Koh Kood, Thailand’s fourth-largest and least populated island, and here one finds unsullied beaches, a local fishing village, wildlife and vibrant biodiversity.

Indonesia has no shortage of swanky resorts, but when it comes to “green” ones, Alila Villas in Uluwatu, Bali certainly comes to mind. The property, designed to EarthCheck standards—the world’s leading programme to assess environmental sustainability in the tourism industry—was made with 100 per cent locally sourced materials. Waste and pollution are not an issue here either: its “Zero Waste to Landfill” system has ensured that one hundred per cent of their waste is processed for reuse. Meanwhile, located in Indonesia’s remote Anambas Archipelago is the picturesque Bawah Reserve , a sprawling property spread over six Islands, three lagoons and thirteen beaches. Built on a previously uninhabited marine conservation area, this resort is the perfect eco-friendly escape, thanks to an extensive sustainability programme. Do not expect to find plastic bottles in use here; instead, eco-friendly detergent and ocean-friendly sun cream are mainstays, and all waste is composted or recycled in-house.


Through the discussed examples of the luxury brands and establishments, I hope to have shown readers that in today’s evolving social and environmental landscape, sustainability is the game-changer. As François-Henri Pinault so elegantly described: “Business as usual is no longer an option. We need to change our business models into sustainable ones and this must be the new normal.”