22-Aug, 04:00

02:10, January 25 174 0

2017-01-25 02:10:10
François-Henri Pinault, Kering Chief, on Why Green Is the New Black

LONDON — While most of fashion has its eyes focused on the couture shows in Paris this week, François-Henri Pinault, chief executive of Kering, the luxury goods group that owns labels including Gucci, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen, has been thinking about something a little more grimy in nature. Specifically, waste.

After sharing the results of Kering’s 2012-16 sustainability report at the end of last year, Mr. Pinault released on Wednesday a secondary phase of targets for the group to meet by 2025. The targets, which are in line with United Nations goals for sustainable development, include cutting carbon emissions by 50 percent and reducing Kering’s environmental impact by at least 40 percent, largely from raw material production.

“Around 20 percent of those cutbacks will come from hitherto unidentified sectors, but the other 20 percent will come from areas we have already identified,” Mr. Pinault explained from his London office, pointing to carbon emissions, water pollution, cotton production and cattle farming as the areas contributing the most to Kering’s environmental footprint.

Some efforts are already underway and ready to be scaled up, most notably Gucci’s early adoption of a metal-free leather tanning process, which costs 25 percent more than conventional techniques, in part because more skins are wasted. Rather than pass on the added costs to consumers, Mr. Pinault said, Kering is in talks with auto companies to see if they might buy the surplus material. The company has also approached other clients of tanneries to see if they would also adopt the process, to lower the price differential.

“We see our efforts as strategic long-term investments, not short-term costs,” he said, rebutting the idea that sustainability and luxury cannot go hand-in-hand because the industry is built on consumption.

“As a human being, you breathe, you eat, you dream. You cannot not dream. And luxury sparks that,” Mr. Pinault said. “Real luxury is based on authenticity and sincerity — product is almost secondary to the experience. But if your products are not in sync with a higher set of values, then you aren’t going to survive in this business.”

Kering does not disclose financial statements related to its sustainability efforts. In part, that may be because while brands have started trying cleaning up their acts, fashion is second only to the oil industry in the amount of pollutants it emits. Many of its best-known high-end names — those able to capture consumer imagination and position themselves as influencers — have long been vocal proponents of the sustainable fashion movement and the strategic benefits of “going green,” but without necessarily clarifying what that means.

According to Diana Verde Nieto, chief executive of Positive Luxury, a trust mark for brands that have a positive impact on society and the environment, luxury players have stepped up social and environmental issues in recent years, in part to protect their resources. But, she added, companies also face greater scrutiny from those who buy their products, as well as occasional accusations of “greenwashing” — spending more time and money on marketing environmental credentials than on actually putting sustainable business practices in place.

Mr. Pinault did not entirely agree: “The standard for today’s consumer is that everyone is sustainable, so they aren’t really going to buy more from you just because they see you as normal,” he said. “They will absolutely penalize you if they think you don’t care, but they certainly won’t reward you for being first in class.”

Certainly, while Kering may be the most vocal in the pack about its sustainability efforts, it is not the only luxury group to do so. With its LIFE (LVMH Initiatives for the Environment) program, and the establishment of an internal carbon fund in 2015, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton has arguably been more consistent in spreading its efforts across brands and product life cycles, Ms. Verde Nieto said, though it tends to be more cautious of the limelight, and perhaps of the risk of being attacked for what you don’t do, as opposed to being acknowledged for what you do.

Mr. Pinault said that Kering was already taking steps internally to tackle its next hurdle: monitoring the environmental impact of its products from “cradle-to-grave” (i.e. from source to final disposal) rather than from “cradle-to-gate,” or through the supply chain from inception to purchase.

“We’ve put in the time creating a framework for sustainable business practices, as well as ways in which anyone can measure progress,” he said, proudly pointing to Kering’s environmental profit and loss methodology. The model measures and monetizes the environmental impact of business activities across the entire supply chain, although it does not break down performances by brand.

In October, Kering introduced an app called MyEP&L, which allows fashion designers to see the potential environmental impact of a hypothetical creation. An item can be tracked and priced from source to retailer, with calculations for different production methods or provenance of raw materials.

The open-source information is intended to be shared with everyone, including students, brand designers and any curious outside party. “It’s amazing to see how a designer’s creative visions can alter,” Mr. Pinault said, noting that Tomas Maier, creative director of the Italian leather house Bottega Veneta, lowered the use of PVC in its products to less than 1 percent in under two years.

Meanwhile, as part of efforts to achieve its 2025 sustainability targets, Kering is creating an index of external suppliers to ensure that all independent raw materials meet standards on traceability, chemical use and animal welfare. A Materials Innovation Lab for watches and jewelry is also in the works, following the success of a similar textiles venture that engineered over 1500 fabrics.

“In a decade’s time, we could be wearing leather made from animal stem cells or mushrooms — all the technology is there, we just need to scale it up,” Mr. Pinault said. “Our generation’s responsibility is to ensure that the next generation will do it differently.”