François-Henri Pinault on Sustainable Luxury

The 2 are no longer mutually exclusive.

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"Sustainability" and "luxury" are no longer mutually exclusive. Consumers not only seek enduring value; they want to know how the product is made. Were animals hurt in the process? Are the fabrics organic? Is this jewelry recycled? These are just some of the questions consumers are asking as they increasingly look for brands that embrace environmental and social issues.

François-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of PPR—home to luxury brands such as Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, and Alexander McQueen—recently spoke at the 2009 IHT Sustainable Luxury Conference held in New Delhi. Here's some of what he had to say about the sustainable luxury movement:

"The luxury business does not escape the logic that human beings and the planet should be protected together. On the contrary, it should play an important part in achieving that goal, as a model and leader.

The quality of luxury is based on fine materials, respect for the material, and for the craft itself that result in a rare and beautiful object. Just like luxury, sustainable development is founded in essence on respect for natural resources and for human beings. In this regard, careful compliance with the conventions governing international trade of wild animals and plants is a priority for luxury.

The creativity of luxury is a precondition for its own survival. More than any other line of business, luxury constantly needs to re-invent its know-how, over and over, to avail itself of fresh talents. Sustainable development is equally unable to dispense with innovation, if it is to avoid repeating our past mistakes and invent new modes of production, with growing concern for the planet and greater respect for people.

Lastly, luxury and sustainable development share two essential values: timelessness and the continuance of knowledge. Fundamentally, luxury is permanent. Luxury requires times and takes its time.

The Luxury Institute says that wealthy consumers increased their preference for socially responsible brands from 51 percent in 2006 to 57 percent in 2007, and it sees that figure rising dramatically this year. "The global crisis of confidence in governmental, financial, and other institutions will drive luxury consumers to demand that luxury brands serve not just them but society as a whole," according to the Luxury Institute's report. "They will require luxury brands to be ethical with all constituents, charitable in ways that make a difference to their beneficiaries, and eco-friendly in ways that can be documented."

  • Kimberly Castro

    Kimberly Castro is the managing editor of Money and Health at U.S. News. You can follow her on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn, circle her on Google+, or email her at kcastro@usnews.com.