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When Sustainability Meets Desirability

When Sustainability Meets Desirability

Over the last 30 years, we have done more damage to our planet than in the previous five billion years. When it comes to embracing sustainability, the luxury of time is no longer in our hands. But what does this mean for luxury packaging, historically synonymous with weight, bulk and excess? As consumer mindsets change, a new world of progressive, regenerative luxury is emerging. No longer is excess seen as aspirational. Instead, luxury motives and the brands that meet them are moving towards consciousness, circularity and transparency.  

From sourcing and production to end-of-life and experiential, we take a look at opportunities where sustainability and desirability meet.

No Time to Waste

As people look to say goodbye to a throwaway culture, luxury shoppers are searching for the ultimate waste-free products, and brands are urgently stepping up to the challenge. The old world of luxury has often embraced harder to recycle packaging in considerable excess – the heavier, the better. However, with only 8.6% of global resources re-used, brands are recognising there’s no time to waste for innovation by introducing must-have refills, improving material recyclability and creating value beyond single use by ‘closing the loop’. 

Ruinart’s elegant ‘Second Skin’ takes a mono-material and reduction approach replacing excessive gift boxes with an FSc certified mono-pulped paper recyclable casing, reducing its carbon footprint by 60% while firmly maintaining its luxury appeal. Or brave brands like Bruichladdich are going against the whisky grain by allowing people to opt out of secondary pack altogether.

Desirability needn’t mean single use, even in luxury. For the ultimate waste free packaging, progressive brands are exploring ways to prolong the life of materials and shift the needle on consumption by designing refill systems. Hermes is tackling cosmetics waste head on with their Rouge Hermes lipstick range. Global beauty and personal care industries alone are estimated to produce 120 billion units of packaging each year. Once a difficult to recycle throw away is reimagined to a much loved refillable collectable, designed for luxury with longevity to inspire multigenerational hand-me-down collectability. Refillable options in spirits have, to date, left a lot to be desired, so how can we learn from the beauty sector to make circularity the most covetable option?

Moving beyond packaging to environmental activations, a regenerative mindset can create unique pop ups without compromising on the luxury experience. Zero waste restaurant Silo applied circular thinking to its interiors, using materials that will either biodegrade or be disassembled for repurposing in the future, while Llot Llov has created upmarket lighting from upcycled face cream pots. Fresh off the press from London Design Festival 2021, French architects Mamou-Mani have added to their portfolio (which also includes our cover image for Cos) with for their 3D-printed beehives for Fortnum and Mason, made from a bioplastic derived from fermented sugar.

From Degenerate to Regenerate

44% of luxury buyers say their purchasing decisions are influenced by a company's ethical and sustainability credentials, which means being conscious about your sources and their environmental impact has never been more important. Traditionally, global supply chains have been kept from the public eye but are awash with large volumes of raw materials, energy use and workforce exploitation. Fortunately, these old degenerative industry standards are being disrupted and replaced with more regenerative systems. 

Take premium Mezcal brand, Grulani. They make their 100% recycled, hand-blown glass bottles locally and celebrate each bottle’s beautiful imperfections as the embodiment of a truly artisan process. Or designer handbag brand, Mashu, only use responsibly sourced materials such as organic, plant based, recycled, circular or cruelty free materials. They are driving change by designing in smarter material choices with limited colours and coatings to preserve the value of resources. The ultimate balance of consciousness and covetability, they even offer worldwide carbon neutral shipping to consider the full journey of their product.

With the ever growing awareness of the true (hidden) impact of our purchases comes the need for transparency. As luxury shoppers seek to limit their impact, progressive brands are using technology to provide total visibility of their production processes. Burberry are shining a much needed spotlight into supply chains with their pioneering Voyage system. This uses blockchain technology to create a product tracing system that gives people full visibility into each stage of their garment’s lifecycle. Consumers can even add additional stages to its journey if their clothing is upcycled. While luxury spirits have typically used this technology for authenticity and security reasons, how could it be leveraged to go a step further and tell the whole story from grain to glass?

Excess to Access 

Historically we have relied on secondary pack to play a key part in conveying the worth of a product. But as the allure of luxury moves away from overt ostentation towards more subtle value codes, brands are exploring ways of demonstrating worth by offering access over excess. Through this lens, a beautiful pack could become a portal into an exclusive brand experience, rather than the complete package in itself. Take Deus’s Portal club in the heart of Milan, where only 300 keys permit you access to a slow, secretive bar to unwind and enjoy masterful mixology. 

Or Shiseido, a luxury Japanese beauty brand redesigned its Tokyo flagship ‘The Store’ to create a multi floor loyalty scheme. While some areas are universally accessible, including the ground-floor skincare lab and the first-floor beauty bar, a hair salon and photo studio on the fourth floor and the penthouse lifestyle cafe are available to members only. Inspired by the Japanese spirit of “Mottainai”, an expression of a sense of regret over waste, Shiseido’s ‘Sustainable Beauty Actions’ (SBAS) lives within The Store, now home to their all-new refill service the ‘Ultimune Fountain’ creating an exclusive eco-luxury experience.

Finally, when considering dramatic changes, remember, you are not alone. Many believe brand rivalries will become history as we collaborate to secure a future for the luxury sector. From Diageo, Heineken and Carlsberg partnering with Encirc to find more sustainable glass solutions, to LVMH’s imminent research and innovation centre opening in 2025, science and technology as well as our industry peers will be our partners in improving the luxury sector for good.

Future Luxury: Key Learnings

With luxury mindsets shifting to a more conscious, transparent and circular space, where should luxury brands look to drive innovation to pair sustainability with the ultimate desirability? 


No Time To Waste.

Think about packaging in holistic, circular systems to design out packaging waste and pollution. How might you apply a ‘refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle’ approach while still delivering luxury across both products and environmental spaces? In our ‘decade-to deliver’, addressing our waste crisis and obsession with disposability will be a top priority for all brands. 


From Degenerate to Regenerate. 

Consider how your packaging could be re-designed to better source and produce materials. From weight, recycled content and reduced finishes to the materials used, what wins can be made along the way? Thinking beyond materiality, do you know where your greatest impacts lie across your supply chain? More than ever, luxury shoppers are looking to understand the holistic impact of their purchases which will require much greater visibility and accountability from the start.  


Excess to Access. 

With a luxury consumer who’s more interested in self-improvement rather than showing off, how can you add value beyond the physical towards the experiential? Being bold by moving from excess packaging to exclusive access. 

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