In its new sustainability report, Swiss luxury group Richemont maps a future for its maisons that embraces human rights, biodiversity, conservation, and sustainably sourced materials and jewelry.
Richemont’s 2022 Sustainability Report, which spans nearly 170 pages, covers progress and changes ahead for the parent company to nearly two dozen luxury brands including Cartier, Panerai, Chloé, Buccellati, Montblanc, and Van Cleef & Arpels.
“With my team, I am further developing the group’s vision to accelerate and amplify the group’s ESG transformation,” Bérangère Ruchat, and the new chair of its Governance and Sustainability Board Committee, said in a statement. “Our mission is to infuse an impact-driven mindset, enabling our colleagues to understand and integrate environmental and social dimensions into every business decision. Following global standards, we are committed to expand our sustainability reporting and operate with the highest level of corporate governance.”
The report details its commitment to move to 100 percent renewable electricity across all sites by 2025—it’s currently at 92 percent. Richemont is also on track for phasing out polyvinyl chloride (PVC) from its products and packaging by the end of the year. PVC is linked to environmental and human health issues and is being targeted by European regulators as part of the bloc’s sweeping crackdown on chemicals.
But it’s emissions that are the biggest concern; they rose 4 percent between 2020 and 2021, according to the report as business returned to pre-pandemic production. But according to Ruchat, it’s also a byproduct of growth in general, and is pushing for degrowth in other facets of the business.
“Luxury products—by definition, they are rare, and they are eternal,” she told Vogue Business. “So I think the degrowth conversation doesn’t apply to hard luxury. I would say you cannot compare fast fashion and hard luxury. Degrowth, when you make a few hundred thousand watches a year, doesn’t apply.”
Richemont is making strides, though. Last year Chloé earned its B Corp status—the first luxury brand to earn the mark—and under the leadership of Gabriela Hearst has increased its sustainable materials and designs, increasing responsible sourcing and production.
Cartier is also making moves to improve its accountability and reduce its emissions. While it eschews sustainable advancements in jewelry such as lab-grown diamonds, it’s active elsewhere in diamond mine traceability and recycled gold.
“Recycled gold is great, but you’re not solving challenges at the source,” Ruchat says of the issues with controversial mining practices. “Partnerships at the source will be critical, working with local NGOs, working with local communities. In sustainability, it’s never only one solution.”
Last October, Cartier partnered with its competitor Kering on the launch of the Watch and Jewelry Initiative 2030 aimed at developing industry-wide benchmarks for reducing carbon footprints in the industry.
According to Ruchat, the luxury group is taking another cue from rival Kering: leather alternatives. Last month, Kering announced it was working with the Leonardo DiCaprio-backed Vitrolabs to develop lab-grown leather as a more sustainable and ethical alternative. Leather is leading contributor to climate change and consumers continue to show a preference for alternative leather. Also last month, Stella McCartney announced the release of her first handbag made from mycelium—the root structure of mushrooms.
Richemont says it’s now looking into options. “We have a team dedicated to material innovation, notably vegan leather,” says Ruchat. Its IWC watch brand used a paper-based material and a mix of rubber and fibers from agricultural waste to create vegan leather. Cartier, which recently launched handbags, could incorporate the materials as well.
“On the use of materials, this is a topic on leather that I haven’t worked on since I arrived — bear with me, three months is short — but this is something we will be certainly reopening, we have a leather committee,” Ruchat says. “What will be very important is that the group gives a global framework and the maisons will have to decide, based on the creative directors, what they want to do. It’s like fur: we’ll have to discuss more in detail in the coming months. We don’t have a radical answer for the moment.”
Like other luxury brands, biodiversity will play a bigger role in Richemont’s future—not just its philanthropic work, but via supply chains, too. It’s CITES compliant (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), but Ruchat says next year will see more integration of biodiversity and conservation across its value chains and business models. Biodiversity is playing an increasingly important role for luxury brands including Burberry and Lancôme.
Biodiversity is listed as a growing priority for the company, and Richemont says it is compliant with CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) — the international agreement meant to ensure the global trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their species’ survival — for its sourcing of exotic skins. But Ruchat acknowledged that conservation efforts to date have taken a more philanthropic approach and that more work within the supply chain is needed. That’s coming, she says.
“I wanted to see where we can have a partnership that makes sense from a sourcing point of view and not just have projects that are not linked to the value chain,” Ruchat says. “That will be happening before the end of the calendar year.”
Richemont is also looking at its Scope 3 emissions—the often overlooked and difficult to calculate up and downstream emissions. Ruchat says consumer use and end of life planning are critical considerations. It means looking more deeply at supply chains, “I think if, as an industry, we engage with suppliers, who are very often the same, we will have more opportunity to — not to push them, but to bring them into this new way of doing business.”
This, Ruchat says, is becoming the standard for reporting in Europe—and soon the world. And as sustainability and luxury are coming to mean the same thing, Richemont has it in its sights, even if the future is a moving target. “If you think about circularity seriously, you have to go all the way.”