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FAILING GRADE

When it comes to their environmental track record, luxury-goods makers have earned a less-than-glowing rap, and deservedly so. In a 2007 report by the World Wildlife Fund U.K., luxury-goods businesses were singled out for lagging behind the green market zeitgeist.

The top 10 publicly traded luxury corporate groups scored no higher than a “C+.”

Ranked by environmental and social performance, as well as by reputation, the top 10 publicly traded luxury corporate groups scored no higher than a “C+” (Loreal, Hermes, Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton). PPR, which sponsored Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s cinematic outing, Home, got a “D”, while two of its colleagues (Tods, Bulgari) received an outright “F.”

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REDEFINING LUXURY

Luxury brands are pilloried for inciting unnecessary consumption, causing waste, and provoking discontent among the less affluent. But don’t count them out for being irrelevant to the global conversation just yet. The WWF report describes the emergence of a new kind of luxury consumer—one who is well-heeled, educated, and concerned about social and environmental issues.

The luxury industry has to evolve, integrate sustainability into their business strategies, or die.

“These consumers use luxury products as a symbol of success,” the environmental group notes. “The definition of success—and the way it is perceived by others—is changing. Many successful people now want the brands they use to reflect their concerns and aspirations for a better world.”

In short, the luxury industry has to evolve, integrate sustainability into their business strategies, or die. Only then can we redefine what “luxury” means; a term that is synonymous with quality, timelessness, as well as social and environmental excellence.