It has become more than just fashionable for watchmakers to publicise the smallest act of sustainability as a fundamental shift in their corporate cultures. It is a key plank of their marketing.
But does an occasional beach clean-up or making a niche line in watch straps made from old fishing nets qualify as a switch in core values towards sustainability, or does the luxury watch business need to go a whole lot further to avoid being accused of greenwashing.
Greenwashing is not a new phenomenon, but it has become more prevalent and sophisticated in recent years, as consumers have become more aware and demanding of ethical and ecological standards.
The luxury watch industry is not immune to this trend, as some brands have tried to capitalise on the growing interest in sustainability among their affluent clientele.
But how can you tell if a luxury watch brand is truly committed to sustainability, or if it is just using greenwashing tactics to boost its image and sales?
Here are some tips to help you spot and avoid greenwashing in the luxury watch industry:
- Look beyond the marketing. Don’t be swayed by vague or unsubstantiated claims, such as “eco-friendly”, “green”, “responsible”, or “sustainable”. These terms have no clear or universal definition, and can be used to imply more than what is actually delivered. Instead, look for specific and measurable information, such as certifications, standards, audits, reports, or third-party endorsements. For example, Chloé has become the first luxury brand to be B-Corp certified, which means it meets rigorous social and environmental criteria verified by an independent organization.
- Check the source. Don’t take the brand’s word for granted. Do some research on the origin and production of the materials, components, and processes used by the brand. Find out where they source their metals, gems, leather, and other materials, and how they ensure they are ethically and sustainably obtained. For example, some brands use recycled gold or fairmined gold, which guarantees that the miners receive fair wages and work in safe conditions. Some brands also use lab-grown diamonds or synthetic sapphires, which reduce the environmental and social impact of mining.
- Consider the lifecycle. Don’t focus only on the product itself, but also on its impact throughout its lifecycle. Think about how the product is packaged, transported, sold, used, maintained, repaired, and disposed of. How does the brand minimize its carbon footprint, waste generation, water consumption, and energy use? How does it ensure its products are durable, repairable, and recyclable? How does it support its customers in extending the lifespan of their products? For example, some brands offer services such as refurbishment, trade-in, or buy-back, which encourage circularity and prevent waste.
- Evaluate the impact. Don’t be satisfied with good intentions, but look for actual results. How does the brand measure and report its environmental and social performance? How does it set goals and track progress? How does it address challenges and shortcomings? How does it engage with its stakeholders and communicate transparently? For example, some brands publish annual sustainability reports, which disclose their achievements and challenges in various areas such as climate change, biodiversity, human rights, diversity and inclusion, philanthropy, and innovation.
Greenwashing is not only unethical and misleading, but also harmful to the reputation and credibility of the luxury watch industry.
It erodes consumer trust and confidence, and undermines the efforts of those brands that are genuinely committed to sustainability.
As consumers, we have the power and responsibility to demand more from the brands we buy from, and to reward those that are transparent and accountable.
By doing so, we can help create a more sustainable future for ourselves and for generations to come.