Professor Jem Bendell

notes from a strategist and educator on social and organisational change

Archive for the ‘ALN’ Category

How an NGO report inspired a business woman to reinvent luxury

Posted by jembendell on July 22, 2011

Can an NGO report inspire a new enterprise? An enterprise which after just 3 years is booming and winning business awards for turning waste into luxury accessories? The WWF report Deeper Luxury helped Kresse Wesling identify a market niche, turning waste firehose into high-end design. You can hear Kresse explain how she sees creative opportunities where others see trash, in her TED talk. Her success with Elvis & Kresse demonstrates how a shift in perception uncovers new opportunities. Given how the big brands mostly grumbled about the Deeper Luxury report when we launched it at the end of 2007, its gratifying to see how such ideas can be generative in the right hands.

With Fair Jewelry Action we recently followed up the report with “Uplifting the Earth” which maps out a progressive agenda for the jewellery industry. Once again, we heard grumbles from incumbent brands about our analysis, and it is the newer, smaller brands who are leading the way with innovations in responsible sourcing.

So let incumbent executives can grumble… the future is for people like Kresse. Indeed, it’s time for more “disruptive luxury”. Which is the name of my talk at the launch of the world’s first sustainable luxury awards, in Buenos Aires this coming November.

Posted in ALN, Corporations, Lifeworth, NGOs, Reports, Sustainable Development, WWF | Leave a Comment »

Vogue and Marie Claire report on sustainable luxury

Posted by jembendell on November 29, 2010

Jem interviewed in Marie Claire

Jem interviewed in Vogue

Can jewellery give miners decent work and livehoods, promoting sustainable development? Can India reclaim denim, as an organic, handwoven, naturally dyed traditional cloth? These issues are discussed in this month’s Vogue and Marie Claire. I talked to both, while sporting the organic denim Sherwani I created with Prema of Rangoli Fashion House and Rubina of Colours of Nature, when in southern India earlier this year (and photographed by famed photographer (and great chap), Paulo Pellegrin).

One focus of my work since 2006, has been helping promote more awareness of sustainable business issues amongst elites and middle classes across the global South, particularly in Asia and Latin America. So Im pleased that this month I get to promote sustainable fashion and jewellery in both the spanish Vogue and Marie Claire in India. In one of the articles I discuss the history of denim, and how it can be reclaimed as Indian. The side benefit of this work is that, as just an academic and consultant, I get to chuckle about appearing in top fashion magazines! So, don’t just stand there, let’s get to it (strike a pose, there’s nothing to it…)

Thanks to Noela Fernandez and Aekta Kapoor for the interviews.

Some snaps of us in action at Rangoli in Auroville….

Jem and Prema plan the lining

Getting measured at Rangoli

Getting measured at Rangoli

Jem discovers how Rubina and Jesus make blue

Jem discovers how Rubina and Jesus make blue

Posted in ALN, Funny, My Life, Sustainable Development | 3 Comments »

Integrating Personal and Global Wellness

Posted by jembendell on October 14, 2010

(A keynote given by Jem Bendell at the Wellness Summit, Singapore, October 14th 2010).

I want to thank the team at Spa Asia and the Wellness Summit for making sustainability a theme this year. It has been rather challenging times for many in the industry these past 2 years, and that could have led some to focus purely on the near term, rather than providing a space for reflection on what it is we are doing and why. The location is also refreshing. We do not have to put ourselves in concrete jungles to be smart and serious. We are part of nature, and when we are in sight of nature we are more relaxed and thus more creative… and the science on that process is in.

I am here because I think wellness professionals can be leaders in the transition to a fair and sustainable world. You can be part of what I term in my latest book, The Corporate Responsibility Movement – A movement that is pursuing a transition to a fair and sustainable economy through new approaches to enterprise.

I was invited partly because of a report I researched and wrote about sustainable luxury, for the environmental group WWF. In Deeper Luxury, we mapped out the sustainability challenge, and how luxury brands perform, the commercial reasons why they can do more, and some examples and tips for companies. The report took off around the world. I even ended up pictured in Tatler; a dubious indicator of success for an environmentalist perhaps.

Wellness services target the same market as many luxury brands, and many wellness services are themselves luxury brands. The luxury industry has been under an increasing spotlight on its social and environmental performance. From the sourcing of metals and stones in jewellery, to the working practices for models, to the use of endangered species in its products. More and more luxury brands have made steps to improve practice, and some luxury groups have even decided to make major investments in buying niche ethical luxury brands, such as LVMH buying half of Edun, which focuses on ethical clothing. The trends they are responding to are trends that also affect wellness industries – a growing realisation amongst people around the world of social and environmental malaise and how our consumption affects that, and how our choices at work matter. If you are in a business where the products and services are highly discretionary, and where personal motivation of staff is key to your success, then these broader public issues affect your business, because they affect customer and staff mood.

I’m new to wellness, and I need some. Having flu at my first wellness conference maybe tells me something I need to hear. I’ve been working on sustainability for 15 years and it is a huge agenda. It can seem complicated, with more stuff to have to think about, to check on, and so on. But actually its quite simple. At its most basic sustainability is about people being in harmony with nature, including our own natures. As our societies have developed our work and ways of living have separated us from that harmony with nature, with each other and with our true selves. You have likely heard that before. Right now I’d like us to take a moment to sense what restoring that harmony could feel like. You may find it helpful if you close your eyes for the next few moments.

So, now with you eyes shut, try to recall a moment when you think you won an argument, or clinched a deal, or got promoted. Think of how it felt at the time.

Still with your eyes shut, next, try to recall a moment when you were in nature, perhaps looking at a sunset, or where you completely lost yourself in the moment of something you enjoy doing. Try to taste that feeling.

Now contrast that feeling with the first – the feeling generated within you when you won out on something.

Consider whether that first feeling is one of self-promotion – a worldly feeling, while the second feeling comes from somewhere else, something some would call your soul.

This is a reflection recommended to us by Anthony De Mello, a Jesuit priest from India. He says the worldly feelings control us, and make us controllable, and don’t provide the nourishment and happiness from when one contemplates nature or enjoys the company of one’s friends or one’s work. He suggests we are weighed down by these worldly motivations for approval, popularity, and power.

That is also a sustainability message. Because sustainability is not so much a challenge out there, but in here. It comes down to how mindful we are in our work. A sustainable wellness industry will flow from a sustainable wellness profession of people inspired by creating experiences that generate well-being for everyone involved, not just the client, and restoring the biological diversity and balance of our planet in the process.

The good news is that more and more people want that from us.

This time tomorrow you will hear from Adam Horler of LOHAS Asia, some new data on consumer attitudes to the environment and consumption, from across South East Asia. So I wont go into the data I have from last year. The positive news is that contrary to myth, middle class urban Asian consumers are concerned about the environment and would prefer better options on that issue. But today, Ill share with you some statistics on why it is so important we try to meet those consumers’ aspirations and help them turn it into behavioural change.

Since the conference opened here at 9am yesterday morning, just 24 hours ago, over 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest have been lost. Over a million tonnes of toxic waste have been released into our environment. Since 9am yesterday, 98,000 people on our planet died of starvation, tens of thousands of them children. In just a day, 137 species have been driven into extinction. In that time, up to 200,000 sharks have been killed, many of them endangered species, by removing their fins to flavour our soup. Perhaps it is no wonder then that an estimated 2 million people around the world took a day off work yesterday due to stress or depression.

We are exposed to bad news in the media on most days, and it seems so abstract and unconnected to us. It can make us numb, partly because we don’t know what to do. But if we repress certain feelings then that can come out in other ways, damaging ourselves and others. The numbness can also hold us back from acting on what we know and what we care about. There’s an American poet Drew Dellinger, who I particularly like for the way he reaches through this numbness. Suffering with this flu, I was bored in bed and listening to his poetry. One poem reached me in the middle of the night. It goes something like this:

“It’s 3:23 in the morning
and I’m awake
because my great great grandchildren
won’t let me sleep
my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the planet was plundered?
what did you do while the earth was unravelling?
Surely you did something when the seasons started failing
when the animals, reptiles and birds were all dying?
Did you fill the streets with protest when democracy was stolen?
What did you do?
Once you knew…”

When that touches us, even if its painful, we can be grateful for that, because we are feeling our extended self, our fuller self, expressing itself.

We are lucky we are not one of the people who suffered in the last 24 hours. We are probably lucky we are not our great great grandchildren. But we are also guilty. Not of inaction or apathy. Because we are already active in causing the problems I’ve described, through what we buy and what our savings get used for, who or what we work for or on. The problems in the world are not there from an absence of human action, but because of human action, in pursuit of profit and pride. The building, the lights, the food, our clothes, credit cards, the works, its all of us involved in all the difficulties I’ve just described.

Am I making you feel well? In raising these issues am I providing a wellness service? The sustainability agenda must make us question what we mean by wellness.

Some may cynically surmise that such malaise may mean a growth in demand for wellness services. But wellness seems to be more than health, moments of happiness and thin veil of calm. Rather, wellness is a form of contentment and balance, a way of being where one is both healer and whole. Providing people opportunities to awaken to their higher selves can be part of the wellness agenda. It might be unsettling, but ultimately can be deeply affirming. In any case, new evidence confirms that personal wellness and well-being is often affected by collective wellness and well-being.

Personal and collective wellness are connected in two key ways – environmental and social. A US government study published last month found a strong, consistent correlation between adult diabetes and particulate air pollution. There are also scientific studies published this year that correlate levels of air pollution, such as nitrous oxides, with levels of personal happiness. Studies also correlate more traffic congestion with less sense of well-being. We probably didn’t need scientists to work that one out.

Our proximity to nature also matters. Studies have found that post-operation patients housed in rooms with views of nature require less time in hospital and require fewer pain killers. In a study by the University of Illinois “those who lived in housing units with no immediate view of or access to nature reported a greater number of aggressive conflicts with partners or children than their peers who lived near trees and grass.” Our natural world is our common well-being.

The second way that personal and collective wellness is connected is through social factors. One study reported this year finds that if you are not in a good relationship, your injuries will take twice as long to heal, than if you are in a positive and nurturing relationship. Studies show correlations between unemployment, or poverty or economic inequality, with higher rates of crime. It is not surprising then that one study found that in the most economically unequal of states of the USA, 35 to 40 percent of the population feel they cannot trust other people, compared to only 10 percent in the more equal states. Not trusting each other, and being anxious of our rank in society, and what will happen if we slip back, is one explanation for why growing GDP has not correlated with growing levels of happiness, beyond a fairly low threshold. Even UN studies report more unequal societies are more unhappy, top to bottom.

Can one be well when many are not? Apparently not.

There are two major implications for the wellness industry from recognising this connection between personal and collective wellness, or from now on, between personal and global wellness. First, are implications for the relationship with the client. Second, the relationship with everyone else involved, and the environment.

Let’s consider the client. Instead of retreat many people seek reconnection. Jeorg DeMeuth, who runs Organic Spa and who you heard from yesterday, told me that he finds more “people are looking for a holistic experience, where they experience soul, mind and body. The new Spa is a kind of dreamland for new ideas and life concepts”. For those clients who don’t yet have this awareness, as professionals with access to the latest science on the relation between personal and global wellness do we have a responsibility to help lead more people towards that thinking, as it is in their own interests? Serving people by proposing something they don’t yet know they want is an old challenge. Henry Ford knew it well when he famously said, “If I asked my customers what they wanted, they’d tell me a faster horse.” We can serve customers by seeking to lead them.

How to lead customers in this way is an important questions. I want to learn about that, and am looking for examples to include in my next book, on sustainable luxury, so Id welcome chatting after, if you have tried it. I think one subtle way of leading consumers is to communicate how you are providing your services in more responsible ways. Demonstrating a practical manifestation of values can be a good teacher. This also connects to the the second main implication of the connection between personal and global wellness – unless you are supporting collective wellness through the actual operations of your wellness business, you are not really helping your clients’ individual wellness. If the products you use have no contaminants but their manufacture polluted the air we breath, rising our rates of diabetes, destabilising our climate, then that’s not so ‘well’.

I hear that there are many companies embracing this agenda, and some of them we are hearing about at this conference.

There are a variety of initiatives bringing people together to make this happen, such as The Campaign for Greener Healthcare, The Green Occupational Therapy Network, The Green Yoga Association and the Authentic Luxury Network which I launched with some people in the luxury world. There are also initiatives such as Green Globe’s standard for environmental management of Spas, which the luxury resort chain Six Senses developed with them. What is exciting is that we do not have to only focus on making less impact on the planet and people, but we can create products and services that make a positive impact on people and nature. For example, I’m an advisor to The UN’s Biotrade initiative, which is working with skincare and fragrance companies to develop product lines that create new revenues to pay for the conservation of species and their ecosystems. One participant is the Swiss fragrance firm Firmenich, who worked with the NGO Care International, to improve the lives of Vanilla farmers in Uganda, and incorporate that into the brand proposition for a new perfume by Estee Lauder and Donna Karan, called PureDKNY.

This is not about companies offering charity. It is about upgrading normal business operations. The sustainable wellness agenda is about how you make your money not how you give it away. It may seem complex but you can start anywhere, for instance by empowering your staff to become aware of issues and how they relate to their values and their healing practices, and then together discover ways of reducing negative impacts and making more positive contributions. You can look for guidelines and standards, and you can take lots of notes during Jeorg’s skills development session tomorrow.

In summary, I think wellness professions are important to sustainability and vice versa. It will soon be impossible to separate personal wellness from working on collective or global wellness. We will only integrate these properly if we have a heartfelt intention to serve all life through our work. That is an intention most of us share, but it gets covered up with all the stresses and strivings of everyday life. The reflection from Anthony de Mello at the start, helps us see that our world needs from us simply what we deeply need for ourselves. To be authentic, soulful and purposeful. We don’t have to be whole to heal – we just have to be on the way. Thank you.

[References to the data mentioned will appear in my forthcoming book, “Higher Ends”. Thanks to Lifeworth’s Hanniah Tariq and Sara Walcott for research assistance, and comments from Matthew Slater and Ian Doyle on an earlier version. A video of the talk will appear soon].

View the summit at http://www.wellnesssummit.com

Posted in ALN, My Life, Singapore, Spirit?, Sustainable Development, Talks | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

What will success look like for the CSR Movement?

Posted by jembendell on July 27, 2009

In recent months Ive been talking more widely about the existence of a new social movement of people who are making business and finance contribute to a world that is sustainable and fair. Im talking more with social entrepreneurs and social activists, and I find many people who have a sense of urgency and leadership are surprised at my view, as they regard mainstream CR or CSR as an effort to maintain the corporate status quo, not fundamentally transform it. In response I agree that much CSR is lacking, but I point to those initiatives, projects and people within the corporate world who are working of more systemic transformations of markets – whether through influencing standards, regulations, mindsets or financing systems. Yet, in these conversations, I realise that we dont have a clear set of successes to point to – so many of the examples are about the incredible efforts that people are making, rather than the results being achieved. Any movement needs to know what success looks like. So, it was interesting last month to hear a CR leader, Simon Zadek, ask a class of students to reflect on what they considered real CSR successes to date. I encourage you to reflect on these questions.

What is the most successful multistakeholder initiative and why?
What is the most important piece of CSR legislation, from a CSR perspective?
Think of three CSR CEOs who you believe have demonstrated CSR success, and what have they been successful at?
Think of a civil society leader who has promoted CSR really effectively?
What is it that you still dont know about CSR, and is critical to you future work?

Perhaps you could forward this email to your colleagues in your team, so you can discuss your responses together. I also invite you to post your responses on my blog, at https://jembendell.wordpress.com/

If you are interested in what it could mean for your own work to be part of a CSR movement,  I encourage you to get my book on the topic for your organisation’s library. “The Corporate Responsibility Movement”, available from.  http://www.greenleaf-publishing.com/productdetail.kmod?productid=2767

This message was included in the Lifeworth CSR jobs Bulletin for July.  To sign up for that bulletin, issued about once a month, visit http://lifeworth.com/main/sign-up/

Posted in ALN, Corporations, Counter-Globalization Movement, Lifeworth | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Asian CSR set to reshape the global business environment, according to Lifeworth review.

Posted by jembendell on May 25, 2009

Press release, 25th May 00.01 GMT, Lifeworth, Manila.

Asia is becoming a leading region for corporate social responsibility (CSR), as its businesses gain international influence, according to some leading CSR academics and practitioners, writing in the eighth global review from a CSR consulting firm. “Diverse Asian approaches to responsible enterprise will increasingly affect business practices around the globe. Not only can this trend be welcomed, it is essential to achieve a fair and sustainable world,” argues lead author of the review, Dr Jem Bendell.

The Eastern Turn In Responsible Enterprise describes the rise of Asian business and finance that was hastened by events during 2008. It argues that although expanding economic power generates difficult social and environmental challenges, the world needs Asian business and society to help innovate the technologies, processes and concepts that will help us meet the critical challenges of our time, such as climate change and poverty eradication. It explores some initial implications of this global shift, and some characteristics of Asian forms of corporate social responsibility (CSR). “In order for executives to respond to the global challenges of our time, we must recognise and learn from sustainable innovations that are occurring everywhere, including across Asia, not just in one region,” concludes Dr Bendell, director of Lifeworth.

The review begins by chronicling the economic rise of Asia. The region has become home to the majority of the world’s middle classes. Asia now trades amongst itself more than with the rest of the world and it holds the vast majority of the world’s savings. Asian businesses continue to acquire famous brands from the West. “The current crisis has sharply accentuated the Eastern Turn in the world order,” notes the Pro-Vice Chancellor of Griffith University, Professor Michael Powell, in a foreword. The shift in global power is one of a number of implications of the economic crisis for responsible enterprise and finance that the review explores in detail.

The review shows how this rise in economic power is being followed by a rise in activity on the social and environmental performance of business. It describes how domestic factors within Asian societies are driving CSR, such as growing environmental awareness. Director of ethical reputation analysts Covalence, Antoine Mach explains that “coverage of CSR issues in Asia by the press and non-governmental organisations continues to grow year on year.” This domestic pressure marks a development from recent years where Western interests have been key in encouraging the adoption of CSR codes by Asian business.

Commenting on the review, Stephen Hine of the responsible investment analysts EIRIS, explains that “whilst CSR has traditionally been seen as something primarily undertaken by Western companies there is increasing evidence of it being seen as important by Asian companies.” The review provides data on the growth of CSR-related activities, such as the level of reports, institutes, and certifications on social and environmental performance. For instance Asia has become the top region for IS014001 environmental management certifications and reports issued in compliance with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines. It also highlights some environmental innovations from Asian businesses, such as BYD Auto in China, which is rapidly establishing itself as a leading electric car maker, and BetterPlace.com from Israel, which is a developing integrated electric car recharging systems with auto makers. “It is increasingly clear that many people in Asia see the need for a focus on responsible enterprise and will increasingly lead the way in responsible business development,” notes Professor Powell.

Rising academic interest in CSR within Asia is also chronicled. The review is published to coincide with the launch of the Asia-Pacific Centre for Sustainable Enterprise at Griffith Business School in Australia. Professor Powell sees the potential for business schools to help address the changing global business environment. “No fewer than 30 business schools in the “East” have signed on to the UN Principles of Responsible Management Education and that number is growing all the time.” he writes in a foreword.

“The Eastern Turn in responsible enterprise is not an option,” explains Professor Jeremy Moon of the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (ICCSR), at the University of Nottingham, a leader in internationalising research on CSR. “It brings new normative, conceptual and operational challenges,” he explains in the review. The Eastern Turn in Responsible Enterprise postulates on some common characteristics of Asian CSR in comparison to the West, highlighting implications for policy, practice, and research.

Also author of the new book The Corporate Responsibility Movement, which describes the emergence of a social movement of business people transforming corporations, Dr Bendell concludes that people working on CSR could benefit from more cross-cultural dialogue on globally responsible enterprise and finance. The review even suggests that insight into new forms of business and finance after the crisis could come from such a dialogue, pointing in particular to the Gandhian concept of the trusteeship of assets.

Further Information:

The review can be viewed for free via http://www.lifeworth.com where a fully referenced electronic or hardcopy can also be purchased.

The review is published by Lifeworth Consulting, a boutique professional services firm specialising in responsible enterprise strategy, evaluation and education. It includes the quarterly reviews from the Journal of Corporate Citizenship (http://www.greenleaf-publishing.com). It is written by Jem Bendell, Niaz Alam, Sandy Lin, Chew Ng, Lala Rimando, Claire Veuthey, and Barbara Wettstein.

The ideas in the review will be discussed at a conference organised by the Asia Pacific Academy of Business in Society (APABIS), in November 2009 (http://www.apabis.org). A special issue of the the journal Business Strategy and the Environment will also explore these issues in connection with inter-organisational collaboration, edited by the lead author of the review (https://jembendell.wordpress.com/2009/05/22/asia-pacific-csr-partnerships/).

The review is made possible with the support of the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (ICCSR) at Nottingham Business School (http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/business/ICCSR), Griffith Business School (http://www.griffith.edu.au/gbs), EIRIS (http://www.eiris.org), Covalence (http://www.covalence.ch) and Greenleaf Publishing  (http://www.greenleaf-publishing.com).

“The Corporate Responsibility Movement” is published by Greenleaf, March 2009, and is available at: http://www.greenleaf-publishing.com/productdetail.kmod?productid=2767

To contact the authors of this review email enquiries at lifeworth.com.

Posted in Academia and Research, ALN, Corporations, Lifeworth, Sustainable Development | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Deepening Luxury in Delhi

Posted by jembendell on April 4, 2009

Im just about to leave India after an amazing month. The International Herald Tribune conference last week was inspiring, and for me very affirming. Feedback from Christian Blanckaert, Laurent Claquin, Suzy Menkes and Anna Zegna, among others, about the impact of the report Deeper Luxury on their own work was wonderful to hear. Theyre all doing what they can to promote sustainable luxury. The transcript of my presentation follows. I was taking a bit of a risk, a Britisher going to India and leading an audience in a group reflection/meditation, but the reaction was positive (or those with a negative reaction were too polite to tell me!).

To follow up I wrote a piece in the local business paper, and an article in NYT and IHT mentions the talk.

Deeper Luxury, Presentation by Jem Bendell at the International Herald Tribune conference on Sustainable Luxury, Imperial Hotel, Delhi, India, March 26th 2009.

“Despite the difficulties, the choice of India and of sustainable luxury as the conference theme now has a feeling of serendipity about it, doesn’t it?

Since the IHT made their bold choice, we have seen dramatic events, both here and abroad. What does an economic collapse and a terrorist attack have to do with sustainable luxury? If sustainability is about how we live our lives and what we work for, then they are very relevant, because we must employ our best talents to make our world a better place, whatever our line of work.

India is probably the richest country in the world, in the truest sense of the word rich. Yet it is one beset by massive social and environmental challenges. Coming here to collectively imagine what luxury and sustainability might offer each other, is as important now as it ever was. So thank you IHT for organising what could be a watershed in the luxury industry, and perhaps, if we make it so, an important moment in the sustainability movement.

I’m here because of a report I produced in 2007 for the environmental group WWF. In Deeper Luxury, we mapped out the sustainability challenge and the reasons why luxury brands could do a lot more, ranked companies and provided some examples and tips, as well as a charter for responsible brand endorsement by celebrities. The report took off around the world. I even ended up in Tatler; a dubious indicator of success for an environmentalist. But today I wont go into the report. Instead I’ll say some things about the heart and the head of sustainable luxury management in light of rapid changes. I hope to allay any lingering doubts you may have about sustainability being the future of luxury, rather than just a passing fad.

At its most basic sustainability is about people being in harmony with nature, eachother and ourselves. As our societies have developed, our work and ways of living have had both a positive and negative impact on that harmony. You have likely heard that before. But right now I’d like us to take a moment to sense what restoring that harmony could feel like. You may find it helpful if you close your eyes for the next few moments.

So, now with you eyes shut, try to recall a moment when you think you won an argument, or clinched a deal, or got promoted. Think of how it felt.

Next, try to recall a moment when you were in nature, perhaps looking at a sunset, or where you completely lost yourself in the moment of something you enjoy doing. Try to taste that feeling.

Now contrast it with the first – the feeling generated within you when you won out on something.

Consider whether that first feeling is one of self-promotion – a worldly feeling, while the second feeling comes from your soul.

This is a reflection recommended to us by Anthony De Mello, a Jesuit priest who hailed from Mumbai, and integrated Eastern and Western philosophies.

He says the worldly feelings are not really natural. I quote “they were invented by your society and your culture to make you productive and to make you controllable. These feelings do not produce the nourishment and happiness that is produced when one contemplates nature or enjoys the company of one’s friends or one’s work. They were meant to provide thrills, excitement – and emptiness.”

He suggests we are weighed down by these worldly motivations for approval, popularity, and power. He is suggesting that, actually, less can be more, and “I” can become “we”. That is also a sustainability message. Because sustainability is not so much a challenge out there, but in here. It comes down to how conscious we are in our work. A sustainable luxury industry will flow from a sustainable luxury profession of people inspired by creating things and experiences that generate well-being for everyone involved, and restoring the biological diversity and balance of our planet.

Fear often holds us back from living and working in full consciousness. In our work on corporate responsibility in the luxury sector, there is a nagging fear that there is something fundamentally contradictory between luxury and sustainability. Some fear that we cant do that much, particularly given the current economic situation and the limited awareness of consumers in key growth markets.

One way to calm that fear, is to realise how greater social and environmental responsibility can often be a cost saver and a driver of innovation. That is what we sought to do in the WWF report. This morning I want to go further, and address four conundrums facing the industry that can hold us back from engaging fully, soulfully, in sustainability. So far I’ve only heard them expressed in quiet conversation by people who are aware of the challenge but not sure of how this sector can really deliver.

In hearing reassurances about the financial sustainability of brands and luxury groups we have been reminded of the strength of the Asian market. Their economies are still growing, middle classes expanding, and fashion consciousness rising. The difficulty I’ve been told about by some executives is that such consumers are not aware of social and environmental aspects of brands and don’t really care. In the past year, new market research points to a wave of environmental awareness sweeping through Asia.

Research done by some WPP agencies, found that Chinese consumers now see the environment as a higher priority than do their US and UK counterparts. 69 percent of the Chinese respondents said that they expected to spend more on environmentally friendly products in the coming year.

The graph on the screen is from the French agency IFOP, showing levels of concern assessed in June last year. It also shows emerging market consumers concerns are higher in Brazil, China and India. More unpacking and interrogating of the nature of this concern is required to gauge its relevance for corporate strategy, but it shows the awareness is now there.

Consumer awareness takes time to translate into consumer behaviour, because we cant chose what doesn’t exist, or behave differently when we are unclear about our options. As the connections are made between what we buy and the environment we live in, the commercial implications are huge. So it is time to empower the consumer with the right information and better choices. So the first conundrum is not so real.

At a global level some analysts say the world has lost almost half its wealth since September. The crisis is real and scary. As someone running a small consultancy, we have lost one major client already. My company also works on sustainable finance, and worked on a project which consulted with finance professionals in over dozen countries. The insight from this is that the current crisis is not something that will be “got through” before a return to “normal”. Instead, it marks a major shift in global power. At root it is a Western financial crisis. The impacts will not only be financial, but also cultural, impacting on the status of the West, and on consumer culture. The implications for luxury are therefore deeper than our immediate concerns about profit and loss.

Many of us here work in enterprises that are the very best at what we do, whether that’s watch making, boat building, resort management, and so on. The crafts themselves may be excellent, and the sincerity and quality discussed yesterday morning very real. But what groups us together in this room as “luxury” is not so much that excellence, but consumer perceptions of what “luxury” means and our need to understand how to continue to appeal to the consumer of “luxury” as much as the consumer of our particular product or service. If there ever was such a thing as a luxury industry, then it is now endangered, because of the economic situation. More people are thinking twice about any discretionary spending. They are questioning the true value of what they buy, and how it appears to others at a time of increasing hardship. The ability and motivation to buy what is, to some, unnecessarily expensive, will therefore decline. In such a context, luxury must become something meaningful and lasting, providing the most enduring products and experiences to consumers.

Therefore the economic crisis is ushering in a fundamental change in world power and consumer values that moves social and environmental excellence from an option to a category-defining dimension of luxury brands.

The social legitimacy of luxury becomes more challenging in situations of extreme inequality and absolute poverty. Within sustainability there is a principle of fairness and social equity. Some people consider that luxury involves excess, so it could never be moral while there is poverty. That’s quite a conundrum.

If you visit the Taj Mahal this weekend you will not be that far from the border with Madhya Pradesh. If you travel on, UNICEF says that in some villages 6 out of every 10 children you will see are malnourished, like these children, pictured a few months ago.

It’s natural to block out this other reality as we enjoy our own privilege. Because many of us dont know what to do about it.

The two world’s collided last week when the two Slumdog child actors from Mumbai’s slums fronted a fashion show. The success and subject matter of the Slumdog film has raised debates about poverty and child protection, and the role and responsibility of the creative industries, like film. One response to this situation is charity. Designers Ashima and Leena announced last week that a new Jai Ho Foundation will support children like Rubina and Azahruddin.

If done well, charity can help. But it rarely addresses root causes. In my 10 years as a consultant to the UN on development issues I have been constantly reminded of one thing. People with low incomes do not want our charity, but their dignity and opportunity – which basically means good education, a safe environment and decent work. Just like ourselves, no one appreciates pity. But solidarity and support is always welcome.

The economy of Madyha Pradesh has been booming but it doesnt trickle down well unless you have responsible businesses buying from responsible businesses. Therefore the best way to reduce inequality and poverty is for the products and services we make to provide decent work throughout the value chain.

To illustrate I’ll mention one breakthrough British luxury brand. For several years jeweller and anthropologist Pippa Small has been designing jewellery made by fair trade groups. Her range for Nicole Fahri’s store in New Bond Street is produced by a group of slum-dwellers in Nairobi using discarded brass and recycled glass. The product line is helping ensure the workers’ children go to school, has funded a crèche, is teaching them computing skills, and shows them how to run a business. Pippa believes the reason the Farhi range sells so well is, I quote, “because people feel good wearing jewellery that is doing some good, as opposed to exploiting people”. But she also notes that, I quote again, “buyers in big stores often don’t get it. They think that jewellery made in slums equals something horrible and dirty, rather than seeing that giving people skills offers them an opportunity to get out of there.”

I was pleased to find out last night that there are some similar innovations occuring in the high end fashion sector here in India. The brand Bombay Electric are working with WomenWeave, to source materials from women working in villages, so that high end fashion can promote social development.

So we need not ignore. We need not feel guilty. Neither actually helps. Instead, the conundrum can be resolved if luxury comes to embody a fullness of our ability to live in solidarity with everyone we influence. Its ambitious. But are luxury brands not always ambitious?

The last conundrum I’ll explore here is sustainable consumption. Luxury brands are promoting consumerism in countries at a time when we need to reduce consumption in order to avert a climate catastrophe.

We only have one planet don’t we. Yet some aspire to live as if we have 5. If everyone lived like Americans we would need 5 planets of biological resources to support us. But it’s not simply a Western binge. Estimates put Malaysia at 4 planet lifestyles, Dubai at 10. Some research suggests the Indian middle classes now have a carbon footprint higher than the average Briton. The impacts are profound. For thousands of years the river Ganges has been revered. The Himalayan glacier that feeds it is shrinking by 40 meters a year, meaning it could disappear altogether in 20 years, and with it the Ganges in the dry season. Water is precious, to some it can be sacred. The shirts on our backs each took a few thousand litres of water to create. If we cherished them more, we would use less water. As well as less energy and other resources. To cut carbon emissions we have to reduce our consumption of resources. We only have about 10 years to transform our development so we don’t tip the world into catastrophic climate change. If you don’t believe it, you’ve been living in a bubble, and need to read your Herald Tribune.

Some of us are here to work out how better to sell Western brands into this highly complex market. Key to that is promoting a consumer fashion culture in a country where style traditions are centuries old and slow to change. Yet we know our world can’t cope with another billion embracing unbridled consumerism and a throwaway society. It would be an epic tragedy for some of our brightest minds to work on that, at a time when we need their talent to create a sustainable future.

What’s the answer? Become the best. Offer the best environmental option. Luxury brands have the margin and mandate to create the most environmentally friendly products and services. Yesterday Anna Zegna gave you some real examples, as will Stella in a moment. The great thing about luxury brands is that the way consumers relate to them actually prefigures the way we need consumers to relate to all their products. To look after them, to repair them, to see them as becoming vintage not garbage.

So let’s not be pale green, seeking to reduce our environmental impact a little to protect our reputation. That would be understandable, but it wouldn’t be real luxury. Instead, lets seek to create products and services that are actually environmentally restorative. So that by buying them people help the environment. One example is the UN’s Biotrade initiative, which is working with brands to develop skins and other products that create new revenues to pay for the conservation of species and their ecosystems.

Once we have created environmentally restorative products and services, then lets integrate that into the marketing and advertising of them in new markets, to help guide that wave of environmental awareness into more beneficial environmental behaviours. We have the power to shape aspirations and can use it wisely.

My intention in addressing these issues has been to release possible blockages to you being in flow in your your work and life. Because sustainability must start with us.

I am here because I believe that luxury can lead, not lag, in the transition to a fair and sustainable world. Its designers, entrepreneurs and executives can become part of what I term in my new book, The Corporate Responsibility Movement – A movement that is pursuing a transition to a fair and sustainable economy through new approaches to enterprise.

Together with the luxury brands Timothy Han and EcoBoudoir, as well as the UN Biotrade initiative, and luxury marketing expert Marco Bevolo, we are creating an association to support this transition. The Authentic Luxury Association gives you the opportunity to become an expert in the strategic importance of social and environmental excellence, as well as its operational implications. Already over 200 luxury professionals have joined our online network, which you can find at authenticluxury.net

We need not be confounded by this time of global stress, but work towards a new form of luxury that embodies what is personally, socially and environmentally the best of human creativity. The reflection from the late Anthony de Mello helps us see that at this time of strife, our world needs from us simply what we need for ourselves: o be authentic, soulful and purposeful. So thank you, for being, simply, you.”

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DISCUSS THE IDEAS HERE, OR ENGAGE, PLEASE VISIT WWW.AUTHENTICLUXURY.NET

Links to the video of the talk will be posted there.

Posted in ALN, Corporations, Lifeworth, Spirit?, Sustainable Development, Talks, WWF | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

These are Financial Times for Sustainable Luxury

Posted by jembendell on June 15, 2008

I just participated in a panel with Marco Bevolo from Philips Design and Timothy Han from the company that bares his name. We discussed whether luxury can be sustainable at the Net Impact conference in Europe. Marco and Timothy captivated the audience with their enthusiasm for how high end design can inspire new levels of product and service sustainability and responsibility. Marco’s book will be interesting (www.futurehighend.com). If you havent seen Timothy Hans products yet, then have a look at http://www.timothyhan.com

The day after the Financial Times quoted us both on the question of sustainable luxury. It links to the professional network I launched on this issue, www.authenticluxury.net

So, we are getting there. Next stop is a talk the International Luxury Business Association next week, and a keynote at the IHT luxury conference in India.

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Shopping is not complete without LIFE

Posted by jembendell on January 14, 2008

“What are you made of?” From London to Little India, Rome to Orchard Road, we are asked that question by stars of sport and screen as they peer from billboards and magazines. The watch company TAG Heuer invites us to feel that wearing their brand provides the answer: you are made of something strong, successful, and beautiful. Look up and you can see that George Clooney now chooses Omega, along with Actresses Ivy Lee and Kym Ng, or that Scarlett Johannson wears Chopard, amongst the various fashion choices of the rich and famous. Luxury brands sell status. They are usually the highest-priced and highest-quality item in any product or service category and provide the consumer with an elite experience or sense of prestige. Watches, jewelery, high-specification interiors, high fashion, exclusive resorts and restaurants are considered luxury items, although luxury is increasingly understood in a personal way, as an enjoyable and rare experience for a particular individual.

Many of us feel worth it – so much so that the luxury business is worth about 150 billion dollars per annum. Working closely with global celebrities and spending billions on advertising, iconic brands like Chanel, Dior, Prada and Cartier have become a global language of luxury logos, influencing what people admire and aspire to worldwide. As old ways of marking social status in Asia are declining, so a new social order defined by luxury brands is taking hold, argues Radha Chadha, author of ‘The Cult of the Luxury Brand’. In today’s Asia you are what you wear, she quips. Consequently Asia is a focus for significant sales growth. Already in Tokyo, 94% of women in their 20s own a Louis Vuitton bag. Hong Kong hosts more Gucci and Hermès stores than New York or Paris, while China’s luxury market is growing so fast that in six years it will become the world’s largest. Singapore has long been a thriving market for high-end brands, due to its level of development, international airport, and consumer culture. As former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong once remarked, for Singaporeans, “life is not complete without shopping.” Explaining the meaning of shopping in the Lion City, sociologist Chua Beng Huat writes that young professionals’ “deprivation from car-ownership, contextually the ultimate success symbol, has made their bodies the locus of consumption. Clothes and other body accessories have elevated status as expressions of ‘success’.”

… to read the rest of the article visit the new platform for Singapore’s emerging sustainability community: EcoSing

A shortened version of this article appeared in Singapore’s main tabloid, Today, on Thursday 17th January.

The full article will also appear in XL Magazine, February 2008

Ill be giving a talk on luxury at the Singapore Compact on 23rd January. More information on that is available here.

Posted in ALN, Singapore, Talks | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

No (Luxury) Logo

Posted by jembendell on December 6, 2007

When I saw a video of designer Tom Ford saying last week that he doesn’t have a logo in his menswear collection, it reminded me of Naomi Klein’s book No Logo. That might seem like a weird connection to make between an ex Gucci luxury designer and a famed anti-capitalist. In that book Klein wasn’t criticising the power of marketing and brands so much as the exploitative economic system they so effectively hide. Marketing is communication, and involves finding out what peoples needs are. And brands? We have used symbols since we walked upright. If brand marketing can promote awareness of the realities of production and trade then thats a good thing, because it’s our consumption habits that are chewing up people and planet and have to change. Its just got to be done authentically. That was one of the ideas behind the luxury industry project I worked on during 07 for WWF-UK. They spend the most on advertising and are the most aspirational brands… so if they could be the most sustainably and responsibly produced, traded, distributed, advertised and used, conscious consumption might spread further and faster. What follows is the press release put out by my company today on the reaction to the report so far…

Media Response to WWF-UK Report on Luxury Brands Could Be Tipping Point for the Industry.

(Media Update, Thursday 6th December 2007, Lifeworth, Geneva, Switzerland)
Last week over fifty newspapers and magazines from Britain, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Italy and Switzerland reported on the corporate responsibility of the world’s largest holding companies of luxury brands. For the first time they had been ranked on their ethical performance in the report Deeper Luxury: Quality and Style When the World Matters, which was published by environmental group WWF-UK. The news went ‘viral’ through trade journals and blogs on fashion, jewelry, and celebrities.
The report “could herald a huge change in the way global luxury brands operate,” states Fashion UK.(1) “The luxury goods industry looks like it’s having its own Nike moment,” suggests UN corporate reporting expert Dr Anthony Miller, referring to the mid-90’s criticism of labour practices in Nike’s supply chain that made the company invest heavily in its corporate responsibility programme. Within days, Just-Style.com reported that “PPR Group commits to improving sustainability” as a result of the publication.(2)
Leading industry executives speaking at the International Herald Tribune (IHT) conference on luxury, in Moscow, on the day of the report’s launch, portrayed a growing awareness of the importance of ethical performance. Laurence Graff, chairman of Graff Diamonds, and Yves Carcelle, chairman and chief executive of Louis Vuitton, spoke positively of their company’s responsibilities. However, in Conde Nast Porfolio.com, Lauren Goldstein Crowe contrasted “the words v. the reality,” citing the WWF-UK report as an opportunity for needed leadership on this agenda (3). Not surprising then that IHT had earlier refused an offer to launch the report at their conference. The newspaper did not feature the report, with the international business coverage being scooped by Vanessa Friedman at the Financial Times.(4)
“Press coverage has focused on the ranking, and on what these companies are failing to do right for the environment,” noted WWF-UK’s Anthony Kleanthous in The Guardian. “However, the main thrust of the report looks to a future in which the very definition of luxury deepens to include not only technical and aesthetic quality, but also environmental and social responsibility,” says the co-author of the report.(5) The longest chapter in the report focuses on the business reasons why that new approach to luxury is commercially viable. “We examined key commercial challenges facing the industry and found that greater depth and authenticity is a strategic response to many of them,” explains Dr. Jem Bendell of Lifeworth Consulting, the responsible enterprise consultancy contracted by WWF-UK to manage the research project and co-write the report.

“Modern technology means that what’s on the catwalk today can be copied and in the shops tomorrow, so brands need to offer something deeper than purely appearance. The same goes for counterfeiting.” says Bendell. “Sales growth in societies with high social inequality means that luxury brands face a crisis of legitimacy and a regulatory backlash, so their products will need to benefit the local economy with good jobs. The increasingly youthful profile of luxury consumers means luxury brands need to find ways to build in value to casual fashion items, without making them non-casual, with sustainability and ethics an obvious approach,” he explains. “The increasing availability of luxury items means that brands must find new ways of maintaining their cachet, rather than relying on the memory they were once scarce and exclusive. Deeper luxury is the strategic answer to all these challenges.”
Also an Associate Professor of at Griffith Business School in Australia, Dr. Bendell stresses the need for a paradigm shift in corporate strategy: “Consumer awareness should no longer be assumed as the only commercial driver for ethical excellence. Though counter-intuitive to traditional corporate strategists, this shift in thinking is fundamental to the contemporary business environment of global communications, where successful brands are behaving more like social movements.”

Tom Ford, the former Gucci top designer said on the eve of the report’s publication that “we need to replace hollow with deep.”(3) Ford’s business instinct rather than telepathy is key, according to Bendell. “There’s no one better than Tom Ford for spotting trends in consumer mood. The report details a variety of strategic commercial imperatives for deeper luxury. If executives don’t get it, that could be because they’ve had it so good for so long and have become complacent.”

At the IHT conference Tom Ford explained his emphasis on depth means that his own clothing label does not carry – a label. “In the report we explain that ‘no logo luxury’ is a growing trend that responds to consumers’ desire for authenticity as well as responding to the availability of counterfeits,” says Dr Bendell. If luxury is having its ‘Nike moment’, then “executives could do well to hire expert advice on the stages of corporate response to social challenges over the past 10 years, to learn from the experience of others,” says Sao-Paulo based sustainable enterprise advisor Roland Widmer. “Lifeworth is working with research and consulting partners to offer solutions to those executives in the luxury industry who really believe in achieving social and environmental excellence as part of the identity of luxury brands” says Dr Bendell.

And what of the reaction? “Some executives might be stung by the coverage, and some environmentalists confused,” notes Lala Rimando of the Authentic Luxury Network. “But WWF-UK should be applauded for sticking its neck out by publishing this report” says the Manila-based business journalist and consultant. “The scale of the environmental challenge is so great and pressing, and the reach of NGOs into Asian societies currently so limited, that if the brands that affluent Asians love can excel in sustainability, then awareness of sustainable living may grow in emerging economies fast enough to offer a chance of curbing global consumption and pollution within environmental limits.”
Lifeworth has launched the Authentic Luxury Network to bring together executives, designers, analysts and entrepreneurs who want to lead the creation of more sustainable and ethical luxury (http://www.authenticluxury.net). The company has also launched a site for people to keep up to date with celebrity reaction to the report and its proposal of a Star Charter for responsible brand endorsement (http://www.starcharter.net).

Dr Jem Bendell will be presenting his analysis on the future of luxury at seminars in Singapore (in January 08), Manila (February 08), Brisbane Gold Coast (April 08), Dubai and Geneva (May 08). To be invited email luxury(at)lifeworth.com. In addition, a few places are available at a CSR Geneva dinner on sustainable luxury on December 10th 2007 (email tiago.pintopereira(at)gmail.com).
To download the report: http://www.wwf.org.uk/deeperluxury

To contact Lifeworth Consulting: http://www.lifeworth.com

1) http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/dbe49fbc-9dda-11dc-9f68-0000779fd2ac.html

2) http://www.just-style.com/article.aspx?id=99314

3) http://www.portfolio.com/views/blogs/fashion-inc/2007/11/29/luxury-and-ethics-the-words-v-the-reality

4) http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/dbe49fbc-9dda-11dc-9f68-0000779fd2ac.html

5) http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/anthony_kleanthous/2007/12/brand_awareness.html
Press coverage of the report includes:
FT Online

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/dbe49fbc-9dda-11dc-9f68-0000779fd2ac.html

Tribune de Geneve

http://www.tdg.ch/pages/home/tribune_de_geneve/english_corner/news/news_detail/(contenu)/165120

Reuters

http://uk.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUKL2864063820071129

The Telegraph

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?xml=/earth/2007/11/29/eabrands129.xml

Posted in ALN, Corporations, Lifeworth, Media, NGOs, Sustainable Development, WWF | 1 Comment »