Green is the New Gold Standard
Being ethically conscious and socially responsible are being increasingly talked about as a means to enhancing your brand equity and profits. There are companies that have hit the billion-dollar mark with sustainability as their core agenda. By incorporating social responsibility and sustainability as part of one’s marketing strategy, jewellery brands too can reap benefits while doing whatever little they can in making the world a better place to live in says Vijetha Rangabashyam
When fine jewellery designer Alexandra Mor decided to uproot herself from New York and move to Bali, with her bags, baggage and family, she was just looking to find the creative spark she felt she had lost along the way of becoming a successful jewellery designer. In the travails of making such beautiful jewellery with the finest of gemstones for almost seven years, Mor was finding it hard to seek a balance, ‘even creativity needs to fulfill a deeper purpose that comes from within,’ she recently said at a jewellery seminar I happened to visit recently. Luckily for her, along with a bit of soul searching and learning the ropes of Balinese craftsmanship, she also found the ‘tagua’ nut that has its roots in Ecuador. In a bid to save elephants in Africa, Mor collaborated with local craftsmen in Bali to create couture jewellery using the tagua nut that uncannily resembles ivory. This plunge Mor decided to take with her already established brand goes to show what she wants from her brand and sooner or later, her loyalists will walk along with her in her quest to serve a bigger cause or doing the ‘right thing’. And Mor is not the only person who is using the tagua nut to create jewellery. Big names like John Hardy, Coomi, Kristin Hanson and the like too are experimenting with this nut that promises to offer the same luxury and exclusivity that ivory does.
Consumers Shift Towards Sustainability
‘Sustainability’, ‘Going Green’, ‘Social Responsibility’ - these are buzz words we keep hearing very often these days. The shift towards using environmentally friendly products or endorsing brands that take an ethical stance amidst consumers is apparent. Brands that engage in sustainable practice either through their products or services or take an initiative towards sustainability or giving back to the society by actively making it a part of their business agenda have an enhanced public recognition and hence a higher competitive edge as compared to brands that don’t. With the jewellery industry especially, brands embracing an ethical approach through either product innovation or corporate social responsibility is of prime importance given the nature of the business. Consumers are seen becoming increasingly conscious of what they buy and while an ethical stance may still not be a prime factor in determining one’s purchase decision, it definitely boosts consumer confidence in the product; consumers are willing to pay extra money for brands that want to do the ‘right thing’. In a 2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study, key findings included ‘91% of global consumers expect companies to do more than make a profit, but also operate responsibly to address social and environmental issues, 84% say they seek out responsible products whenever possible and 90% would boycott a company if they learned of irresponsible or deceptive business practices.’ Businesses are no longer about selling a decent product/service as consumers expect something bigger, something more powerful, like meaningful social impact. Brands are mobilizing on social media to sell their products and consumers prefer talking about their favourite brands on social media – brands that are actively engaging in social responsibility tend to get more votes on social media.
Brands that Believe in Doing Good get More Business
Ikea as a business is known for its commitment towards sustainability – the company owns more than 200 wind turbines and almost 70 per cent of its cotton is sourced sustainably. In her book Green Giants: How Smart Companies Turn Sustainability into Billion Dollar Businesses, Freya Williams writes, ‘For the green giants, sustainability is not about how they save money, but about how they make it. They’ve shifted sustainability from the bottom to the top line — and that move has had profound implications for sustainability in the context of business. No longer are sustainability and profit at odds; on the contrary, rather than being a drag on profit, sustainability can drive it.’ Customers want their brands to ‘care’ and this is what companies like Whole Foods and Ella’s Kitchen are built on; the latter is an organic baby food brand that has built a whole business model on ‘caring’ about children’s nutrition and fighting against childhood obesity. 6 years after its inception, the company was sold for a whopping $121 million to the Hain Celestial group – today Ella’s Kitchen has a 30 per cent market share of the UK baby food sector and also was certified as a B Corporation for using its business as a force for good. In the current commercial environment where consumers are spoilt for choices, a brand’s value and what it stands for become important factors behind a purchase. Increasingly, instead of engaging in ‘doing good’ as an afterthought, brands are actively integrating corporate social responsibility in every aspect of their operation from the kind of products they offer, how they are made, who is making it to how it is being sold. So today, CSR is not viewed by companies as an expense but a solid investment. Renowned beer brand Heineken invited two strangers with opposing viewpoints to build a bar together, and towards the end of the video, the brand revealed their differences and asked them if they would like to have a conversation to learn more over a beer. Closer home, Vicks championed a dialogue on transgender rights by sharing the story of Gayatri, who was adopted by a transgender mother to send out a powerful message ‘motherhood has no gender.’ But what’s in it for a business? The reward for any business is to make profits and how does CSR add up to profits? Coca Cola’s 5x20 program’s aims to employ 5 million women in the developing nations as bottlers and distributors by 2020; on the one hand the company seeks to generate more employment and empower the lives of many women and on the other, the brand can sell more as they will have more bottlers and distributors.
On the Home front
The jewellery industry has been under scrutiny for years now not just for responsible sourcing but for the amount of natural resources it consumes, the manpower it requires, minimum wage requirements, working conditions of the artisans and more. Designer Waris Ahluwalia collaborated with Forevermark to create the House of Waris collection and before embarking on the journey, Waris took his own trip to South Africa and Botswana to understand how the diamonds are being sourced; he also visited the Ministry of Health in Botswana and a school both of which are part of Forevermark’s social responsibility efforts towards Africa. And the inspiration for this collection came from Africa itself, the beautiful resources it has to offer to the rest of the world and the umpteen stories it has to tell along the way. As a brand, Forevermark is also committed towards preservation and protection of natural habitats – since 1970, the brand has been actively engaged White Rhino conservation. Brands often partake in such initiatives, but what differentiates Forevermark from the rest is the fact the former ensures that it creates awareness around such activities and the end consumer not only buys a piece of jewellery but takes along with it a story that talks about responsibly sourced diamonds and the gorgeous heritage of Africa. Last year, Tiffany avowed on Instagram, ‘Elephants have a parallel intelligence to our own, and they are so intensely social, empathetic and guided by experience. 100% of the proceeds from our new #Tiffanysavethewild collection will go the @elephant crisis fund.’ Tiffany & Co is known for its social responsibility efforts towards making this world a greener place and also obtaining precious metals and gemstones in ways that are socially and environmentally responsible. Luxury brand Cartier employs LED technology in all of its boutiques to cut down energy consumption by half and their signature packaging uses only eco-friendly paper. Cartier as a brand is also known for recycling its own jewellery by selling its pieces in auctions or online. Pandora, the renowned Danish jewellery retailer created a beautiful video ‘A Day in Thailand’ which throws light on the 6,800 people from Thailand engaged in crafting its jewellery and their welfare. Pandora promises that the craftsmen in Thailand are offered ‘competitive wages and benefit packages that include free meals, free bus transport, scholarships, library services, maternity classes, extra holidays, sporting activities, as well as numerous social events.’ Tech Giant Dell collaborated with designer Nikki Reed to create Bayou with Love, a new limited edition, jewellery collection made in the US and sourced from gold recovered from Dell's recycling programs. All these examples may seem overwhelming but taking baby steps towards sustainability and social responsibility and integrating them in your marketing plan is key for gaining competitive advantage and reaps better profits in the long run. Begin by educating yourself about where the raw materials are sourced – remember, by the time the product reaches you, you are already a third party. We are part of a $310 billion industry and yet only 850 brands all over the world participate in responsible jewellery practices – use solar power, eco-friendly packaging, choose renewable materials, care for your artisans and more importantly understand that making profits and doing the ‘right’ thing are no more at two opposite ends of the spectrum.