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October 24, 2022

Why Communicating Ecommerce Sustainability Efforts Is Vital for Luxury Brands

Written by: Alexandra Alves

Many consumers are making purchasing decisions not just based on price and brand loyalty, but with sustainability in mind — whether they’re shopping the grocery store aisles or buying high-end, luxury apparel.

Though there isn't a universal definition for sustainability, it can be characterized as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” according to the United Nations.

In a business sense, sustainability often focuses on a company’s climate effects and societal impact as it relates to equity, wage, and diversity issues, according to Harvard Business School Online.

Ecommerce sustainability efforts and concerns have typically focused on fast-fashion brands and big-box retailers. Increasingly, however, consumers and the larger industry are turning their sights to the luxury market — and more carefully assessing the environmental and social impact of luxury brands.

In Morning Consult’s “Sustainability Report 2022,” 27% of consumers said they were “very concerned” about the environmental impact of product manufacturing. Separate industry research from the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI) indicates sustainability-minded consumers account for 30–40% of luxury consumers.

In today’s business environment, companies of all stripes need to put sustainability front and center. It’s not only the right thing to do, but with the increased focus on environment, social, and governance (ESG) issues, defined by the Corporate Finance Institute (CFI), and corporate transparency, there’s also a compelling business imperative to move in this direction.

Here’s how luxury brands can effectively navigate this landscape to improve ecommerce sustainability.

The Luxury Industry Isn’t Notorious for Its Ecommerce Sustainability Efforts

Within ecommerce, some segments of the market have faced more scrutiny than others regarding sustainability — particularly fast-fashion apparel. Fast-fashion brands have been accused of everything from land pollution, as shown by Aljazeera, to unfair labor practices, highlighted by The New York Times.

The luxury market also has experienced backlash and been accused of performing animal cruelty for the sake of profit, says The Guardian, and burning clothes and accessories to preserve brand equity and prevent goods from ending up on the resale market, reports the BBC.

Much of the reprisal is coming from Gen Z, who place more importance on sustainability and are a crucial segment for the luxury market to capture. Gen Z consumers comprised the largest share of growth in the luxury buying and resale markets, according to The RealReal’s “2021 Luxury Consignment Report.” At the same time, this demographic has been dubbed “The Sustainability Generation,” notes Forbes, as studies indicate most Gen Z shoppers prefer to buy from sustainable brands.

It’s increasingly clear sustainability will play an integral role in the future of retail and influence shopper behavior. With this in mind, luxury brands can take several steps to effectively communicate their brand’s ecommerce sustainability initiatives.

3 Best Practices for Communicating Your Ecommerce Sustainability Strategy

As your brand tries to increase transparency of its business and environmental practices, following these three best practices can help you better frame and share your strategy with sustainability-minded consumers:

1. Recognize Your Market Position

Luxury brands are home to some of the most creative and innovative designers in the world. The goods they produce are by definition aspirational.

Other companies and consumers often look to luxury brands as trendsetters and cultural arbiters, so if your company operates in this space, you have an invaluable opportunity to lead on sustainability — and encourage others to follow.

Integrating sustainability into your overall business strategy will also help you attract a younger generation that shops with their values first, then their wallets — and ultimately make your business more resilient.

2. Make Your Strategy Visible

Consumers need to clearly see and understand where your brand’s ecommerce sustainability priorities lie. Leaving them to guess often obscures and undermines your efforts.

As you advance your sustainability strategy, coordinate with your digital and ecommerce teams to ensure sustainability-related information is incorporated into your product detail pages, enhanced content, and on marketplaces and retailers’ sites.

Why should you do this? Salsify’s “Consumer Research 2022” report shows that in some cases, sustainability is so important to consumers, it trumps price: 11% of U.S. shoppers say they would pay more for an item if its product page included information about the product’s positive environmental impact, according to the report.

Along with improving your product content, make sure to include comprehensive details about your company’s sustainability initiatives on your website, on your social media channels, and in any relevant external messaging, such as press releases and executive bylines in trade or national publications.

If your brand is focused on offsetting its carbon footprint, moving toward sustainable packaging, or has implemented sustainability goals and transparently tracks them, communicate your plan broadly and frequently so the outside world understands your company values.

As reported by Vogue Business, Chanel, for example, has released a sustainability report that outlines its plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030, as well as the company’s current progress toward this and other sustainability goals. Stella McCartney has a dedicated page on its website detailing the brand’s sustainability history — accompanied by a full timeline. Your brand can employ a similar approach to effectively communicate what you’re doing on the sustainability front.

3. Be Transparent About the Journey

Luxury has always been hidden behind a castle wall, but that wall is coming down with the benefit (and necessity) of having a brand presence on places like Instagram and TikTok. Savvy, digitally native, younger customers aren’t afraid to be vocal on these platforms and call out bad practices — but you can offset this reputational risk by being as transparent as possible.

Your brand should actively solicit and listen to feedback, and use these inputs to iterate your sustainability strategy. As Chanel demonstrates, it’s crucial not only to share your sustainability mission, but to set targets and measure where you stand.

However, many companies have been accused of “greenwashing” or “faux sustainability” — and making misleading or outright false claims about their environmental initiatives.

Consumers need to trust they’re actually shopping with a sustainable brand (or at the very least, a brand that’s making a concerted effort to be sustainable). Transparency gives them this confidence and the added assurance they’re spending money in a way that aligns with their values.

Sustainability Is a Journey: Lead With Prestige

Whether it’s a luxury or fast-fashion brand, sustainability is a journey for every company. But prestige brands, in particular, have a unique opportunity to encourage other companies to adopt better environmental practices and reshape consumers’ shopping habits.

For years, consumers have looked to luxury brands to help them achieve an aspirational lifestyle. Now, these brands can inspire consumers in other ways that meaningfully improve the environment and the world around them.

Interested in more insights on the latest emerging ecommerce trends? Learn more about the Digital Shelf Institute.