Luxury v. Sustainability: Does it have to be a battle?

Ever stayed in a luxury hotel and pocketed a couple of their bathroom miniatures to take home,  show or give to friends?

No judgment here, just asking. 

If you have, you may be feeling out of step with the times. What used to be a real little luxury might now get a curled lip and a flat “Oh. Right.” if you showed it to friends. They might just think you’re ignorant  for taking home single-use plastics. 

And increasingly – and ironically – it could reflect badly on the fabulous hotel you stayed at.

The plushest hotels in the world have been largely standing empty during the COVID-19 coronavirus scenario. But with lockdown easing, might they emerge flying a higher standard for sustainability?

“Hm, maybe,” says one well-travelled and well heeled cynic. “Clunky soap dispensers on the bathroom wall are not a luxury experience. They’re a far cry from chic little bottles of Penhaligon’s or Acqua di Parma.”

Ah, but it doesn’t have to be like that. 

The Beaumont hotel in London kicked off 2020 with a 95% plastic-free solution for its bath, body and haircare products by introducing D. R. Harris toiletries in solid bars and recycled/recyclable aluminium tubes. Realistic as well as environmentally minded, the hotel says this will ensure a pleasurable bath-time experience “and a memento to take home”.

One industry source said that while the personal touch, the quality of every item and the ratio of staff to guests are all key in luxury hospitality, there is a “grander policy” coming into play, with such brands now looking at sustainability credentials in the supply chains. 

“As a purchasing manager you might look for ethical values and only deal with those suppliers. If this extended right across the food and equipment areas as an industry-wide best standards policy, that would be good.”

Flying higher standards

Whilst it emerged that 1,800 private planes entered the UK during lockdown, the worldwide travel sector took a nosedive, with even high net-worth individuals (HNWIs) seeing their private wings clipped, and far-flung plans postponed.

“Some travellers have pressed the Pause button but we still have clients who are keen to travel as soon as possible, and that’s the same across all price points,” explains Ricardo Gato, marketing at Cookson Adventures, which has no set travel offers but creates memorable expeditions from scratch with clients he describes as “very successful, very curious”.

For this bracket, private jets are simply a tool for getting from A to B in the most efficient and comfortable way; in some particularly remote areas where there is no accommodation, a private yacht is just a “platform for adventure”, says Gato.

Sustainability, conservation, Nature are “absolutely” of concern, he says. “We care and our clients share our concern. In terms of conservation, we always think about how we can help the community we are visiting, how we can leave it better or at least the same as we found it.”

Restricted or delayed travel is not just a personal disappointment, says Gato, it’s of concern “because we sustain so many remote communities through the expeditions we organise”.

This writer stayed at El Salvador’s La Cocotera Resort & EcoLodge (see above image) a decade ago, when the daily homicide rate in the Central American country was one of the highest in the world. I was given a tiny turtle from the luxury resort’s preservation pool to carry down to release into the Pacific, an experience that still brings a tear to my eye, tbh. Inaccessible as a place to stay for the vast majority of the nation’s inhabitants, the resort nonetheless attracted outside money to nurture the environment and employ local people with otherwise bleak options.

Cookson Adventures became the first travel company to manage a rare 7-seater submersible and, with that, launched a partnership with Seabed 2030 – which aims to have all of the ocean floor mapped by the end of the decade. 

Carbon offsetting – problem or solution?

Carbon-neutral status is part of the appeal of such luxury travel offers. In broad strokes, carbon neutrality can be achieved by: 

The latter involves individuals, organisations or governments supporting environmental projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions elsewhere to ‘pay for’ their own emissions-generating activities. 

https://offset.earth/projects/repairing-damaged-water-boreholes-in-malawi

It has become quite an industry, stirring criticism along the lines of: ‘Like paying penances to priests for your sins’, ‘Paying a bit extra to look good while continuing to do exactly what you want’, or ‘A scam in that they don’t deal with the underlying issue of over-consumption’.

“As a company, we have to ensure we help the planet without reducing travel,” says Gato. “How? By making every trip count. Meaningful travel, not just to’ing and fro’ing. That applies to all of us – make each journey count.”

EasyJet, carrier of the £500 rather than the £500k jet-setters, puts it like this: We know carbon offsetting is not perfect, but right now we believe it’s the best way to address the carbon emitted from flying.” 

One source who used to be in the private jets sector points out that carbon neutrality has been under discussion there for at least the past five years, whereas it’s only now that the mainstream is talking about it. “Everyone’s blaming luxury, but luxury can set a good trend”.

Rich youngsters, more conscious

James Ison, founder of Rich Kids of the Internet (RKOI), a group made up of the sons and daughters of the world’s one-percenters, agrees: “Sustainability and luxury are closer aligned than ever before. The younger wealthy generation are more eco-aware and seem to make a conscious effort when purchasing goods and services. I have noticed a number of RKOI clients starting their own businesses or launching products with a sustainable theme.”

Is that just window-dressing?

“The wealthy will always aspire to have the most exclusive even if the service or product is not fantastic for the environment,” concedes Ison. “However, I do feel there is an upward trend in the younger generation to make more conscious choices over vanity.”

Aysha Griffin, who holds a graduate degree in Sustainable Ethical Enterprise Design, sees luxury v. sustainability as a systemic issue that is going to be tough to shift. 

“It all goes back to money,” she says, “and luxury is such a small part of the whole picture. When people get rich, they buy privacy, more comfort of every sort. Not having to stand in line. I get that. It’s not right or wrong. But there are so few people in that category, I don’t see it as an issue.

“It’s the system that has to change. How do we reconcile a world driven by profit with sustainability? We can’t. Sustainability equals balance. Are we all racing to the cliff edge or can more and more of us stand back from the insanity and take action?” 

Tree Elven

Author Tree Elven

More posts by Tree Elven

Leave a Reply