There are a lot of shared values in luxury, and as the industry is collectively moving towards a more sustainable future, a lot can be learnt by looking across the luxury spectrum from jewelry and ready-to-wear to hospitality.
"There's a lot of common ground in terms of heritage in luxury," said Janice Lao, the Peninsula Hotels' director, corporate responsibility and sustainability. "A lot of us have been in business for more than 100 years, longevity is such a given part of luxury and we need to leverage that. It's part of our DNA, unlike fast fashion or other types of industries where it’s much harder to be aligned with the values of sustainability."
Lao has been spearheading the hotel group's worldwide commitment to green building standards, which began with sites in Hong Kong, Chicago and Beijing and will continue with new projects in London, Yangon and Istanbul.
"As a brand, consistency, both in terms of service and design, is huge for us. So we became aligned with the U.K. Green Building Standard for all of our new hotels and major renovations," said Lao, explaining that even though introducing these construction standards to territories like China, which are used to operating differently, comes with its challenges, the commitment pays off in the longterm.
"To us it’s not a question of why should we do a green building, we feel it's an imperative. When we build these hotels they are there for the long-term, we aren’t going to be renovating every few years like the rest of the industry does, so we need to ensure high quality. So why not embed those standards from the get-go, which is a lot more cost efficient?" she added.
Consistency, as well as communication, are two values that Lao flags as key when trying to operate more sustainably, in any luxury sector.
Communicating internally and ensuring that every pillar of a company is involved in its sustainability mission, is vital for success.
But according to Lao, companies also need to find a way of communicating their newfound standards to the consumer, who is now much more aware of current environmental and social issues and expects luxury brands to abide by ethics, such as paying all staff fair wages or working towards reducing their environmental impact: "We are unsure about how we are going to talk about it in a consumer way. I think we’ve done a good job explaining it from a technical perspective, but then you also need to connect with the consumer. When I wear my consumer hat, I’m not sure if I want to know about the technicalities, because you often make your purchase decisions quickly as a consumer. So, we need to condense the message to pithy statements and make it much more relevant to our customers."
What luxury hospitality has been doing well so far, is creating longterm, loyal relationships with the customer, by tending to all their needs - something that the fashion sector, where brand loyalty is consistently being reduced given the plethora of choice in the market, can learn from.
As a brand we are very much anticipating, we don't ask what the customer needs we anticipate it. Let's say, someone is checking in to one of our hotels and is coughing, we are trained to ask them if they want a cup of tea," said Lao. "There should be a way for fashion to learn to anticipate more, because at the moment there are a lot of brands saying they aren't sure what customers need."
On the flip side, Lao said that she is looking to luxury fashion to learn about material innovation and discover new ways to upcycle, source sustainable materials and also to get the social pulse and stay relevant.
"In fashion, brands have to make themselves relevant and always present something new, so they have the pulse of the people," she added. "Hospitality is much more stable in that sense, but we can learn from that constant feedback that fashion has been receiving for decades. We don’t want to be trendy at all, we're not a trendy brand but we can learn to maintain our relevance by looking at how fashion operates."