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Earlier this year, luxury goods company LVMH made headlines when it became the first European company to top a $500 billion market cap, helping make its founder Bernard Arnault the wealthiest person in the world.
At the same time, and less noticed by the global media, the company has made a wave of climate commitments to rethink how it does business. These caught my eye both because of the fashion industry’s enormous and growing environmental footprint and because of LVMH’s pole position as perhaps the industry’s most recognizable company. So with those factors in mind, a few weeks ago in Paris I sat down with Hélène Valade, who oversees environmental work across all of LVMH’s 75 brands.
At the core of LVMH’s climate efforts is a new program called LIFE360 that lays out a range of climate and biodiversity targets for the company. The goals are extensive: no virgin plastics used in packaging by 2026, a 50% cut in energy-related emissions by 2026 from 2019 levels, and zero deforestation from products in its supply chain by 2025. The company’s regulatory filings lists a range of achievements along those lines, from successful implementation of policies that uncover where they’re sourcing materials to measures that have slashed energy use in stores. “All our products come from nature—no champagne without grapes, no perfumes without forests, no ready-to-wear without cotton,” Valade told me. “It was very important to have an ambitious environmental strategy in mind.”
That strategy cuts to the core of the LVMH business model. The company is evaluating where it sources raw materials, not only to protect biodiversity but also to ensure that its supply chains aren’t vulnerable to rapidly changing climate conditions like desertification. The company is working to grow its repair business to extend the lifespan of its products, and is rolling out traceability tools so customers can understand the source and environmental impact of what they buy. Later this year, customers should be able to scan a QR on products at Sephora, for example, and see the details of its sourcing.
One challenge for diversified firms like LVMH is implementing ambitious company-wide goals across widely varied divisions and departments. LVMH has 75 brands, each of which has a lot of operational independence. Valade said the company is laying out a “common set of goals” around everything from biodiversity to energy consumption with LIFE360 and then giving the brands the tools to implement.
I was most struck by the commitment to give all employees across the globe environmental training. Buyers now need to be concerned with carbon footprints, sales people need to be able to answer environmental questions from customers, and employees that handle logistics need to understand emissions from different modes of transport, says Valade. “The change has to make sense to each employee,” says Valade. “We have to give them the keys to implement the change.”
To that end, the company is opening a training center just outside Paris where European employees will come through to get up to speed on how climate impacts their jobs. The company is looking to conduct similar programs in other locations across the globe.
It can be easy to look at corporate commitments skeptically, but Valade makes the business case convincingly. LVMH needs to attract young talent, and sustainability is a key concern for Gen Z. Customers increasingly care about the issue. (The company’s sustainability focused products—for example, Louis Vuitton’s line of upcycled sneakers—have been some of its best sellers). And, perhaps most importantly, the company’s supply chains are vulnerable to climate change. Valade discussed this point with me, but it’s also evident from a look at the company’s regulatory filings, which devote significant space to the financial risks of climate change.
In recent years, the fashion industry accounted for 4% of global emissions, according to data from McKinsey. And that percentage is poised to grow both as other sectors decarbonize and the global population continues to grow and buy more clothing. In theory, LVMH, with its size and iconic brands, can play a leading role in changing the industry. “We have an important capacity to influence and drive society,” Valade says. “And this influence has to be put in the service of sustainability.” To get there will require all the firms focused on selling cheap products quickly, not just the luxury brands of LVMH, to think a little differently.
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