Green-lighting the future

High-end luxury brands are embracing the concept of sustainability like never before, from ecologically innovative jewellery plants to plans for carbon-neutral diamond mines

Style 22 Dec 2017

Luxury sustainability

Gem history buffs headed to Italy’s historic Valenza – one of Europe’s main jewellery-making hubs – will surely make a pilgrimage to Cascina dell’Orefice. The Goldsmith’s Farm was bought in 1817 by the then newly-married Francesco Caramora, who, according to Napoleonic records, was the first goldsmith in the area – and a future founding father of this famed city of gold.

Caramora’s farmstead still stands, but today has been given a super-contemporary glass annexe plus a whole new building, bringing the new property to some 15,000sq m. Two years ago, Bulgari bought Cascina, and has transformed it into a state-of-the-art jewellery manufacturing facility that’s billed as the biggest in Europe – and one of the greenest.

Speaking at the Manifattura Bulgari opening in March, Bulgari CEO Jean-Christophe Babin said: “We had the chance to start from scratch and obviously tried to be as conscious as possible, from our environmental footprint to workers’ quality of life. We spend half our lives working, and it’s important to feel rewarded by our surroundings, not only the tasks we’re doing.”

In September, the new facility obtained a gold certification from LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) – a standardised ratings systems for environmentally-friendly construction.

The plant’s green stats are impressive: more than 30 per cent of construction materials were sourced locally and in excess of 95 per cent of materials were either reintroduced into the construction process (excavated soil was used to create bricks, for example) or sent for recycling. Meanwhile, 50 per cent of the wood was certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Luxury sustainability
Luxury sustainability

Employees, as Babin noted, will most feel the effect. Some 700 people will be recruited in the coming years, more than double its current headcount, so “continual investment” is key, says director of operations Nicolò Rapone, who cites several car-parking and future space-saving initiatives. A free shuttle bus will run to and from the train station, while those who sign up to the company carpool system, or who drive a green car, will have parking priority.

A sense of social responsibility is part of the idea. Such “sustainable mobility” schemes foresee a 50 per cent fall in driver-only car use, while a charity food-distribution programme features a rolling group of employees who deliver leftover food daily to the poor in Alessandria province.

“It’s one example of going beyond the requirements of LEED and integrating our activities with the local territory,” says Rapone. Bulgari is by no means alone in its latest eco-drive.

Sustainability has become a buzzword in the world of jewellery and watchmaking, as it has in many industries from fashion to food. Take Jaeger- LeCoultre for example, which is affectionately known as the ‘La Grande Maison’ for being the biggest watchmaker in its home base in the Vallée de Joux, in Switzerland’s picturesque Jura mountains. It limits car parking for its 1,200 employees, hence its car-sharing and free bus service – or arrival by ferry on the scenic Lac de Joux, if that’s more your style. Meanwhile Baume & Mercier takes a similar approach to Bulgari when it comes to employee integration: a bike-to-work programme, free electric bike rental and free public transport passes are part of the daily commute.

Over in Thailand, Danish jeweller Pandora has opened a new, eco-friendly manufacture in Lamphun, close to Chiang Mai, which has also achieved a gold LEED certification. Spanning more than 20,000sq m, the site will consolidate Pandora’s manufacturing operations in Bangkok, with 5,000 people eventually employed (more than double its current workforce). Like Manifattura Bulgari, Lamphun’s design echoes the brand’s aesthetic touch points: just as Bulgari’s cool accents – such as Pantheon mesh metal doors – recall those found in its Rome flagship, Pandora’s facility brings to mind its signature bracelets and charms.

“We have a halo, our shading roof, as a bracelet, with our support function buildings like small charms hanging around it,” explains Lars Rensch Nielsen, the Lamphun facility’s VP and general manager.

“De Beers announced in May that it planned to make carbon-neutral mining a reality in five to 10 years

Green building specs include a 45 per cent reduction in water consumption and recycled content comprising 30 per cent of construction materials. Meanwhile, employees can relax in an on-site canteen, and make use of a mini-mart, nurse stations and training rooms, plus a library that stocks books ranging from Harry Potter to personal development. “We’re more a small village than a traditional factory,” says Nielson.

Over in the B2B arena, diamond specialist De Beers announced in May that it planned to make carbon-neutral mining a reality in five to 10 years. A new De Beers research project will investigate how to essentially store large volumes of carbon – a natural or artificial process – at a speed that could offset man-made carbon emissions, which generally arise from electricity and vehicle use at diamond mines. Investigations are currently underway at South Africa’s Venetia Mine and Canada’s Gahcho Kué Mine, with such “ground-breaking projects” having implications for the broader mining industry, said De Beers group CEO Bruce Cleaver.

Carbon is certainly trending at the top of luxury circles. Behemoth LVMH, which has run a dedicated Environmental Department for 25 years, established a carbon fund in 2015 where each of its 70 maisons contribute €15 per metric tonne of green house emissions generated (from the likes of lighting, heating, air con etc). The resulting €5m carbon fund helps finance CO2-reducing projects – and LVMH recently announced it was doubling its carbon fund to €30/tonne.

Elsewhere, Richemont founder Johann Rupert and Italian author and entrepreneur Franco Cologni are tackling sustainability via one of luxury’s key pillars: creativity and craft. Last December they founded the non-profit, Genevabased Michelangelo Foundation that aims to bring craftsmanship back to the fore through the likes of apprenticeship programmes and networks of artisans. Bulgari placed a similar emphasis on craft when dreaming up its Manifattura: the site will also house the new Bulgari Jewellery Academy that will train the next generation of jewellers, some 42 at a time. The idea is to preserve the ‘Made In Italy’ heritage, so far a big challenge. “Perpetuating the expertise that’s so pivotal to the art of jewellery is not a priority in Italy,” says Mr Babin. “Today it’s easier to become an engineer than a craftsman. The academy will develop that expertise internally.”