Franziska Gsell not only leads the marketing strategy for luxury watchmaker IWC Schaffhausen, but she’s also the chair of the Sustainability Committee. And with impact goals that run through everything the brand does, that’s a big job. In advance of her role as a speaker at our Positive Week 2019 Paris panel, we caught up with Franziska to get all the details on the IWC’s initiatives, what goes into making a sustainable luxury product, and what the future might look like.
On IWC’s built-in sustainability
A mechanical watch is built to last forever, so in this way it’s inherently sustainable. We want to honour that sustainability in the way our watches are made. So we source our materials carefully, and have responsible business practices. We really invest in the wellbeing and future of our employees. For us, sustainability is an integral part of our business, it’s important just as any other aspect of our business is.
On company-wide involvement
Our new shopping bags, which are made from FSC-certified post-consumer paper, can now also be recycled, and our new watch boxes, which are made of very high quality materials and by being significantly smaller than our old packaging, they really reduce our environmental impact. Initiatives like this are possible because we have a very engaged sustainability committee, representing all areas of our business. This means that when we do something like signing up to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, which we did earlier this year, every area of the company can get on board with the initiative, and look for ways to reduce plastic. The sustainability committee keeps sustainability on the agenda for us all, it’s not silo’d or an “add on”. We describe this in more detail in our sustainability report, which I’m also really pleased to be able to say we achieved. Last year, we became the first luxury watchmaker to publish a sustainability report to GRI standards.
On communicating with customers
There was especially a real increase in interest [from customers] when WWF Switzerland published their environmental impact report last year, looking at the impacts of 15 different Swiss watch and jewellery brands. IWC was ranked as the best-performing brand, and the only brand to place above the mid-way point of the WWF’s rating system. We’re always happy to tell our customers what we do to manage the impacts of our business – our Boutique colleagues know all about the Responsible Jewellery Council and our Code of Practices certification, the origins of our gold, which is mostly recycled, and the certification system for diamonds. We also display our Butterfly award in every Boutique, and this often leads to a conversation about our sustainability initiatives.
On the responsibility of a business
Everyone, and every business, can do something to manage their environmental and social impact. We’re all in this together, and that’s why transparency is so important too, sharing knowledge and learning from each other about how to improve. We know there’s a lot more we can do, and we’re trying to embrace new opportunities as they come up, as well as actively looking into what new materials and practices might give us the chance to be more sustainable.
On what’s behind a luxury product
One challenge is changing mindsets, changing the perception that luxury means excess, and also challenging the idea that if a product is luxurious, everything that went into making it must be ok. Some of the most beautiful pieces can have quite terrible stories behind them, of environmental degradation and even human suffering, if the materials weren’t sourced responsibly. It’s important for customers to be well-informed, about which brands source and make their products responsibly.
On IWC’s peers in sustainability
Stella McCartney stands out, for the genuine commitment to sustainability and for being such a strong supporter of new innovations and technologies to help us all be more sustainable. Also Pela – IWC recently switched to having our own-branded Pela phone cases – and here in Switzerland there’s a wonderful yoga studio, Lola Studio, that creates yoga clothes made from sustainable materials, with an emphasis on sustainable production. I’m really impressed as well with the way Aveda extend their sustainability out from their ingredients also into their approach to packaging, with no compromise on quality.
On the future of sustainability at IWC
I think we’ll have more and more instances of sustainability being integrated into our business initiatives right from the start, and we hope to move beyond sustainability in our production into being more sustainable in all our other activities as well, such as our event management. We’ve made good progress but it’s an area with some exciting opportunities to do more. We’ll have a new sustainability report coming out in 2020, with our latest targets, and hopefully this will give new focus for our customers to learn more about our work, and also for us to hear from them, about their cares and priorities.
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