Crafting a legacy

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“Anticipate to innovate” has been Louis Vuitton’s mission since its inception in 1854. Since then they have implemented sustainable initiatives throughout their practices, engaging with issues of environmental protection and responsibly running a global company in the 21st Century. Adopting a holistic approach, the Maison are increasingly endeavouring to use their position as leaders of the luxury industry to create a positive and lasting impact on society. Aware of the instrumental role that children play in our future, they have also sought to partner with programmes that nurture the educational and creative development of the disadvantaged young around the world. Pietro Beccari, Executive Vice President of Louis Vuitton, sheds light on these practices.

When did Louis Vuitton begin its sustainable practices and how were they implemented?
We have long held values that are based on ethical, fair standards and a long term vision. The Maison is active in a number of areas across our product development, day to day operations and logistics activity. As early as 2002, Louis Vuitton initiated its sustainable practices through the construction of its Ducey workshop in Normandy, which was designed to perfectly fit into the landscape.

The materials, colours, and lighting are all developed to deliver optimum working conditions and environmental standards. In a more specific area of the environment, we have undertaken a number of initiatives such as a Carbon Inventory and an Ethical Audit which are helping us to assess the way that we work today and the improvements that we can make in different areas. In 2004 we undertook our first Carbon Inventory; since then significant progress has been made, mainly in the fields of product transportation and energy consumption.

Some concrete examples are:
− Louis Vuitton has increased the proportion of leather goods transported by sea to 60 per cent (vs 40 per cent in 2004) and reduced the amount of airfreight (transportation by plane is 40 times more polluting than sea transportation).
− The Louis Vuitton “Eole” warehouse at Cergy near Paris, is a green building with an environmental initiative called HQE© (Haute Qualité Environnementale
– High Environmental Quality) process. We were one of the first corporations to undertake this initiative for a warehouse. From now on all new Louis Vuitton buildings will be developed as ‘green’ buildings – ateliers, warehouses etc.
− The new Fiesso d’Artico shoe workshop in the Vento region is also an example of our environmental initiatives. Stretching over a surface of 14,000m², the construction concept adopts a responsible attitude, guided through numerous technical choices: insulated walls, solar panels, and high-performance facades, a geothermal heating system to cover 95 per cent of the thermal energy needs. Rainwater is also collected, stored and pressurised, used in flushing toilets and watering green spaces in order to reduce drinking water consumption.
− Wherever feasible, waste is sorted and sent or recycled and composted. This applies to the offices, stores, workshops and warehouses.
− Packaging in the intermediary stages of transport and storage of small leather goods has been reduced or eliminated – this has resulted in a reduction of nearly 40 per cent of packaging since 2004. Eco-labelled, recyclable paper is used in all types of packaging (cardboard boxes, paper bags, wrapping, stickers, etc.)
− New and refurbished stores use 30 per cent less energy than older stores, largely due to a 60 per cent saving on lighting.

Louis Vuitton has also created an Environmental Taskforce with representatives of LV offices worldwide, to share good practices on all aspects of the Maison’s environmental initiatives and to brainstorm and further develop implementations worldwide. These representatives, called “Environmental correspondents”, are in place in each region to advise on local needs/feasibilities and to implement environmental policy across the region.

The Maison are also closely working with suppliers and contractors to share our philosophy with them: all suppliers are asked to sign the “Louis Vuitton Suppliers’ Code of Conduct” which engages them to abide to our principles and actions concerning sustainable development.

In 2009, we undertook an independent ‘ethical’ audit across our business with the support of world leader, Bureau Veritas. This allows us to assess all of our activity and to formulate a comprehensive Ethical Code of Conduct, building on the existing standards and codes.

What prompted the initiation of these practices?
Louis Vuitton is a Maison that has always cherished the values of tradition & innovation, craftsmanship, creativity and know-how. Since 1854, we have taken special care in transmitting these values.

The respect for nature and the environment, as well as the respect and fairness for human rights and diversity are integral values of Louis Vuitton. We believe that small actions make big differences, and that it is important to constantly consider what can be done, on a business level, to reduce the impact of activities on the environment. As a leader of luxury, we also have the responsibility to pursue these initiatives.

Why did Louis Vuitton develop the Young Arts Project as opposed to supporting fashion talent?
Louis Vuitton wanted to celebrate the opening of the New Bond Street Maison with a major new project that would extend opportunities to younger, often less privileged people to access the art world. As the leader of the luxury industry we believe that there naturally is a responsibility to the world around us.

Moreover, transmitting savoir-faire and creativity is one of the founding cornerstones of the Maison. Preserving the past and preparing for a brighter future are fundamental values that have inspired the brand for more than 150 years. Supporting children and young people’s futures is one of the main actions worldwide. The Louis Vuitton Young Arts Project seeks to instil and nurture an exploration, enjoyment and passion for the arts among young people which they can take into adult life and perhaps follow as a career.

What does the Young Arts Project hope to achieve in the next few years?
This three year arts and education programme will give young Londoners from across the city unique access to the museum directors and curators, artists and collectors who shape the British contemporary art scene, which is widely acknowledged as one of the most dynamic and successful in the world. The Young Arts Project will add a vibrant cultural dimension to these young people’s lives, and allow the participants to gain the insight, skills and experience necessary to consider the possibility of pursuing a career in the arts.

Tell us about your partnership with SOS Children’s Villages and the Partnership for Children’s Futures programme.Central to our global commitment to local community initiatives, the Maison began a five-year global partnership with SOS Children’s Villages to support the organisation’s activities and specific aid projects under the programme, Partnership for Children’s Futures. Louis Vuitton and SOS Children’s Villages cooperate on local partnerships across the globe. These activities support SOS Children’s Villages and the children who are dependent upon them by increasing the education and development possibilities open to these children in need. Through our relationship with SOS Children’s Villages, the Maison seeks to support children in their education and creative development.

Do you see yourselves partnering with more organisations in the future aimed specifically at youth development?
Since its beginnings, Louis Vuitton has played an active role in a wide variety of local community projects, fulfilling the company’s social responsibility and determination to give back to the communities where it operates: As part of its patronage of the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games, Louis Vuitton donated the proceeds from the first day’s sales at its Beijing China World Store to the games; to mark the store opening in 2009 in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, we donated educational books to the Mongolian Ministry of Education and Sciences to support elementary education in over 700 primary schools across the country; following the Sichuan Earthquake in 2008, Louis Vuitton sent aid and offered continuous support to post-disaster relief work via China Red Cross.

These and other similar projects contribute to our mission to transmit its values of social responsibility from generation to generation, and from community to community.

Louis Vuitton has partnered with The Climate Project since 2004; what do the Maison and non-profit organisation hope to achieve?
The mission of The Climate Project is to change hearts and minds, to challenge people to accomplish their own personal journeys on the issue of global warming, and this resonates with the message of the core values campaign. With its global reach, the core values advertising campaign is an excellent opportunity to help to promote this cause, which is of vital importance to us all. Louis Vuitton’s support for The Climate Project is on-going.

What does the company do to raise awareness of environmental issues?
At Louis Vuitton we are fully aware that customers today are more and more conscious of luxury brands’ engagements in environmental and ethical fields. This is why we have set up in 2005 a mini website dedicated to our efforts on protecting the environment (access via  here). We are also very active in concluding partnerships with associations such as The Climate Project of Al Gore to help raise awareness on environmental and ethical issues.

What are the company’s sustainable development plans for the future?
At the moment our plans for the future are to continue working with associations such as SOS Children’s Villages, The Climate Project and others as well as try to improve its objectives and commitment to environmental responsibility.

More precisely, Louis Vuitton has plans to open a new workshop in the south of France near Marsaz in 2011, which, following our sustainable development objectives, will have the HQE© process. A creative architectural concept, the Marsaz workshop will melt into the hill with a “grass” roof, practically hiding the workshop and allowing a preservation of the natural landscape.

by Kristal Lubin

Photographs: Louis Vuitton/Jean-Phillippe Caulliez

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