During the COP21 climate change talks and Beijing’s first “red alert” notice for air pollution, Kering Chairman and CEO François-Henri Pinault appeared at Tsinghua University on Tuesday to deliver a speech on the importance of corporate sustainability in the luxury industry.
“As COP21 comes to a close, it is crucial that we share with the next generation the importance of making sustainability a business imperative,” said Pinault. “Implementing a commitment to sustainability as well as a climate strategy is non-negotiable. In our rapidly changing world, sustainability is the only way to ensure a business will thrive now, and in the future. We are committed to changing our business model to become less impactful and more efficient, and we strongly believe that educating and empowering China’s next generation will help us fulfill our sustainability commitment.”
Entitled “Fashioning the Future,” Pinault’s talk was presented as part of the university’s Tsinghua Global Vision Lectures series and discussed Kering’s recent sustainability initiatives. The talk was particularly timely given the fact that it was not only held during the final days of the COP21 climate change talks in Paris, but also took place at a time when Beijing smog levels had reached the “hazardous” level by U.S. monitoring standards. This triggered the government to issue its first ever “red alert” for smog, leading to reductions of cars on the road and school closures.
“As businesses we have a major responsibility in the problem, and therefore, we need to be part of the solution,” said Pinault.
The luxury conglomerate has recently adopted a sweeping corporate sustainability and social responsibility plan, which includes four-year sustainability targets set for 2016 in the areas of design, resources, production, distribution, and retail for all its brands, according to Pinault. The goals include the reduction of CO2 emissions and waste, the end of using PVC, verified captive breeding, sustainable packaging, fair-mined gold, and comprehensive audits across supply chains. In 2014, Kering released the results of its Group Environmental Profit and Loss Account (E P&L), which evaluates its economic impact across its supply chain.
As experts discuss the ways in which China’s efforts to improve its air conditions are at odds with its economic growth, Pinault’s message for China was that one doesn’t need to be sacrificed for the other. “Sustainable development is not a constraint,” he argued. “If you incorporate it into your activities, you create economic, environmental, and social value.”
Kering has heavily emphasized both its sustainability and CSR initiatives in China in particular. This year, the firm awarded a “Social Entrepreneurs Award” to Chinese socially responsible jewelry business Starfish Project, which provides disadvantaged women with alternative employment.
Tsinghua has a strong connection with Kering after the company launched a three-year partnership with the Chinese university in 2014 called the Tsinghua and Kering Art Education Fund, which provides participants with a combination of business and design classes, while also emphasizing sustainability initiatives.
“I believe it is essential that we as businesses place sustainability at the core of what we do,” said Pinault. “We should change the systems that no longer benefit our society or the planet. Government and civil societies will not succeed on their own. Businesses are a critical element of the overall setup.”