IWC Sustainability Report: Setting the benchmark in the luxury watch industry

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According to a study by McKinsey & Co, it appears that “consumers with an ever growing knowledge and interest in sustainability have more power now than ever before”. With large retailers having to adapt their supply chain and the materials being used having to be more ethical and sustainable, it is with no doubt that the luxury brands market are too having adapt to the drive of changing consumer demands.

One company listening to their consumers has made waves in the Swiss watch industry; IWC Schaffhausen, a luxury watch company founded 150 years ago; built on heritage and quality, they pride themselves on craftsmanship and innovation. IWC believes by working together with their customers, colleagues, business partners and wider community they can set the benchmark for how a luxury company can drive change in the industry and become increasingly more sustainable.

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On Monday, IWC released their bi-annual corporate sustainability report in a roundtable discussion at their Bond Street boutique shop. The talk was led by Lucy Siegle, environmental broadcaster and journalist and Franziska Gsell, IWC’s Chief marketing officer. Franziska advocates for transparency in the luxury watch industry and with sustainability being an idea close to her heart, she wants IWC to push the industry in the right direction.

Being questioned on the leather, gold and diamonds which are used in IWC’s watches, Franziska spoke about how they cannot completely step away from using ‘luxury’ materials as this is what their consumers demand; it is however, important to IWC how said, high quality materials are sourced and the impact they have on the environment which is taken into careful consideration. IWC are looking at how alternative materials can be engineered instead of using leather and the impact this would have on sales, as inevitably profits are too at the forefront of their goals. Being questioned on the use of alligator skin in their watch straps, Franziska answered that IWC can offer alternatives for those consumers whom would like a vegan substitution.

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This however, does show where luxury brands do have a challenge when making the choice between customer demands and an ethical standpoint. Where the UK is very much moving in strides towards a non-leather, sustainable and ethical material market, other countries which are huge buyers in the luxury watch industry e.g. the UAE have a somewhat different outlook on how materials are sourced. Less bothered about how the material is obtained, the design of a watch to some luxury buyers is more about the perceived quality and symbolism of having alligator skin on the wrist strap, rather than to how it was sourced and the impact on the environment.

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Franziska noted that the watch industry is somewhat different to other luxury goods markets when tackling the idea of sustainability. Much like other companies they tackle issues of community investment, social responsibility, equal rights and energy efficiency; ideas in which they are setting an amazing president for other companies to follow. However, Franziska did mention it is ‘the environment which sets the limit’, in certain aspects of production. Watches cannot be 100% sustainable as much as IWC try for them to be, they are a product which needs to manufactured, thus creating waste. Therefore IWC have introduced the idea of transparency, as a result the report is created so their clients have the ability to see how each watch has been created, where and how the materials are sourced and how IWC are as a company are using their power to help make a change in the world.

If a luxury Watch Company with 1,200 employees can set a standard in tackling each and every one of the UN’s 17 sustainable goals, this poses the question; should it be made a legal requirement for all global companies to have to provide reports on their own sustainability standpoint? As essentially, why should we as a consumer not have full transparency as to how we are spending our money? And why should we not have the right to see how our money is fundamentally having an impact on others? As consumers, we are at the end of it, the driving force of change within the market.

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