Luxury vs. sustainability: bedfellows or paradox?

Luxury vs. sustainability: bedfellows or paradox?

Luxury vs. sustainability: bedfellows or paradox?

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In developing our b í k u treehouse retreat project we are often asked what we will offer, ‘Are you going for the eco and sustainable ‘thing’, or are you going for a high-end luxury, boutique retreat?’. We’ve always challenged this by asking why we have to choose one over the other. Can’t we offer luxury and sustainability? The question for us is, can luxury and sustainability go hand-in-hand or are they confined to being contradictory ideas?

Ethical ‘bling’?

Traditional notions of luxury might have us imagining sliding off silk sheets into a pool of pearls, and a quick spin in our sports car. It’s all glam, glitz and glorious. While eco and sustainability are associated with images of a vegan lifestyle, perhaps commune living, and wearing hessian fabrics. Now, I know these are extremes – but hopefully, point made. In their traditional guises luxury and sustainability are not symbiotic.

So what has changed? Is there a new way?

Where luxury and sustainability collide

In his 2016 article, ‘Luxury Brands Can No longer Ignore Sustainability’, published in the Harvard Business Review, Andrew Winston analyses the report, 2016 Predictions for the Luxury Industry: Sustainability and Innovation. The report identifies key pressures that are bringing luxury and sustainability closer together:

  • changing regulations
  • social pressures: from celebrity endorsements of sustainable living to the heightened expectations of companies, especially from Millennials
  • investor pressure – from those who are seeing the value in sustainable products
  • serious limitations on the earth’s natural resources

Although targeting the luxury retail industry, these pressures are equally applicable to the travel industry.

Luxury redefined

Looking at luxury defined as ‘very great comfort, especially among beautiful and expensive surroundings’, I find it easy to connect this to eco / sustainable travel. Great comfort is provided in a simple and innovative way that offers guests an intimate connection with nature and the place. There’s no doubt that the surroundings of most – if not all – eco lodges throughout the world are beautiful. And, speaking of ‘expensive’, well – nature is truly priceless. In my eyes, that’s all boxes ticked.

In my last blog I singled out a few of the retreats that are getting responsible travel ‘right’. Those same lodges – and more – are combining responsible travel with a new luxury, a natural luxury. In addition to the retreats themselves, a more recent trend, perhaps, has been the emergence of eco tour companies, booking agencies, travel agencies and hotelier ‘groups’. I recently stumbled upon a great company called Eco Companion, which is a booking engine for sustainable tours, projects and accommodation all around the world. If you get a chance, do check them out.

Another company that is – in their own words – ‘breaking new ground in eco-lux travel’ is The Cayuga Collection. This is a collection of eight sustainable luxury hotels and lodges in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The collection redefines the symbiosis of luxury and sustainability through the concept of ‘Experience, Learn, Connect and Relax.’ We couldn’t agree more. Further support of their model is given by Lynn Cutter, Executive Vice President, National Geographic Travel who says The Cayuga Collection ‘properties are a shining example of how sustainability can be achieved with elegance and authenticity’.

A match made in eco-lux heaven

There’s a new luxury in town. It may not be glitz and it may not be glam – not in the traditional sense – but it offers more than that. The eco- or sustainable luxury of the travel world offers guests unforgettable, authentic experiences in nature and culture, the opportunity to know the true character of a place. Sticking by this traditional definition of luxury, ‘a pleasure which you do not often have the opportunity to enjoy’, eco-tourism and ‘true’ travelling has always been luxurious.

Until the next time – #slothlife

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