PARIS — Stores are responsible for 70 percent of greenhouse gases generated by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
“This has become the leading priority for us,” explained Alexandre Capelli, who manages environmental issues for the French luxury giant, which aims to reduce emissions by 25 percent between now and 2020. The company’s vast retail network counts 4,370 stores.
Facing increasing consumer scrutiny, fashion and luxury companies are under pressure to show evidence that they are addressing environmental issues.
The youthful executive spoke at an indoor café at a Paris gathering of lighting suppliers and LVMH architects called “Life in Store,” which wrapped up with an awards ceremony for stores in eight categories of environmental best practices.
“What consumes energy in our stores? Well, there are three main things, the most important is lighting, then air conditioning, and after that electronic equipment like computers,” explained Capelli, who noted that the first two were the biggest culprits.
The luxury behemoth started with lighting in its approach for tackling environmental issues and has held the annual gathering geared toward exploring the latest LED technology for suppliers and executives over the past five years. Capelli noted that LED lighting reduces energy consumption by an average of 30 percent compared to traditional lighting.
“It’s a bit like computers in the Nineties, every six months there was a technological jump,” noted Capelli, adding that the event was crafted to help people comb through new developments.
Leading the charge on the lighting front is the group’s own lighting specialist, Nicolas Martin.
“I want architects to be interested and love the subject…and use it like a painter’s palette, because everything is possible,” said the executive, who rattled off details of the latest technological developments.
The executive, who said he belongs to a network of around 100 enthusiasts who share their interest in using light for an endless array of uses, was trained as an architect for interiors. He estimates he has been working on the subject for around 15 years, noting the arrival of LED technology was key in sparking his interest in the subject.
Martin’s projects at LVMH have been varied, and include improving light quality at Loewe workshops where light reflection had caused problems, and ensuring Champagne producers could see well enough to clean holding tanks properly.
Among notable breakthroughs seen this year, Martin said he expects new laser lighting systems from Soraa will become usable in the next few years. The California-based company counts a physics Nobel Prize winner among its founders — Shuji Nakamura, awarded in 2014 for a blue LED invention — and has come up with a way to push as much light and energy through a hair width as would normally come from a small spotlight, according to Martin.
“We love hidden, invisible and discrete sources; it helps create magic when you don’t know where the light is coming from,” Martin noted.
For Capelli, the focus on lighting changed the company’s approach to store lighting, to focus more on specific products.
“There used to be a lighting culture of having lots of light everywhere, but now we are focusing more on the products; the entire culture is changing with the new technology,” Capelli said.
Joachim Liebig, a lighting industry veteran at the gathering who has been in the business for around 40 years, works for Lumenetix, another California-based company, thinks the industry was wrong to neglect quality at the outset of the exploration to conserve energy. Holding up a card with blocks of different colors, he showed how different types of light affected them. Yellow street lights on highways were a bad idea, he noted.
“It was really dangerous,” he said, describing how it diminished the ability of drivers to recognize objects.
These days, efforts are focused on prolonging the life of light sources and diminishing their size.
“All parts of lighting can be improved, and if we ask our supplier to make the effort directly, it’s asking too much risk,” said Martin, noting that LVMH gets involved, helping to ensure a broader market for the potential developer. Martin cited an example with Japanese light specialist Citizen, which made lighting that consumed 15 watts instead of 40 watts, “huge savings,” he noted.
Recycling is another matter, noted the executives, saying that they have set up a think tank with 30 suppliers, to come up with ways to recycle used spotlights.
“We quickly realized that while lighting was one subject, there are many others,” noted Capelli, commenting on how an interest in lighting has led to other subjects. The company has created a series of store guidelines covering the cycle of a store’s life including construction, thermal isolation, interior decorating, furnishings, maintenance and even after it closes. The group advises employees to focus on using recycled materials and to use screws, not glue, which makes recycling easier later on, for example.
Some of the company’s brands have been more active than others, he added, noting that for Sephora, which has a vast store network, lighting is a particularly important subject.
“The objective is two-fold, environmental, but also economic performance, they go together, it’s not the environmental side that slows things down or impedes progress, it’s the environmental side that accelerates and even helps start-ups to innovate,” Capelli said.
Prizes at the event’s awards ceremony were handed out for eight categories, including one for insulation, won by a Céline store in Miami; management of water and energy, awarded to Louis Vuitton’s Place Vendôme flagship in Paris, which uses an energy-efficient cooling system for air conditioning, and interior design, bestowed to Guerlain’s Saint Honoré address, which brought used historical pieces to outfit the boutique.
LVMH group managing director Toni Belloni and environment director Sylvie Bénard took part in the awards.
“They aim to provide a roadmap to guide and inspire all LVMH houses as they continuously strive to improve their environmental performance,” said Bénard in a statement. The event prompted the development of a training program for architects as part of the group’s “Environment Academy,” she added.