With over half (55%) of people globally willing to pay more for socially responsible products, here at Underscore we’re asking: does going green, in every case, really cost more? Does an ethical purchase always have to be a conscious one, and do we as consumers have to choose ‘green’ over luxury?

Often, the challenge for eco-friendly brands has always been that people perceive all-natural products as being less effective, not to mention (in some cases) undesirable. But with 88% of Gens X and Y thinking that businesses need to be more proactive in ‘doing good’, premium brands are learning that ‘luxury’ and ‘green’ aren’t mutually exclusive terms.

Numerous luxury goods – from All Bamboo’s bed sheets to Tesla’s sexy electric motors – are catering to big spenders who want something that looks good on the outside and feels good on the inside. Eco-luxury also extends to the world of travel. While there’s a broader desire to return to nature, National Geographic’s Unique Lodges offer high-end accommodation in locations aligned with conservation efforts, tapping into a desire for exceptional experiences with a sustainable focus. Considering that 52% of global travellers are likely to choose a destination based on its social and environmental impact, the world of luxury is learning that it’s cool to be kind.

eco-luxury tesla(Image credit: Tesla)

Brands around the globe are shouting about the slightest eco-friendly credential in an attempt to garner positive publicity, but not in every industry. Eileen Fisher’s clothing line has found success focusing as much on its ethics as its products. It sells sumptuous, but minimal, pieces; an organic linen jacket will set you back around £400. Space on the brand’s website is equally shared between its ethical initiatives and its clothing, with plainly stated commitments to make all its cotton and linen organic by 2020. However, in the fashion world Eileen Fisher is the exception to the rule. The luxury fashion world has, perhaps surprisingly, been quietly implementing green changes to production without much fanfare. Why are they staying silent?

Gucci is a brand built on environmentally expensive materials – leather is costly to both produce and process – but it’s stopped using PVC in its fashionable Dionysus bag, swapping over to more eco-friendly polyurethane. So why hasn’t it told anyone? Gucci’s parent company Kering and luxury conglomerate LVMH have both been making a range of sustainability shifts, while similarly keeping quiet. These tastemakers have the potential to create a shift in the way consumers perceive eco-fashion, but so far they haven’t taken up the baton. “We don’t do sustainability to please the customer and sell more bags,” says François-Henri Pinault, chief executive of Kering. “We do this because we have no other option.”

eco-luxury gucci(Image credit: Gucci)

Despite this, there are some brands tying desirability and sustainability together; Tesla has made the electric car a must-have for any high-end automobile enthusiast, while Stella McCartney is an ethically-centered brand that shuns all animal products. The success of Stella McCartney may not be due to its environmentally-friendly message, but it is a testament to the fact that the sustainable label does not detract from brand value. “Ten years ago, ‘ethical’ was completely tied up in its associations with hemp and yoghurt,” says Emma Hart of Push PR. “Now, it’s very much for the luxury market.”