LTT Opinion: greening life’s little luxuries
From caviar to convertibles, country homes to cross-country flights, the word ‘luxury’ conjures images of excess. Is it possible to have a green luxury? Does green living mean giving up the ‘finer things in life?’ In some ways, this is the enduring question of the green movement- is it possible to merge a consumer’s aspirations with the environment’s needs?
For the auto industry, going green has long meant major compromises in performance and power. But as car makers have seen sustained interest in sustainability, demand has driven innovation, and that gap between ‘luxury’ and ‘green’ has narrowed. In housing, it’s difficult to make an argument for a ‘sustainable McMansion’ – see our video on building a net zero home- but breakthroughs in renewable energy, smart technology and recycled materials will similarly narrow that gap. And making a long-haul flight more green is now as easy as purchasing carbon offsets from someone like Brighter Planet- see our Carbon Offsets 101 video.
The greening of luxury foods, too, has been fueled by innovation and consumer expectations. Greater scrutiny of how food is grown and how animals are treated has brought issues of sustainability to the fore. But in contrast to agriculture, so-called aquaculture – fish farming, shrimp farming and so on- has been slower to evolve, and retailers have been slower to demand it. That’s beginning to change thanks to companies like Whole Foods.
As we noted last year, Whole Foods became the first major retailer to announce a comprehensive set of aquaculture guidelines, adopting strict standards aimed at protecting sensitive habitats, limiting waste and reducing pollution. The move is being welcomed by environmental groups, like the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the World Wildlife Fund, both of which have contributed to the “aquaculture dialogue.” Working with those environmental groups and leading scientists, Whole Foods began visiting its suppliers’ farms to develop a comprehensive set of guidelines, which includes a ban on preservatives, antibiotics, hormones and other chemicals commonly used in fish farming. “Right now, we need a way to source our seafood in a way that meets our customers’ expectations,” says Carrie Brownstein, seafood quality standards coordinator at Whole Foods. “We don’t want to be waiting on the sidelines. We want to be very active in the process.”
One company that has met Whole Foods’ strict guidelines is Petrossian, purveyor of luxury foods such as caviar. Caviar has long been something of a poster child for reckless luxuries, as rampant overfishing of the prized Beluga sturgeon threatened to drive the species into extinction. NYC-based Petrossian has helped revive caviar’s reputation as an eco-minded luxury item, raising the profile and integrity of farm-produced caviar as a viable alternative to caviar from wild sturgeons. Petrossian was the first distributor to work with sturgeon farms to provide an alternative for caviar connoisseurs, helping to continually improve technology and techniques. Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch and the EDF have ranked U.S. farmed sturgeon and caviar as a “Good Alternative” for the environment. With a sticker price that can be as low as 1/3 the alternative, sustainable caviar makes financial sense too.
It’s human nature to indulge in the finer things…so let’s celebrate the greening of ‘life’s little luxuries.’