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Journey to sustainability

Journey to sustainability

Wednesday, 28 September 2022
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

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4 min read

The watch sector has its share of brands that are taking the lead on sustainable development. IWC and Oris are among them. Both were at the Watch Forum, organised by Watches and Culture, the cultural arm of the Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie, where they spoke about their experience so far, alongside the Swiss Better Gold Association.

As the effects of climate change become increasingly tangible, sustainability has become part of the conversation but has yet to implant itself firmly on the corporate agenda. The watch industry is a perfect illustration. While a handful of brands are leading by example, others have been slow to implement the critical paradigm shift. Some of these pioneering brands were at the Watch Forum, organised by Watches and Culture on September 13, to share their experience and encourage other industry players to embark on their journey to greater sustainability.

Taking responsibility

IWC, which recently published its fourth biannual sustainability report, titled Engineering Beyond Time – Navigating Our Sustainable Future, took the floor first. “Sustainability drives everything we do, and while it’s easy for us to say that today, this is a journey we began more than a decade ago, starting with our supply chain,” said Franziska Gsell, IWC’s Chief Marketing Officer and Sustainability Committee Chair. “Our action now focuses on three pillars. First transparency, which is the key to all our efforts. We absolutely have to show what we do and how we do it. Next circularity, ensuring that our watches are built to last for multiple lifetimes. Then responsibility and taking mindful action, such as adapting our internal processes in line with certified codes of good practices.”

Franziska Gsell CMO Chief of Sustainability Committee IWC Photo credit: Loïc Herin

Oris, which last year became carbon-neutral, was also invited to talk about its sustainability journey. As CEO Rolf Studer explained, this too is about responsibility and becoming a citizen in the sense Jean-Jacques Rousseau intended: one who enters into a social contract in order to serve the general will. “This sense of responsibility first led us to support environmental projects with our dive watches. That was several years ago already. From there, we gradually widened our vision to include our production methods, sourcing and, of course, our carbon footprint. Progress must be based on measurable data if we are to move ahead and engage the entire company. You’ll often hear me say that responsibility is an attitude. Whereas we used to get together to drink champagne at product launches, we now get together to help with beach clean-ups. That’s all down to a change in attitude.”

A collaborative mindset

As emphasised by the founders of the Watch & Jewellery Initiative 2030, which aims to unite stakeholders behind a common objective, the industry must also work alongside non-governmental organisations, in particular those that are active in the field. One such organisation is the Swiss Better Gold Association, a non-profit which has the support of Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO). Its purpose is to improve working and living conditions for artisanal and small-scale gold mining communities, and to enable the creation of responsible supply chains from these operations to the Swiss market. “Everything we do, we do it with a collaborative mindset,” said Diana Culillas, Secretary General of the Association. “We collaborate with gold producers. We offer them a price incentive and encourage sustainable development within their communities. We promote transparency and traceability of the mined gold as a way to prevent corruption, violation of human rights and financing of conflicts. We also collaborate with governments who, through SECO, facilitate our work. It would be impossible for us to move forward on these matters alone.”

Diana Culillas, Secretary Genral Swiss Better Gold Association / Photo credit: Loïc Herin

Speaking of collaboration, IWC recently announced its partnership with supermodel and environmentalist Gisele Bündchen, who serves as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme where she engages with causes that advocate for biodiversity and wildlife. “We have made sufficient progress on our sustainability journey to welcome Gisele Bündchen as an advisor on our Sustainability Committee. The role of the Committee is to question everything we do and set sustainability objectives,” explained Franziska Gsell. “The aim is to engage the entire organisation, knowing how much amazing energy comes from staff.” Throw in some celebrity aura and you have a winning formula to turn the watch industry into an agent for change before, in the words of Gerard Bos from the IUCN Global Business and Biodiversity Programme, “the system collapses through lack of energy.”

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