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Watchmakers stand up for the climate

Watchmakers stand up for the climate

Wednesday, 19 January 2022
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Christophe Roulet
Editor-in-chief, HH Journal

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6 min read

The watch industry is doing its share to address climate change. This means energy-efficient buildings as well as offsetting measures and support for environmental initiatives.

Can we look forward to a new category for the most sustainable watch at the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève? A watch made from locally sourced, recycled materials at a facility powered by renewable energy. The idea isn’t as far-fetched as it might sound, given the growing number of initiatives in all these areas. And every little helps. A report published at end 2021 by Global Carbon Project shows that the drop in global carbon emissions during the Covid-19 crisis was shortlived. In a global economy that is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, after falling by 5.4% in 2020, emissions rebounded to rise by 4.9% in 2021 and reach a level close to the all-time high of 2019.

The winners and the judges of the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève 2021. How long before a “Sustainable Watch” award?

All is not lost. The Deloitte Swiss Watch Industry Study 2021 delivers several positive messages, starting with the almost unilateral (93%) view among those industry executives surveyed that sustainability is an important topic in 2021 and beyond. Deloitte cites “changing consumer behaviours, media scrutiny and a stricter regulatory landscape” as motivations for this shift. While the situation is not entirely rosy — “the industry still suffers from greenwashing and makes sustainability claims that lack substance” — there is a clear desire among watch brands to become more sustainable, mainly out of environmental concerns. Asked about their reasons for investing more in sustainability, the top answer was to reduce the company’s carbon footprint.

The Oris headquarters in Hölstein, near Basel, Switzerland

One brand, Oris, scored a victory in September last year when the company was awarded climate-neutral status by independent experts at ClimatePartner. “This is a big claim,” said Oris when it made the announcement, “and makes us one of a very small number of Swiss watch companies to have reached this point. Across the industry, a huge amount of work is going into making watchmaking more sustainable and climate neutral, and we’re very proud to be at the vanguard.” Oris leads its “Change for the Better” campaign by investing in environmental protection and sustainable development initiatives. In practical terms, the brand has offset more than 2,500 tonnes of carbon by supporting Plastic Bank’s Clean Ocean project. This social enterprise has prevented one billion plastic bottles from entering the world’s oceans. Ten kilos of plastic waste are collected to compensate one tonne of carbon. Conscious that change begins at home, starting this year Oris aims to cut its carbon emissions by 10% annually through upgrades to its factory in Hölstein, increased use of green energy and by continuing to make improvements across its supply chain. The first Oris Sustainability Report will be released later in the year.

IWC’s new Manufakturzentrum, just outside Schaffhausen

Widely considered as spearheading sustainability efforts in the watch industry, IWC achieved carbon-neutral status as early as 2007, also through offsets, and has been publishing its sustainability report, based on Global Reporting Initiative standards, every two years since 2018. Each report sets out fresh targets. For 2022, these include purchasing 100% renewable energy globally, implementing a green IT strategy and phasing out non-FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)-certified forestry products. The company has also laid down guidelines for sustainable marketing events with a more positive social and environmental impact. Unsurprisingly, the Manufakturzentrum facility that opened in 2018 is an example of efficient use of resources and reduced emissions. It runs on hydroelectric power, with more renewable energy generated by rooftop photovoltaic panels. Energy-saving lighting is employed throughout, heat production is via heating pumps and toilets are flushed with rainwater.

Richemont’s headquarters on the outskirts of Geneva

IWC’s sustainability initiatives are too numerous to list here. Since 2000 the brand has been part of the Richemont stable, a group that is equally committed to greater sustainability. Indeed, the international non-profit CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project) has rated Richemont “A” for its action on climate change. “We continuously seek to minimise our environmental impact through the responsible sourcing of raw materials, by limiting our contribution to climate change and through the responsible disposal of all waste materials,” comments Group CSR Director Matthew Kilgarriff. “Creating our Transformational Strategy was a key development for us. This year we are finalising our commitment-specific targets so that we can benchmark our progress effectively in the future.” Progress to date includes a 19% reduction in carbon emissions in 2020 while a science-based target-setting project incorporates Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions (i.e. emissions from the value chain). The group is committed to reaching 100% renewable electricity no later than 2025.

Audemars Piguet’s manufacturing facility in Le Brassus (Vallée de Joux), next to the existing Manufacture des Forges and soon to be completed by the Arc.

It’s now a given that sustainable development should be built into any new production site, as Audemars Piguet has demonstrated when expanding its manufacturing capacity. The brand describes its new buildings as “innovative architectures that are integrated into and respectful of their environment.” Coming after the new Musée Atelier and the Hôtel des Horlogers, which is scheduled to open in March this year, at end 2021 the first staff moved into Manufacture des Saignoles. These new production workshops blend with the relief of the valley and were designed with input from Marilyne Andersen, a professor of Sustainable Construction Techniques at EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. Still under construction, the U-shaped Arc, adjacent to the existing Manufacture des Forges, will cover 17,000 square metres. When completed, all the brand’s production sites in Vallée de Joux will be under the same roof. Both these new buildings meet Minergie and (for the Arc) Minergie ECO standards. Both are energy-efficient thanks to high-performance thermal insulation, a green energy supply and a controlled air exchange system (the ECO standard includes environmental and health criteria).

Rolex Testimonee Alain Hubert contributes to the brand’s Perpetual Planet initiative

Of course, innovation doesn’t stop at buildings. Rolex has chosen to focus its efforts on scientific research: “Our home is dependent on the individuals and organisations committed to finding solutions to protect it. We support those who go above and beyond to safeguard and preserve our Perpetual Planet for the next generations.” Initiatives include the Rolex Awards for Enterprise which encourage “innovative projects that improve life on the planet, expand knowledge, propose solutions to major challenges, or preserve our natural and cultural heritage.” Since the launch of the Awards in 1976, Rolex has received 35,550 applications and selected 155 laureates in areas of exploration and conservation that extend from oceans to mountains via the poles. Through its Perpetual Planet initiative, Rolex supports those who are using science to understand environmental challenges and who are finding ways to restore balance to our ecosystems. An example to follow.

Perpetual Planet: Living Laboratory
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