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Bentley gsustainable luxury green is the new black

Bentley: Sustainable Luxury Fueling The Green Transition

It’s 2022: luxury brands can’t afford to ignore the sustainability conversation. Recall the Met Gala this year, in which singer Camila Cabello donned Atelier Prabal Gurung’s upcycled looks, while seven-time Grammy award winner Billie Eilish chose a Gucci gown made of reused fabrics. Meanwhile, in the field of cars, Bentley has released its Beyond100 strategy and its goal is to become the most sustainable luxury automobile brand in the world. How is Bentley finding that sweet spot of leading sustainability while keeping the brand alive to the changing times? Let’s find out. 

Sustainable luxury: mutually exclusive or two sides of the same coin?

Fully battery-powered vehicles will make up 75% of plug-in vehicle sales by 2025, according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance report. To understand why, we turn to McKinsey’s research which shows us that customers’ openness to electric vehicles (EV), who are increasingly valuing sustainability, is a big cause for this green transition: “Globally, more than 70% of current owners of premium and luxury internal-combustion-engine (ICE) vehicles are willing to switch to EVs during their next vehicle purchase.”

Of course, understanding “sustainability” in luxury goes beyond assessing carbon emissions. The UN-sponsored Brundtland Commission was the first to talk about “sustainability”. They did so in the context of discussing “sustainable development” which is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

If a company is truly committed to an environmentally and socially conscious future, it needs to walk the talk and prioritise authenticity and transparency. Sustainability in luxury is more than just making goals and claims. It’s the hard work of communicating the honest details to its consumer base, building milestones, and sharing how they intend to go about making it happen. 

The gap between sustainability and luxury is narrowing. Incredibly, as of 2021, 84 per cent of all cars built by Bentley for the UK market are still on the road today, complete with their original leather upholstery and wooden veneers. Of all things, timeless luxury (with impressive lifespans), is most apt for the sustainability space. Made from durable and highest-quality materials, it’s the kind of thing that can be passed down to generations. Sustainable luxury, then, is already intrinsic to Bentley.

Bentley sustainable luxury green is the new black

Bentley’s Beyond100 Strategy

Announced in 2020, Bentley’s ground-breaking Beyond100 strategy targets sustainable mobility leadership, reinventing every aspect of the business. Their ambitious aim is to be end-to-end carbon neutral by 2030, with Crewe operations climate positive thereafter. “Our plan is to provide extraordinary mobility for the next century, creating a long-term, sustainable business model,” the strategy reads.

 The luxury car company recognises that sustainability is more than just the final product which is the hybrid/electric car. It’s also in the way people are treated, how raw materials are sourced, and where the car is manufactured. We were delighted to hear that Bentley’s Crewe headquarters is already the world’s first carbon-neutral luxury car manufacturing plant, certified by the Carbon Trust in 2019! 

That certification followed 20 years of hard work, for advances including over 30,000 individual solar panels installed on-site in Crewe and a shift to using renewable-only energy sources. 

In case you’re wondering what “end to end” entails in the luxury car business, that means becoming fully carbon-neutral, from the factory to the cars they create, by 2030. Suppliers are also expected to meet minimum sustainability standards – and by 2025, the entire global retailer network will be carbon neutral too.

But it doesn’t stop there. The strategy has since accelerated, with the announcement of the ‘Five-in-Five’ plan, which will see five all-electric Bentley vehicles launched – one each year between 2025 and 2030– at which point their entire product range will be electric. With the introduction of more and more hybrid cars, the green transition is gaining momentum. The Flying Spur, Flying Spur Azure and Flying Spur Mulliner are now all available as hybrids, as is the Flying Spur S.

Bentley sustainable luxury green is the new black

What does Bentley’s sustainable future look like?

The company held its first carbon-compensated event in the Asia Pacific on the 4th, 5th and 6th of August, with a stellar lineup of panellists, to share exactly that. Here’s everything you missed from the Sustainable Future Materials fireside chat. 

With moderation by the speaker and former television host Anita Kapoor, the hot seats included Susan Ross, Bentley’s Lead Designer CMF (Colours, Materials and Finishes); Jo O’Brien, Bentley’s head of Sustainability Communications, Calista Tambajong, Head of Marketing at Bentley Asia Pacific, Nadya Hutagalung, sustainability icon and household name on television across Asia; Elora Hardy, Founder and Creative Director of IBUKU, an architecture and design studio leading innovation with bamboo. (Both Nadya and Elora joined in virtually on the panel.) Yes, this was an all-female panel! With guests from all around Asia Pacific (Australia, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, The Philippines and Vietnam) joining for the event.  

“What’s one word that comes to mind when I say sustainability? How does it feel? What does it mean to you?” asked Anita Kapoor, while kicking off the discussion with a mindful session, to laughter from the audience. Many didn’t expect “sustainability” to be their grounding thought during this collective meditation, and that’s how the interactive panel began, by unpacking the tensions and harmony that arose from everyone’s responses. We’ve rounded up a few highlights. 

Bentley sustainable luxury green is the new black
1. Sustainability is a holistic journey, not an overnight change

Susan’s focus on sustainability began 7 years ago when she was asked to draft a proposal for a non-leather car, a request Bentley received from California. Some of the ideas from the proposal later went on to be used for a few concept cars, as they began testing non-leather alternatives for 2030. 

With a lot of newer materials, the work takes up to 5-7 years, since many companies that Bentley approaches haven’t previously worked with automobiles so everything needs to be collaboratively rolled out for the first time. “This is why we say that sustainability is a journey! What we invested in years ago is what you are seeing today,” Susan shared, “And it’s a longer one still when we choose to work with artists and inventors to explore new materials. We don’t just adopt the traditional materials, we hunt for newer ones and then work on engineering them for the car.”

A relevant question is one of the material tests of heat, time and more: “Sometimes I put my heart and soul into creating something and it fails the test and then I have to go to the supplier and tell them we need to re-engineer the textile. So it’s a constant journey of how we make it meet the automotive specifications.”

2. Luxury is the way we consume mindfully 

Passionately, Anita shared that Nadya didn’t fly in because she wanted to keep her carbon footprint low. She recently moved to Australia and is now set on building a passive house (a building which adopts an integrated design and construction methodology to actively optimise energy) from scratch and finding harmony with nature. 

For Nadya, this new environment has informed her interpretation of luxury, which she defines as “to have the time and space and mental health to make decisions that are not reactive but mindful. It is in choosing timeless products that last very long and can be passed down for generations to come.” 

Bentley sustainable luxury green is the new black
3.  It comes down to storytelling

Surely, holistic sustainability that looks beyond the end product comes with its challenges. As the Head of Sustainability Communications, Jo believes that while the easier part is emotionally connecting with consumers, the harder part is communicating goals to both retailers and consumers. “Our north star is really the Beyond100 Strategy, not as something that is fulfilled instantly but as something we can keep looking at as a longer-term investment,” she shared.

“But equally important is to continue to draw attention to sustainability to prepare our customers so it doesn’t feel new or alien to them. If we want to be carbon neutral by 2030, we can’t just say that and then disappear, we need to explain how we are going to do it and give the full story.”

A lot of the work comes down to storytelling and communication, about shifting the ideals of luxury over time, and “reframing luxury as contribution, not possession”—as Anita points out—what can you give back?

Bentley sustainable luxury green is the new black
4. Taking traditional materials and making them relevant for today

The next generation of materials in the slow luxury era looks and feels fresh for Bentley. The metal finishes are becoming satin and non-shiny, warm tones of metal. “It gives a more relaxing and intentional energy compared to the shine and lustre.” 

To Susan, luxury is about the “uniqueness and speciality of materials, that when crafted by hand and engineered for the cars, promise longevity and durability.” Bentley is also moving away from making veneers shiny as that takes away from the naturalness of the wood – the newer reclaimed wood now has a very fine finish on the top. 

Bentley sustainable luxury green is the new black

More exciting materials have been discovered: wine textiles (yes, wine), made from the waste of the wine-making industry in Italy (these are rich in vegetable-based cellulose); Alcantara, a sustainable microfibre with a changed process that adds durability; paints made from rice husks (this one’s truly rare), and tweed that’s 100% organic cotton textile, with modified content to make it less rough. “These materials are timeless,” Susan smiles with pride, “and they continue to create the unique Bentley experience.”

5. The ultimate luxury is harmony 

“My desire as a designer of bamboo-built structures is really the same as yours,” Elora shares comparing to the design work at Bentley, “That we have a discerning, specific audience;  that the texture and experience of being inside the car make the passenger feel loved by the car, and by the designer by proxy. For me, that’s luxury. A sense of being known.” 

We are inevitably influenced by the spaces we live in, whether that’s a car or an innovative bamboo building. When you step into a car, it informs your identity and becomes a part of you. “Layers of the self,” Elora reflects. For her, the ultimate luxury is ultimately a harmony between the self and surroundings, between humanity and nature. 

Suffice to say, sustainability is a collective journey that big companies like Bentley have the responsibility to lead. No one has all the answers but witnessing the process of invention, exploration and discovery through panels and retreats like these, where ideas and inspiration can flourish, is heartening and encouraging. Anita ended with a timely reminder that sustainable luxury companies are challenged and continue to evolve because of their sustainability-seeking customers and advocates. We are looking forward to continuing to watch Bentley’s sustainability journey. 

FEATURED IMAGE: via Bentley | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Inside of the Bentley Flying Spur Hybrid