Ask Michael Wainwright when his journey towards wanting to save the planet began and he doesn’t hesitate: ‘About six years ago, I was on a committee judging some luxury awards and was shouted down when I questioned the point of a brand’s sustainability policy. It was a watershed moment that changed my entire perspective as CEO. My two nephews, who work in the business, have long been passionate about climate change but, being older, this was a wake-up call.’
Michael says there used to be just two variants to the business: design and brand. Now there’s a firm third – sustainability. ‘If you don’t have ticks in all three boxes, no one’s going to shop with you,’ he insists. ‘Brands not on top of climate change and human rights will fall by the wayside. We sell many engagement rings to younger people and increasingly they want to know if our gems and gold are responsibly sourced.’
The journey has been tough. In 2016, Human Rights Watch selected Boodles, alongside 11 other jewellery brands, including Bulgari, Rolex and Tiffany, to participate in an investigation of their CSR policies. ‘We were a very small company and felt it was a bit unfair comparing us with such big brands,’ says Michael. ‘They laid into us and gave us a “weak” ranking. I’m now glad we were assessed harshly as it really sharpened up our act. We did so much to improve, which has pushed our ranking up to “fair” and we’re still working very hard to get it up to “good”.’
Boodles has reduced its diamond suppliers from over 30 to just three main ones and all their diamonds are now guaranteed conflict-free, as is their single mine origin gold from Yanfolila in Mali.
‘Eighty per cent of the world’s jewellery is unbranded and sold at small “mom and pop” stores,’ says Michael, ‘so it’s very easy to greenwash. The industry isn’t easy to police, but I think every brand by law should have a sustainability audit. I’m an accountant, so I get the importance of auditing and I think in years to come your sustainability audit will be as scrutinised and essential to your survival as the audit on your accounts.’
The one area Michael admits needs improvement is packaging. ‘Our carrier bags have to look the part and not compromise us,’ he says. ‘As CEO I struggle with the trade-off between commerciality and sustainability and there’s still a line between doing the correct thing and being an attractive, glossy, luxury brand. So I’m putting out a call to all carrier bag makers to work on improving the look of their reconstituted paper.
‘I now view protecting our planet to be as crucial as the design of our jewellery for which we’re famous – and I say that as a businessman rather than a passionate save-the-planet man. Climate change is a mammoth issue and if you want to be around in ten years, ignore it at your peril. As a multi-generational family business, we are embracing the sustainability journey in the knowledge that our future absolutely depends upon it.’www.boodles.com