The Luxury Of Ethics

The other day I attended a seminar by the Luxury Marketing Council on marketing “wellness.” The speakers were a panel of spa, yoga and nutrition professionals. They all said business was booming. Wealthy, upscale people want to eat well, have spa and yoga retreat vacations and anoint themselves from head to toe with the finest and healthiest of products made from natural sources. Allied businesses, like yoga wear and plastic surgery, were way up too. There is a luxury fever spreading around the world from Moscow to Manhattan and everywhere in between.

I listened carefully to the panel, and the audience questions, and not once did I hear the word “responsibility.” I kept thinking, here we have an acknowledged sophisticated group of marketers selling to hyper-wealthy people, with incomes and assets hundreds of times the norm. Don’t they have a responsibility and ethical imperative to help people spend their money to purchase luxury goods and services that heal not only themselves but the earth and mankind as well?

Take, for example, my favorite “luxury item”: organic and biodynamic wine. There are two parallel tracks a consumer has in choosing this luxury item. Track one, you purchase a conventional wine. First, it was probably grown in an agri-business model with ruinous doses of pesticides and herbicides that render the earth sterile and toxic. Benign insects, earthworms, birds and plants died in the process. The field workers and their families are exposed to dangerous cancer-causing toxic chemicals. These agri-chemicals get into the bloodstream of the earth via the water table as well as the bloodstream of the workers. Traces of these show up in the wine itself.

Track two, you buy organic or biodynamic wine. The grower is probably a small independent family farm intimately connected with the land and its stewardship. The grapes must be grown carefully with a great skill since they are free of chemicals. The entire vineyard is alive with worms, insects, birds and surrounding plant life. The workers are unharmed while they perform their vineyard tasks. You drink a poison-free product that nourishes your own body.

What a luxury to “do the right thing.” What a luxury to know that glass or bottle of wine did as little harm to the planet as possible. What a wonderful luxury to know that others in the chain of life from worm to worker need not be stressed or die so you may enjoy your wine. True enjoyment comes from knowing that you are helping to heal the planet. That to me is the luxury of ethics and the ethics of luxury. Something we all can tell the marketers of luxury goods and services we think is the key to true luxury.

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By Jonathan Russo

is the publisher of the Organic Wine Journal.