You know, guilt is a very underrated emotion. Love may make the world go around but guilt is what ties us up in knots. It is as key a parameter as gender, GDP, ideology and age. There are those—both nations and people—who are driven by guilt and those that aren’t.
Guilt and pleasure are strange but close bedfellows. Bursting crackers is pleasurable but the fact that they are made by children in Sivakasi makes us feel guilty about enjoying them. Taking a vacation to Zanzibar is wonderful but it also increases your carbon footprint. In today’s eco-conscious world, guilt and pleasure have a Newtonian convergence. Every pleasurable action will induce an equal and opposite level of guilt. Or so it seems.
I am as hedonistic as the next person. I love massages, fine wines, beautiful objects, clothes, perfume, you name it. My problem is this: It is hard for me to indulge in luxury without feeling guilty. After all, the money I spend on an Anamika Khanna blouse could educate my maid’s children for a year. Everyone weighs equations like this, but I, like Pavlov’s dog, will give up the pleasure of luxury so that I don’t feel the pain of guilt. How then to buy luxury goods without feeling guilty?
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Confession: In my closet hang a few items that could be called luxury goods. Skimpy by Delhi and Mumbai standards but enough to remove any holier-than-thou air that I might attempt to sport. Thankfully though, a hot new trend is gaining ground and it is called sustainable luxury. And no, it is not an oxymoron. Everyone from Colin Firth’s wife, who runs Eco (www.eco-age.com), a chic boutique that offers all things green and stylish in London, to the beautiful Israeli-American actor Natalie Portman are switching to green.
As proof, consider the number of brands that offer eco-luxury: Linda Loudermilk, Edun, Delano Collection, Scrapile, Loop organic, Loomstate, Brave Space, Material Furniture, Coto, Voltaic Systems, Q Collections, Argington, Rhubarb Décor and Anna Sova. The latest to join this list is Lotus’ Eco Elise car, unveiled recently, or better yet, the Tesla Roadster.
Eco-conscious luxury, or shall we call it guilt-free luxury, can take many forms. Simplest would be to buy local designers. Buy Rohit Bal if you are in Delhi and Narendra Kumar in Mumbai. These fashion designers may not be eco-conscious but at least their clothes will not increase your carbon footprint in contrast to, say, buying a Hermes scarf that is flown all the way from Lyon to India. Not to mention importing an Aston Martin from England.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Another option is to buy fewer things. Rather than 10 branded handbags, buy one. Buy vintage, buy handmade, buy exotic. Buy Edun. Co-founded by Ali Hewson and U2’s Bono, Edun has factories in India that produce its supple and simple clothes made from organic fabrics.
Simplicity works. Buy high-quality things in those areas that you care about and forget the rest. If you are house-proud, then surround yourself with beautiful objects and skimp on the Breguet watches. If you enjoy fashion, go easy on importing Ron Arad from the Moss store in New York. If you love cars, splurge on a Ferrari but avoid Zaveri or the Jaipur Gem Palace for a while. If you care about all of the above? Well, look for green designers is all I can say. India has a number of sustainable and stylish products available locally— coir mats, jute handbags and woven baskets, to name three. Find designers who incorporate these into their lives and work.
In India, Anita Dongre, Deepika Govind and several other designers have started using organic cotton and vegetable dyes. Globally, hemp has become the fabric of choice for eco-conscious designers just as renewable bamboo has become the choice for eco-friendly architects. Patronizing these designers will make you and the earth feel better.
Try to buy your home from an eco-conscious builder such as T-Zed homes. India may have nothing close to Dongtan eco-city near Shanghai but we can at least try to get our companies to aspire to, if not actually apply for, a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating.
If you want a massage, consider the Taj group’s Jiva spas, not necessarily because the massage is better than at other five-star spas but because their linens are organic, their candles are beeswax and even their ceramic teacups are made without lead. And honestly, once you reach that beatific stage 10 minutes into a massage, can you differentiate one from the other?
Patronize ecotels that have some semblance of sustainability written into their blueprint. There are only five or six in India, including The Orchid, Rodas and Lotus Suites in Mumbai, Uppal’s Orchid in Delhi, and the Raintree in Chennai. If you happen to be the CEO of a company, here is your chance to save the world without stinting on comfort: How about authorizing or encouraging your employees to stay at ecotels when they travel within India? How about developing relationships with these hotels? You will save money and tread lightly on planet earth. Here’s why.
Ecotels try to reduce their ozone emissions by 90% or more; they recycle sewage water for landscaping; they use power-saving devices on everything from light bulbs to air conditioners; they use herbal and local products; PPC cement instead of OPC cement; R22 instead of CFC refrigerants. Staying there allows you to enjoy the luxury with the halo of sustainability around your head. I’ve stayed at the Raintree and the hotel manages to balance style with sustainability without getting holier than thou. Don’t you hate it when hotels lecture you about reusing towels?
Smaller resorts such as Bangaram Island resort, Barefoot at Havelock in the Andamans, Kurumba Village near Coonoor and Our Native Village near Bangalore all practise eco-friendly measures to a lesser or greater extent. Given a choice, try staying with them.
Last week, at a party, a friend asked how much I could sacrifice in order to save the world. I don’t believe in sacrifice. I think it is too much work in a world where people are already stretched. The big caveat I have to eco-friendly luxury is convenience: Do it if it is convenient; do it if it works for your lifestyle and personality. After all, luxury, in the end, is about pleasure, not sacrifice.
Shoba Narayan wonders how Newton and Pavlov would have dealt with luxury. Write to her at email@example.com