Self-Serving Stewardship: How Manufacturers Help the Planet

My story on bottom-line driven environmentalism has just been published in Time.

In the late 1980s, Pier Luigi Loro Piana was in a bind. As a chief executive of the Italian luxury-fashion company Loro Piana, he wanted to offer his customers the finest animal fiber in the world: the hair of the vicuña, a small llama-like creature native to the high plains of the Peruvian Andes. The problem was that the animal was listed as endangered, its fleece subject to an international embargo.

The solution he came up with was to become involved in the animal’s protection. Until the embargo, which had been put in place in the 1970s, the vicuña had been at risk of being hunted to extinction. Its hair, finer than the softest cashmere, fetched high prices on the global market. (Loro Piana’s father Franco had been among the first to import it to Italy.) But the demand had at one point cut the total population to just 5,000. And while the ban on exportation allowed the numbers to rebound, there was little chance the hunt would be permitted again.

The answer, he decided, was to partner with the government of Peru to develop a new way to harvest the vicuña’s hair. Instead of the animal’s being killed for its fleece, it would be sheared like a sheep. The company would get the raw material to make its coats, scarves and sweaters. The Peruvians would be blessed with a new source of income. And best of all, the vicuña would continue to recover. “We needed to find a socioeconomic role for the animals to give the local Peruvians an incentive to protect them,” says Loro Piana. “A live vicuña needed to be worth more than a dead one.”

Read the rest here.