s the ESG movement has started to gather pace across all industries, including luxury goods and watchmaking, some companies have discovered their “green soul”. Oris, based in Hölstein in the north of Switzerland, developed an awareness much earlier. It’s even part of its identity, says co-CEO Rolf Studer. “Environmental responsibility is part of who we are. As an independent company, we have to think about our resources all the time and work in a sustainable way. This has been our attitude from the beginning, and it encompasses both environmental and social aspects.”
After announcing in 2021 that it was carbon-neutral, Oris is publishing its first full sustainability report this year. It’s a key step that also encompasses full transparency on the impact of the company’s activity. Does this represent a risk or an opportunity for the brand? “It doesn’t really matter,” says Rolf Studer. “The report is what it is. Of course, we see it as an opportunity, because we believe it is our duty to be transparent. But in absolute terms, it’s just common sense. We hope it inspires others as well.”
- The Aquis New York Harbor Limited Edition watch, limited to 2,000 pieces, supports the Billion Oyster Project, which is working to reintroduce a billion oysters into New York Harbor.
The ESG movement – and the transparency it entails – does not yet seem to have reached every company in the industry. Should legislators get involved? The director of the manufacture is hesitant. “I’m not a big fan of over-regulation, even if it is sometimes necessary. Today, more and more people are aware of the issues and are interested in them. Brands will naturally move towards an ESG approach. The end customer is becoming increasingly well-informed. The younger generation is pushing this issue. I hope that this will be enough to convince even the most reluctant.”
“I’m not a big fan of over-regulation, even if it is sometimes necessary. Brands should naturally move towards an ESG approach.”
- Rolf Studer, co-CEO of Oris
From Lake Baikal to New York
The year 2014 marked an important step forward in the independent brand’s journey, with the implementation of its Change for the Betterprogramme, which specifies concrete actions for preserving ecosystems. These include support for the Lake Baikal Foundation and the Reef Restoration Foundation, as well as plastic collection drives organised by the Oris Ambassadors for Sustainable Development around the world during the Change for the Better Days.
- Billion Oyster Project volunteers at work in the middle of Manhattan.
The latest action supported by Oris is a big one: the Billion Oyster Project. “The goal is to reintroduce one billion oysters into the waterways of New York City by 2035,” Rolf Studer explains. “It was a natural habitat for the species before mankind’s unrestrained growth spoiled it. Centuries ago, New York Harbor was home to 890 square miles of oyster reefs. An adult oyster can filter up to 227 litres of water per day and oyster colonies create ecosystems for other marine life and natural barriers against storms. Oyster reefs are to the ocean what trees are to the forest. To support this pioneering project, we launched the Aquis New York Harbor Limited Edition watch, limited to 2,000 pieces. Its green mother-of-pearl dial is inspired by the colour of the water in the famous harbour, and the shell of the oyster.”
- Centuries ago, New York harbour was home to 890 square miles of oyster beds. An adult oyster can filter up to 227 litres of water per day.
The aim of this ambitious project is to help clean up New York’s waters and restore aquatic life. Rolf Studer continues: “The work is done by volunteers, and that’s where the change begins. People come together around a project and a goal for the common good. We can all make a difference. We contribute financially and the proceeds from the watch auctions go entirely to the association. But our role is also to facilitate collaborations, like the launch of the project with the first pitch of a Yankees game in New York [Oris sponsors the Yankees baseball team]. This gives the project enormous visibility. Similarly, our collaboration with the Coral Restoration Foundation in Florida has enabled an exchange of technology that is driving the Billion Oyster Project forward. Once the mechanics get going, it becomes a virtuous circle.”
The challenge of balancing the physical and virtual worlds
In addition to supporting carbon offset initiatives around the world, Oris also aims to significantly reduce its own emissions. The Oris Sustainability Report reveals the global impact of its activity: 2,288 TeqCO2 (tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent) for the year 2019. The company is committed to reducing this by 10% each year.
- Oris headquarters in Hölstein. The company is committed to reducing its carbon impact by 10% per year.
Which elements are the most difficult to reduce? Unsurprisingly, transport is one of them. Rolf Studer notes: “Reducing its impact is complicated, especially for a growing company like Oris. We’re trying as best as we can to balance physical and digital contact. The human touch is still very important in luxury, as the renewed popularity of in-person shows this year has demonstrated. The best way to really reduce emissions is to consume less but better. And that is precisely what luxury is all about!”
Beyond the products themselves, the lifestyle as a whole needs to be rethought: “There is already so much that each of us at home can do better. We just need to continue to progress step by step, and be aware of the efforts that need to be made. The responsibility of the luxury industry is primarily at this level: we are in a position where consumers are watching us. We touch a lot of people, our industry has a duty to set an example. We have to inspire people to adopt this change.”
- The recycling process of PET plastic produces random patterns on the Aquis Date Upcycle watches.
What is the role of innovation in the quest for environmental sustainability? “Using more recycled steel in our production is good... but the effect is minimal: we’re talking about the equivalent of 10 cars in terms of impact!” the Oris director replies. “The greatest innovation would be to implement a truly global approach, with broader collaborations. Everyone needs to understand the actions they are taking, how they can improve their impact, and do everything possible to do so. It’s time to move beyond talk and take action. We all need to change!”
“Using more recycled steel in our production is good... but the effect is minimal: we are talking about the equivalent of 10 cars in terms of impact!”
- As part of its global Change for the Better programme, Oris supports the Coral Restoration Foundation in Florida.
Rolf Studer also shares the biggest future challenges for his brand, as well as for the sector in general: “The priority is to stay relevant. We create products that no one really needs today for their original purpose. But our watches are made to last, they can be repaired and they convey a certain idea of consumption. In this sense, watchmaking is totally topical. Sustainability and environmental responsibility add to the relevance of the industry. For Oris, the challenge is also to remain independent and free to continue doing things our way, with meaning.”
- Cleanup Day in Shanghai in 2021
But don’t we need a more holistic industry-wide approach to these challenges? Is a collective approach like this even possible? “Being in friendly competition is an approach that pulls everyone up,” says Rolf Studer. “It’s more effective than regulation. When I see how our staff are involved in all the projects, I realise that the ESG approach is meaningful, creates commitment and motivates people. It’s great. Ten years ago, we were somewhat alone. Today, many more brands are committed to this approach. And it’s the same on the customer side. The issue itself is becoming more global.”
- Initiatives promoted by Oris usually result in watches inspired by the cause they support, such as the Aquis Great Barrier Reef Limited Edition III, inspired by the partnership with the Reef Restoration Foundation in Australia.
In its own way, the independent brand from Hölstein demonstrates that the size of a company does not dictate the extent of its commitment. Transparent governance and staff buy-in make all the difference, and respond to growing demand from consumers. The ongoing Change for the Better programme is also completely in keeping with one of the marketing slogans the pioneering brand used in the past: “Making authentic watches... for authentic people.” It’s all about authenticity in an increasingly transparent world.
“Ten years ago, we were somewhat alone. Today, many more brands are committed. And it’s the same for the customers.”