The luxury world is filled with talk about “social good.”
The wealthy are going Green, we’re told. They care about how companies treat their workers and communities. They prefer to practice responsible Lux-Anthropy, which maintains you can buy that expensive handbag or necklace and still feel good about its positive impact on mankind.
But apparently, there limits to Lux-Anthropy.
A new survey from the Luxury Institute shows that just 39 percent of consumers with more than $150,000 in income are willing to pay a premium for brands that champion high ethical standards. And the number of affluent consumers who seek out ethical brands is down by 11 percent since 2007.
"Even wealthy consumers have de-emphasized social responsibility as this economy focuses everyone on price value and away from social issues," says Luxury Institute CEO Milton Pedraza.
That’s not to say ethical standards have no value. Almost half (45 percent) of wealthy consumers say they seek out ethical brands. And brands known for their ethical standards are among the most successful with affluent consumers.
Apple, BMW, Coach, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Nordstrom, Starbucks and Whole Foods are often cited as top ethical brands.
Clearly, being ethical is an important, and maybe even necessary, attribute for brands aimed at the affluent and wealthy. Yet it takes a lot more than good ethics to get customers to pay a premium.
Ethics may be the icing on the cake. But ultimately, luxury consumers won't pay more just for icing.
-By CNBC's Robert Frank
Follow Robert Frank on Twitter: @robtfrank