Panerai’s Eco Initiatives: Change Starts From Within (Plus The Submersible Mike Horn Edition 47mm)
In retrospect, these now-infamous Smash Mouth lyrics couldn’t have been any more prescient:
The ice we skate is getting pretty thin,
The water’s getting warm so you might as well swim,
My world’s on fire, how about yours?
And while the song “All Star” overall sounds like an allegory to the hollowness of fame, this verse could also be taken as a sidelong glance at the topic of climate change and global warming. Regardless what the song’s intent is, it still feels pretty on the nose: the environment isn’t doing too well.
No matter your politics, the data is overwhelming at this point: the planet is warming, we are destroying ecosystems, and the ocean is becoming a floating garbage dump. The effects of industrial civilization over the past 250 years have dramatically affected vast swaths of the earth, and it appears it isn’t going to stop without significant action from countries, corporations, and – to a lesser extent – individuals.
We have developed entire industrial ecosystems that exploit natural resources without considering sustainability, and thus we are beginning to pay the price. Toxic seafood, rising ocean levels, and an uptick in severe weather and natural disasters around the globe are just a few of the many effects we are seeing from climate change.
As such, the topic of sustainability and the effect industry has on the environment have been growing focuses among environmental groups and environmentally conscious businesses alike.
As both a consumer and someone working in product development, I am keenly aware of how much waste can be built into manufacturing products, the packaging, and the transportation to distribute them. And with a passion for nature and a desire to leave a world worth living in for future generations, I am extremely interested in any company that takes steps – big or small – toward reducing its impact on the environment while continuing to produce top-quality products.
Many brands within the watch industry have made token gestures to sustainability, with some attempting to make serious impacts with donations or initiatives.
But most will, understandably, still focus on the bottom line without thinking about the entire business structure and how to overhaul that. It makes sense: this is expensive and risky because it is an investment that may never pay any dividends and only increase overhead expenditures.
However, there are a select few that have taken up the mantle of sustainability for the industry and seek to not only rethink how they do business but inspire others to follow their lead.
A shining example is Officine Panerai, the historical Italian brand under Richemont’s Swiss umbrella, which has not only introduced new materials that promote sustainability but has also developed an entire corporate identity around environmental responsibility and eco-conscious business practices.
The results will be seen in both short- and long-term goals and could very well provide a blueprint for the entirety of Richemont and possibly the whole watchmaking industry to become completely sustainable in the foreseeable future.
Officine Panerai: basis for action
Officine Panerai is known for making dive watches, or more specifically, military-inspired dive and sports watches.
The connection with the sea isn’t just a part of Panerai; it IS Panerai. Even including watches like the Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, Rolex Submariner, or Omega Seamaster the first thing that comes to mind when I think of a dive watch brand is Panerai.
Dive watches are the essence of this brand, and the oceans are intimately connected to the past, present, and future of it. That means whatever happens to the oceans happens to Panerai and many of its customers.
Partnerships with explorers such as Mike Horn have led to many revelations for the brand, one of which was relayed by CEO Jean-Marc Pontroué at SIHH 2019. Pontroué said that during discussions with the explorer, he mentioned that on expeditions to the North Atlantic pollution is visible everywhere, not just limited to where people regularly travel but also found at the ends of the earth if you will.
This helps make it clear that preserving the world is a much more important mission than the brand understood in its past. “Our bread and butter are oceans, the water, and we should be able to be a part of that also, to protect it,” said Pontroué.
Now many companies across a variety of industries have echoed similar sentiments before pledging a fixed amount to one or two organizations that are generally tasked with environmental causes.
But not Panerai. It has an entire code of corporate responsibility that looks at as many aspects of the business as possible with a goal to eventually achieve zero-impact manufacturing combined with ethical and environmentally friendly business practices across the board. The efforts will eventually touch every employee and everything produced by Panerai.
Panerai: eco initiative methods and goals
Panerai’s eco initiatives begin with understanding what the brand produces, all the way from watches to packaging and promotional and internal media. Press releases and catalogs, pamphlets, and anything produced on paper are monitored and calculated to minimize waste and find the most environmentally efficient forms of distribution. Digital media materials are encouraged or mandated in certain respects, and any printed items must use FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified paper, which is from forests harvested responsibly and sustainably.
It even goes further up the chain: Panerai’s suppliers are encouraged to obtain PEFC certification, which relates to forest management and forestry techniques. Certain suppliers have also committed to managing the creation of printed materials with eco-friendly inks and packaging.
Internal communication is mostly limited to digital avenues, and required official presentations will be the only things physically printed off in color (always using double-sided printing) as well as attempting to reuse paper printed on only one side – again on FSC-certified paper. Serious about paper use and waste, and we haven’t even left Panerai’s management offices.
Next, we come to the products it actually sells; much of the manufacture has been assessed for efficiency, sustainability, and ethical sourcing of materials. But let’s first talk about the variety of materials that Panerai uses.
For strap materials such as leathers, Panerai has eliminated the use of exotic leathers and focused on what can be verified to be as ethically sourced leather as possible (but not vegan leathers, which may be worse for the environment).
The producers follow CITES regulations (the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), where the aim is to eliminate endangered species harvesting and help support wild populations. Panerai hasn’t denounced animal leathers altogether, and I’m not sure if a purely ethical argument can be made for going to only textile and rubber strap options at present.
The latest Submersible Mike Horn Edition features a strap made out of three recycled PET plastic bottles, which is a strap option the brand hopes to make a permanent fixture of its watches. This directly reduces (albeit by a miniscule amount) the plastic waste that makes its way into the oceans, which is a significant percentage of ocean debris.
Panerai: watches and processes
When it comes to what makes up the watches themselves, there are some specifics that Panerai employs for materials. First, it makes all suppliers sign the Richemont Suppliers Code of Conduct, a five-page contract that outlines labor practices, material acquisition guidelines, and general ethical guidelines that helps ensure the suppliers are all above board.
I do not have any information on the enforcement of such a contract, so this may be window dressing; we don’t know for sure.
But for diamonds, gold, and other precious metals Panerai obtained a certification from the Responsible Jewellery Council, which monitors the ethical sourcing and use of such items from mining all the way to retail. This organization is what certified the Fairtrade/Fairmined standard for precious metals and gemstones so the sources are likely similar, if not the same.
For metals and materials not covered under this umbrella Panerai is seeking other goals, mainly the increased use of recycled materials for as much of the physical watch as possible. The first big introduction, aside from the recycled bottle strap, is Eco-Titanium, which is recycled aerospace-grade titanium for use as cases. The Submersible Mike Horn Edition is the first to offer such a material, which comes to 80 grams of recycled titanium per case.
The material comes from the French company EcoTitanium (what a coincidence), which was purposefully built to bring titanium recycling to Europe and saves around 100,000 tons of CO2 a year from being released into the atmosphere compared to traditional titanium ore refinement.
CO2 reduction is a big part of the sustainability equation for Panerai, but I’ll get to that in a bit. Regarding recycled materials used in watches, Panerai wants the percentage of recycled materials in a watch to become a benchmark to compare watches.
A decent percentage of the Submersible Mike Horn Edition is recycled, including the case, buckle, and strap. In the future, one might compare percentages, with one watch having 50 percent recycled materials, another 80 percent, and the top of the line 100 percent recycled.
Personally I am dubious about 100 percent recycled since that would mean every part of the movement, including jewels, mainsprings, and hairsprings would need to be recycled. But striving for mostly recycled would still be a massive achievement. The packaging for its watches already is 100 percent recycled, so if Panerai focuses on the watches then I’m sure it will achieve a respectable goal.
But regardless of the recycled content of a watch case or the reduction in paper usage, the biggest factor in sustainability for any company is the use of renewable resources and managing the brand’s carbon footprint.
Oh, the dreaded “footprint.”
Many companies will purchase carbon credits in an attempt to offset its carbon footprint, a technical workaround to avoid actually making changes to how manufacturing operates. I’d call that lazy and missing the point.
Panerai doesn’t seem to want to go that route, instead focusing on the manufacturing processes and how energy is obtained, used, and, if possible, used again. It built a “zero-impact manufacture” that integrates a variety of solutions to optimize production for the reduction and offsetting in CO2 output. Solutions include using the water required for production processes again in toilets, cooling systems, and general cleaning.
The heat of production machinery is captured to augment the heating system, reducing the need to burn fossil fuels and using the byproducts of energy consumption in new ways. A state-of-the-art pump system also aids in optimizing the heating and cooling systems by minimizing thermal losses. Some electricity still comes from traditional renewable power production.
But that isn’t the only way to control company CO2 emissions. Company guidelines suggest “best practices” company wide that detail large things like always choosing teleconferencing over travel if possible, choosing trains over airplanes when travel is required, and avoiding express shipping for anything if not needed (express shipping might be the bane of the modern convenience economy).
Other suggestions include easy energy saves like shutting down computers at the end of the day, using public transportation or bicycles for the daily commute, printing as little as possible, recycling as much as possible, and even discussing the use of air conditioning when windows are open (here’s a hint: don’t).
Panerai even tries to educate suppliers on eco-friendly lifestyles to extend the reach as much as possible, casting a broad net to help the environment as much as possible through all avenues of production.
So products like the Submersible Mike Horn Edition demonstrate a visible commitment to recycling and reducing waste, and the public displays of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) with initiatives like the Pangaea yacht (built from recycled materials and showcasing environmental decline) indicate a corporate philosophy that looks beyond itself and to the world of which it is a part.
But most of the work goes on during production thanks to a litany of conscious and purposeful changes to how Panerai operates.
I know it would be hard to expect this effort of every brand, but these types of changes across all different industries could dramatically help optimize what we are currently working under. Entire industries could shift, and long-term problems could be mitigated with similar long-term thinking.
It remains to be seen exactly how well these initiatives will play out for Panerai and its bottom line in the long run, but I might imagine it will provide another focal point for the famous Paneristi.
Personally, I enjoy the eco initiatives and wish more companies, inside or outside Richemont, would adopt similar policies. If anything, start with the easy things such as adding new materials like recycled titanium or plastics and switching to digital media instead of printed materials.
From there it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump away from being reasonably ethical and sustainable. So far we only have one earth, and it would be nice to keep it comfortable while we live here.
For more information, please visit www.panerai.com/us/en/collections/watch-collection/submersible/pam00984-submersible-mike-horn-edition.
Quick Facts Officine Panerai Submersible Mike Horn Edition 47mm – PAM00984
Case: 47 mm, Eco-Titanium
Movement: automatic in-house Caliber P.9010, three-day power reserve, twin spring barrels, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, small seconds; date