Toothpaste and Tiffany's

Today's conference co-sponsored with JustMeans is not the only Financial Times event this year focusing on sustainable business. In June, the annual FT Business of Luxury Summit is organized around the theme, "Beyond Green: Economics, Ethics & Enticement."

For many who work in social enterprise, luxury goods are not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when formulating examples of social business and corporate social responsibility. However, the luxe trade has a rich heritage of work in fostering social improvement, and not just through charitable fundraisers and philanthropic donations.

To a degree that we have yet to comprehend, much of what we now perceive as the floor of social sustainability was not too long ago identified with luxury. The most obvious example is the institutional infrastructure of personal hygiene, from the plumbing systems that facilitate daily bathing and flush toilets to soap, shampoo, toothpaste and, yes, even cosmetics and stylish clothing. The history of the integration of these products into our daily lives provides an object lesson in how the marketing of upward mobility can have pervasive--and positive--system effects.