The idea of having eco-friendly jewelry is barely a new phenomenon, but in recent times, the jewelry market has been more vocal than ever on this issue.
If you’ve heard of the 2006 movie, Blood Diamonds, then you probably have a rough idea of what I’m talking about.
As the issue of ethical sourcing gains traction, companies in the jewelry industry experience an emerging challenge- ensuring all their products are eco-friendly.
In this piece, I’ll try to demystify the state of ethical and eco-friendly jewelry market, not forgetting implementations that are underway or already laid out.
So, if you’re keen on finding out more on this emerging trend in the jewelry industry, scroll on!
What Brings About Environmentalism and Eco-Considerations in Jewelry?
The process of mining or sourcing raw jewelry has long been known to have consequential effects on the environment. Such effects widely depending on how the minerals are mined and how easily they can be separated from other materials. That being said, once mining has taken place, the land is usually left bare and full of pits.
Since most of these mining activities take place in developing countries, there is usually a lack of oversight, giving room for exploitation of both the workers and the land. Gems like pearls also have risk factors, even though they are not mined. Washing off multiple organisms that grow on oysters can be a huge problem since they are thrown back into the ocean as organic waste.
When too much organic waste goes into the ocean, fish and other sea animals are unable to fully break down the nutrients, leading to algae blooms and deoxygenation.
Why Is It Hard To Create Eco-Friendly Jewelry?
It all boils down to raw materials. Nearly all raw materials that make jewelry come from the ground. More specifically from under-developed or developing countries spread across the globe. If we look at some of the fundamental aspects of sustainable mining, tracing the supply chain comes first. But it’s one of the most difficult processes to achieve, simply because it is near impossible to trace the origin of a fine polished jewelry..
Most of the mined materials have to pass through several hands before finally reaching the manufacturer (or retailer). So should we stop mining from the ground altogether? I don’t think so. The best way to tackle this issue is to find out how to make the lives of such workers better and improve their living standards.
Below is a great video to give you more context on the problem of ethically sourced diamonds.
What Is The Jewelry Doing About Environmentalism?
One thing about the 21st-century millennials is that they are so information hungry or rather “woke”. This gives no room for laxity in the jewelry industry. Once the industry realized the craze for buying eco-friendly jewelry, certain steps and changes started to take shape.
Companies like DeBeers have teamed up with IBM to use blockchain technology in a bid to increase supply chain transparency. The idea is quite exciting but as with the whole blockchain realm, it’s still too early to celebrate.
What Regulations Are Already in Place For Eco-Friendly Jewelry?
Well, several at least. Let’s look at the three main initiatives promote a proper sourcing practice among jewelers, producers, and manufacturers.
Fairtrade Gold and Fairmined Gold
Small-scale mining of gold accounts for almost 10% of the total gold mined globally. As I mentioned in another piece on ethical sourcing, artisan mining or rather small-scale mining is common in underdeveloped countries and is often characterized by informal and unregulated conditions, intense physical labor, human rights violations, etc. with regards to such challenges, two main custody programs have been established for the production of ethical gold.
Fairmined Gold – deals with artisanal miners, aiming to improve working conditions and environmental outcomes. This flagship currently certifies 7 mines, licenses 12 gold traders in more than 15 countries and has been able to date extract almost 200 kg of gold.
Fairtrade Gold- is also similar to Fairmined gold, only that it was developed under the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation system. Currently, we have 3 certified Fairtrade gold producers and 41 Fairtrade gold traders.
Responsible Jewelry Council
The Responsible Jewelry Council came up with a jewelry-specific code of practice to address the issues of human rights and labor rights, especially in the high-end jewelry market. The RJC has quite a number of members with close to 11 trade associations on board. With almost 67 billion in sales, the RJC hosts close to 918 commercial members. This suggests that close to a third of all sales of luxury jewelry come from RJC members.
Kimberley Process Diamonds
Probably the most notorious jewelry known to have issues with eco-friendliness is diamonds. In some diamond producing mines in Africa, militia and other groups take over the mines, using the sales to fund war, civil conflict, and a host of other not so good stuff. Diamonds sourced from such mining areas are better known as blood diamonds (still remember the movie?).
As a way of tackling this issue, the Kimberley Process was initiated back in 2002 to form a certification scheme to monitor the trade of rough diamonds. In another piece, Kimberly Process noted that their certification process has been able to filter close to 99% of conflict diamonds.
The Canadian Diamond Code of conduct is also a similar initiative that has been reinforcing eco-friendly as well as conflict-free diamonds in Canada.
Despite the intentions behind the Kimberly Process, a number of organizations have pulled out claiming that it has failed to provide enough assurance that diamonds entering the market are not conflict diamonds.
Initiative For Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA)
The IRMA is an initiative to help and protect workers and the areas affected by mining. The system boosts the financial value of companies agreeing to follow their cause. IRMA independently verifies these companies and shares the financial value with retailers that purchase from these mines.
Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM)
The Alliance for Responsible Mining is a worldwide initiative, developed in 2004 as an instrument for changing small-scale mining into an eco-friendly activity that adds value to the lives of the miners as well as the environment.
What Is The Future Of Eco-Friendly Jewelry?
Looking at the pace at which environmentalism is emphasized in the jewelry industry, the major players have no choice but to conform to what people need. Furthermore, the industry would have to be a little more “human” and considerate as to how jewelry is made and possibly being in the loop in regards to the sourcing of these items.
A recent survey by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency showed that metal mining is the number one toxic polluter. In line with this statement, more companies are turning to recycled jewelry as opposed to newly mined pieces.
Companies like KBH jewels have introduced a new line of recycled gold, coining it the New Gold Standard. Recycling is one of the surest ways of promoting eco-friendliness in our ecosystem, so I’d expect more giant jewelers in the coming years. Furthermore, gold is one of the elements that can be recycled without affecting its quality; so, why not produce more recycled gold?
As I mentioned earlier, mining has adverse environmental effects (just google the famous Mir mines in Russia) and there comes a time when mitigation costs become too much for a company to bare. In fact, a couple of companies fail to go green due to expenses involving land reclamation and maintaining ethical practices.
However, there is no real evidence that lab diamonds are better for the environment, yet they are commonly marketed that way. The two processes in which lab diamonds are created uses huge amounts of energy produced by countries reliant on gas and coal. The FTC warns against people marketing lab diamonds as eco friendly without substantial evidence.
Read Also: Are Lab Grown Diamonds Good or Bad?
Lab-grown jewelry, though not natural, are great replacements and a normal lay wouldn’t be able to differentiate synthetic ones from the real deal. When it comes to environmental practices, sourcing synthetic jewelry assures you that an item has not caused any environmental harm- everything happens in the lab!
It is impossible to discuss the future without considering technological advances. As more people press for ethical sourcing and eco-jewelry, the need for tracking the supply chain would be higher. The origin of a certain piece of jewelry will soon drive the purchasing decisions of consumers. So, what’s the possible solution to this?
Yes… you guessed it right!
Honestly, I’m not super techie but I know a few things about blockchain and I’m sure they involve transparency. So, assuming that you’re up to speed with blockchain technology, jewelers could use this system to track an item from where it was mined, all the way to the retailer.
DeBeers have already introduced Tracr, a blockchain-based system of tracking diamonds from the mines all the way to the display shelves. This technology is quite amazing since everything that happens during the process is recorded permanently and cannot be changed by any individual.
All recorded transactions remain transparent and are impossible to edit. This way, consumers will know exactly where an item is coming from including all the hands it passed through.