Because today’s consumers are investing in more than a simple product, demand for ethically-sourced jewelry is on the rise. Millennials are aware of the problems with overconsumption and the impact their purchases make on the planet. They want to be part of the solution. Those searching for gifts for wife and anyone else are deeply concerned with ethics behind the production of these items. As the saying goes, the customer is always right, and jewelry suppliers are taking note. Recycled, up-cycled, and re-refined minerals and gems are just some of the ways manufacturers are finding to reduce environmental impact. Read on to learn five ways jewelry is becoming cleaner and greener.
Pearl farming sometimes gets blamed for polluting ocean water, but many growers are taking steps to produce sustainably cultured pearls. For example, rather than power-spraying the oysters to remove unwanted extras like barnacles, farmers may move the mollusks to shallow water where fish clean them, creating a more natural food cycle. Other eco-friendly upgrades include using solar and wind to provide electricity at their farms.
Pearls cultured in freshwater are quite naturally eco-friendly for the simple reason that oysters grow more and better pearls in clean, healthy conditions. That said, freshwater pearl farmers are adopting even more innovative and sustainable practices, such as harvesting rainwater to replenish lakes.
‘Fair Trade’ covers a range of ethical practices that are meant to protect the planet and also improve the lives of the people who live on it. Fair trade standards promote the health and safety of artisans, offer sustainable income, and encourage environmental stewardship. Jewelry labeled ‘Certified Fair Trade’ means that a fair wage was paid to create the piece. Ideally, both the raw materials and the manufacturing processes adhere to internationally agreed upon standards. Fair Trade may also mean that the item was made of local, natural materials. But because this is not always the case, look for labels such as FLO-I, IFAT, NEWS! and EFTA, or their umbrella group, FINE so you can shop with confidence.
The film Blood Diamond was highly influential in driving demand for ethical gems. Diamond mining can be problematic in multiple ways. The mining process may be harmful to the environment, including reckless excavation that causes the collapse of entire ecosystems. Rerouting rivers and building dams can be devastating to fish and other wildlife. Open pits that fill with stagnant rainwater can become infected with disease-carrying mosquitoes and other water-borne illnesses. Diamonds mined in war zones may also fund illicit activities and human rights abuses.
While supply chains for diamonds are complex, diamonds from conflict zones have decreased significantly in recent years. The Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) was implemented in 2003 and has helped to better track the source and flow of diamonds. While the KPCS has been criticized for failing to address problems such as smuggling and money-laundering, it is a step in the right direction. Conflict diamonds have been reduced to less than 1% of total diamond production.
An alternative to natural diamonds is lab-grown. You can be sure your jewels didn’t fund a war when you buy cultured stones. Additional environmental benefits include manufacturers’ cleaning air exposed to chemicals prior to release and neutralizing liquid waste before disposal. The small amount of harmful chemicals remaining is disposed of in an ecologically-sound manner. Cultured diamonds are structurally identical to those that come from the earth, and take only days to produce rather than millions of years. As an added bonus, lab-created diamonds are often less expensive than their mined counterparts.
Industrial gold mining can decimate habitats, contaminate water supplies, and create enormous amounts of poisonous waste. Open-pit mining and cyanide leaching are just two of the damaging but unfortunately common practices used in gold mining today. Your average-size gold band generates about 20 tons of toxic materials.
Over a hundred jewelry retailers including big names like Zales, Tiffany’s and QVC have agreed to comply with the ‘No Dirty Gold’ campaign. Mining companies pledge to disclose their practices and promise to excavate only in areas that are conflict-free and are not ecologically fragile. Additionally, these organizations agree to not contaminate the air, water or earth with their practices, and to adhere to basic human rights regulations.
While the practice of mining probably won’t end anytime soon, more artisans are opting to create pieces from reclaimed materials. Precious metals last forever; it’s part of what makes them so valuable. Recycling precious metals like gold, silver and platinum just makes sense. This is especially true due to the increasing demand for rare earth metals in the manufacture of cell phones and other electronics. Add to that gold mining is one of the most environmentally destructive types of mineral extraction processes out there and recycling becomes an obvious choice. Gold and platinum are both rarer than diamonds and it is not yet cost-effective to create them in a lab. Sources of precious metals for recycling include post-consumer waste, industrial-use metals and electronic components.
Sue Seabury is a novelist and regular contributor to the The Pearl Source blog. She lives in Baltimore where she divides her time between office and kitchen.