You already consider the environmental impact of many of the things you buy. So when a special occasion arises and you’re considering a jewelry purchase, why not do the same? Here are the issues to factor into your choice.
Natural and Human Elements
Natural resources are the building blocks of any piece of fine jewelry. Gold, silver and gemstones must be extracted from the earth through mining, which impacts the environment. In addition, the fair and ethical treatment of the individuals who are employed throughout the entire process is being looked at with increasing scrutiny.
Gold Mining Processes and Improvements
Gold mining processes can have a considerable environmental impact, both from the extraction of the raw material from the Earth and the extraction of gold from the ore. Cyanide, employed at large scale commercial mining operations, and mercury, favored by informal small-scale miners, are the two most commonly used chemicals. Both can filter into the surrounding ground, water and air if not properly contained.
Today, the mining industry is working toward improved practices that promote sustainability and minimize impact. The International Council on Mining & Metals, a CEO-led group that promotes raising standards across the industry, has created a list of 10 principles for improved sustainability in the mining and minerals sector. These principles range from integrating sustainable development considerations within the corporate decision-making process to upholding fundamental human rights and respecting cultures, customs and values of those affected by mining activities.
Several large mining companies are making innovative changes to improve their performance. Newmont Mining Corporation, for example, was a founding member of the International Council on Mining and Metals. And Rio Tinto’s Kennecott Utah Copper Bingham Mine does not use cyanide or mercury. It is also doing much more to lessen the impact of its processes such as generating much of its own power, recycling water many times over, and recovering metals from materials that were once wasted.
LEARN MORE: The mining industry is lessening its impact and conserving resources.
Diamonds and the Kimberley Process
The term “conflict diamonds” refers to stones that originate from parts of Africa controlled by forces opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments. The revenue from these diamonds is used to fund military action in opposition to those governments.
Working closely with the United Nations, governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) the diamond industry has developed the Kimberley Process Certification System. This system guards against conflict diamonds entering the legitimate diamond supply chain. The diamond industry also adopted a voluntary System of Warranties to assure consumers that their diamonds are from sources free of conflict.
Today, 74 governments have made the Kimberley Process Certification System national law, and now more than 99 percent of the world's diamonds are from conflict-free sources. The diamond industry continues to work to strengthen the Kimberley Process and the System of Warranties.
Before You Shop
When you begin to consider a jewelry purchase, there are several steps you can take to help ensure you’re making a socially responsible, environmentally friendly choice.
- Ask questions: Often, businesses won’t alter their policies until their customers demand it. Tell retailers that you’re concerned about the environmental impacts of the jewelry you buy, and that you want to see documentation of their policies. Ask where stones and metals come from, and request proof. Ask about the store’s own environmental policies, which can be indicative of the importance it places on larger environmental issues.
- Choose a retailer with an established policy: Many large retailers are taking positive steps to ensure the jewelry they sell is responsible, from mine to shelf. Wal-Mart, the world’s leading retailer of jewelry recently introduced the Love,EarthTM product line, which is fully traceable. The line is part of a Wal-Mart initiative to achieve 100 percent traceability for all of the gold, silver and diamond jewelry sold at its stores.
- Consider recycled jewelry: Vintage jewelers offer countless choices for a memorable purchase, with no additional impact on the planet. More and more smaller manufacturers are using recycled metals and gemstones in new pieces.
Today’s environmentally conscious jewelry shopper has more information and resources at hand than ever before. Those resources, combined with improvements made by the mining, manufacturing, and retailing industries, are making it easier to ensure your next jewelry purchase is rooted in compassion and respect for the planet.
READ MORE: From Source to Shelf: The Emergence of the Green Supply Chain