While we might love to shimmer and shine with our latest jewellery acquisitions, did you know that just like fast fashion, jewellery production can be incredibly harmful to the environment and people? Moreover, jewellery uses materials that often involve mining, thus adding an extra layer of complexity to its eco-friendliness. Here is a breakdown to help you know everything essential about sustainable jewellery.
What is sustainable jewellery?
Sustainable jewellery encompasses any jewellery that is made keeping the planet, including the environment and its inhabitants, in consideration. This is done by ensuring the materials used are eco-friendly, sourcing practices are responsible, and the supply chain is transparent. It also means that the people working on the jewellery are paid a fair wage and are treated well. Basically, the fundamentals of environmentally-friendly jewellery are the same as slow fashion.
Similar to the fashion industry, there has been a huge rise in the demand for eco jewellery and a concurrent growth in greenwashing. The Conscious Jewelry Trend Report 2020, for example, showed that the searches for “ethical jewellery” increased by 75%. McKinsey also found that by 2025, sustainability-influenced purchases will account for 20 to 30 percent of all fine jewellery sales, equivalent to almost US$110 billion. But due to this demand, there have been a number of companies that are using the buzzwords “ethical” or “sustainable” flippantly. So when looking for eco-friendly jewellery, be sure to do your own research!
How is sustainable jewellery made?
The mine to market journey of your earring or necklace is one that has many areas that can deeply impact the environment and trying to tackle them all is no easy feat. So when investing in sustainable jewellery, these are the things you must look for in the companies you buy from mentions Fabiana Gonzalez, co-founder of Vipop’s sustainable jewellery.
The first components of the jewellery are the materials, so whether you are buying a diamond engagement ring or a silver nose pin, thinking about where it is coming from is essential. The most sustainable way to source materials is to reuse and recycle existing gems, metals and other materials. Precious metals such as gold and silver can easily be melted down and remade into other pieces. Plus, it doesn’t lose its monetary value!
Sourcing clean gems
Choosing gems that are ethically sourced or lab grown are another way to be more sustainable. Given the dangers of mining, and the pay issues and conflict, it’s worth choosing brands that source ethically; mentioning worker rights, health, and safety. Lab grown diamonds take away the dangers and also reduce the environmental impact of mining.
Transparent Supply Chain
There is a lot said about blood diamonds that are used to fund conflict and war, and therefore it is important for a brand to be clear about where the jewellery piece and its components are coming from. One way technology is revolutionizing is to use advancements such as blockchain. Another option is to buy from local artisans to ensure the greatest transparency.
Low Impact Processing
The production element of jewellery making, i.e. taking a metal and making them into your favourite pair of earrings or bracelet, also involves energy and individuals. Be sure to check how they are produced – are they hand-made? Do they pay fair wages to their artisans? Or are they mass produced? Do the factories run on renewable energy? Does the company offset their emissions?
Another way to ensure that your jewellery is sustainable and ethical is to see if it has certain certifications. Fair Trade is one of the most popularly obtained certifications if the producers have good working conditions, sustainable activities and provide fair wages. Another certification specifically is The Kimberly Process, which is a U.N. international standard for non-conflict diamonds. Fair mined (for gold, silver, and platinum) ensures that the precious metals come from small-scale mining communities that use sustainable extraction practices. Other labels to look out for including Responsible Jewellery Council and Institute for Responsible Mining Assurance.
Why is sustainable jewellery so important?
In recent years due to the increase in spending power and great marketing, there has been a rise in the consumption of jewellery. This along with complex supply chains, questionable worker conditions and an unavoidable environmental impact means that traditional jewellery is just not viable in the long run. It is incredibly hard to gain transparency in the jewellery sector, which is why conflict diamonds have been operating for years. Due to the corruption in this industry, there have been issues of dangerous worker situations, child labour and unfair wages.
The environmental concerns are also widespread, mainly coming from mining. The carbon footprint of mining diamonds is equivalent to 1.5 million cars on the road and one tonne of gold mining releases 36,793 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Mining also uses a lot of water while contaminating the water supply and soil with chemical waste such as cyanide, mercury, and sulphuric acid. To combat these issues, buying high quality and low quantity, i.e. slow jewellery, is the solution.
Ultimately, it is evident that sustainable jewellery is the best step forward to start tackling the fashion industry’s environmental and ethical problems. Given the deep-seated and extensive issues, ranging from conflict diamonds to worker wellbeing to carbon emissions, it is essential that as customers, we start demanding change with both our voices and wallets.