Let’s face it the words ethical jewellery, sustainable jewellery or eco friendly are awash on e-commerce and social media, they are the words du jour. As consumers we have started to ask more questions of brands and retailers who use these words readily but what do they mean and what do you need to look out for, what is greenwashing?
- Jewellery ethics quite simply is the moral compass of a brand by which they stand by.
- jewellery sustainability is the impact it has on the world and environment, is it harmful?
- Eco friendly is similar to sustainability where it focuses on environmental impact.
What is greenwashing?
When you club these three aspects together in relation to jewellery you need to look into a brands ethos and if they are using the words as a marketing ploy to make them look ethical and sustainable, to'greenwash' or if they are making a conscious effort to become better. Greenwashing ultimately is where they state they create ethical jewellery and sustainable jewellery and perhaps spin it where they look like they have a couple of ethical aspects (aspects that you don't really need to try hard to set up) but look below the surface and its all for show, they aren't actively pushing and evolving their whole brand to improve their ethical and sustainable credentials, its all superficial.
The ethical jewellery questions you need to ask
Having spent over 20 years in the jewellery trade I recognise the complexities of it. It is recognised that the 3rd world have biggest natural resources but unfortunately open to corruption and conflict with most damage caused to artisanal miners as they haven’t the ability to stand up for themselves (who would when you have corrupt generals seizing power of mines and using the army against you, and yes we are also talking about the killing and violence towards innocent civilians) and trust us becoming an ethical jeweller isn’t an easy process if your truly want it but there are things for consumers look out for to buy ethical jewellery:
- Where does the metal come from? Freshly mined metal from humongous mines is harmful to the environment as mercury and other chemicals in a massive scale are used to blast and pummel at the ground to release the metal. This is catastrophic to the surrounding environment as the amount of poisonous material released into the surrounding eco systems is immense. Recycled metal is better as it’s old metal such as gold, refined into fresh bullion to work with, it doesn’t come straight from the ground but doesn't really help artisanal miners in the 3rd world to better themselves, in essence it’s a neutral way of working with metals, and I’ll be honest it’s very easy to implement this aspect. Here comes the best way of working with materials and for me shows when a brand is more committed to an ethical standpoint; Fairtrade gold and Fairmined gold. Artisanal small scale miners mine the metal, gold or silver, and they get a fair price for their material, the gold is also sold at a slight premium so that money can go back to the miners to support infrastructure, education and a better standard of living. My favourite is Fairtrade eco gold or silver because not only do you support the artisanal miners but you also ensure that the material is mined in a way to minimise any damage to the environment however this isn't so freely accessible to obtain.
Small scale artisanal gold mining, courtesy of Fairmined Gold ©
- Where do the diamonds come from? Most people have heard of the term ‘Kimberley process’. Which in simple terms countries and mining companies have clubbed together to 'ensure' no diamond presented to rough market (before cutting) is from conflict. However after years in place it is recognised there are loopholes to get conflict diamonds into the open market through this process. Hence the Kimberley process has been a murky standard for years. The ethical approach is to use Canadamark diamonds which are fully traceable to Canadian mines, however the downside is that you don't support artisanal miners in the 3rd world. There are also alluvial diamonds, diamonds found on river and sea beds by 3rd world divers and then cut in Johannesburg so its great way of helping those divers and cutters but choice is limited.
- Where do the gemstones come from? Similar to diamonds, how can you trace gemstones? Smaller stones in jewellery is difficult to fully trace as its often not cost effective to do so. Ask a jeweller a question about the supply chain, ideally they would be able to track it back to the cutter but not to the mine. You can purchase fully traceable small stones (melee) but the price of these are extremely high compared to the standard market price where ultimately these prices will be passed on to the consumer, or the jewels cant be sold as they aren't competitively priced, us jewellers need to make some profit to make a living! Larger stones are easier to purchase from ethical sources as its then more cost effective to put in the traceability but you would need to ask the question of each jeweller where their stones come from.
- What is the packaging made from? Is the box, tissue paper, ribbon made for recycled materials, can they be recycled or will they bio degrade? Often its the foam inside a jewellery box that creates an unsustainable box. Luckily for us we have developed a 100% sustainable box for our ethical jewellery!
- How do they treat people? Not just clients and customers, but also their suppliers and collaborators. Are they inclusive, have they got a good reputation in every sense?
- Do the smaller things matter? If a jeweller truly wants to be sustainable and ethical they will sweat the small things, what they use in their office and workshop or where their electricity comes from, what is their display made from?
If a jeweller is truly ethical and sustainable then their actions and opinions towards things will be visible and transparent whether its on their website or that you email them with questions, they should be able to answer all of the questions above. I actually don't like the term ethical or sustainable jeweller as that implies perfection or you are already at the standard of being as ethical and sustainable as can be. This is the case with no one, not even us. No one has a halo around their head because technologies are evolving, the red tape is constantly changing and the jewellery trade is so complex I've only breezed over the difficulties within the trade so I prefer the term ethically and sustainably minded, we are constantly looking for ways to improve with one announcement on our gold we use coming imminently, stay tuned to find out how Origin 31 is ethically and sustainably minded.
Origin 31 is featured within The Good Shopping Guide’s Ethical Fashion Directory