We all love beautiful sparkling diamonds and gold, but the social and environmental impacts associated with the $75 billion/year jewelry industry are devastating. Metal mining is one of the most toxic polluters in the U.S. with cyanide, mercury and arsenic contaminating nearby soil and water systems. The gem trade has also long been marked by negative impacts including social disruption, hazardous working conditions, unfair wages, child labor and community displacement.
Sustainable fine jewelry is an emerging trend that blends traditional jewelry craftsmanship and design with sustainable materials and manufacturing. Using recycled precious metals and ethically sourced gems (including lab-grown) drastically reduces the environmental burden while fair-wages and responsible trade allows for jewelry you can truly feel good about.
While there are no universally accepted definitions or standards, “ethically sourced gems” typically refer to one of two types of stones.
The first type is stones that:
- have been extracted from the earth with minimal environmental disruption,
- where a living wage has been paid to the miner and laborers, and
- that can often be traced from the ground to the market are considered ethically sourced.
Some argue that the second type, lab-grown gems, is the most sustainable alternative in that:
- their only environmental impact is the energy required to power the lab machine and
- there is no social consequence.
Genuine sapphires, rubies, emeralds, alexandrites and now even diamonds are being created identical to their mined counterparts. To be clear, the stones are made by mimicking nature and are not imitations.
It isn’t enough for consumers to accept “conflict-free” as a token of sustainability. There are a handful of jewelry companies sincere in their efforts to improve conditions for those most affected by the industry while offering savvy consumers beautiful alternatives. Check out C5 company, Brilliant Earth and GreenKarat.