Sustainable and ethical jewelry is produced from open, honest methods of production. From sourcing practices to sustainable materials to transportation, sustainable and ethical jewelry aims to be as sensitive to the planet as possible.
This article outlines what sustainable and ethical manufacturing is and some environmental concerns with the concept.
Sustainable and ethical manufacturing aim to be:
- Not sourced from conflict zones.
- Reward the local producers with fair wages.
- Enforce safe working practices and conditions.
Producing truly sustainable jewelry such as this ocean ring is complex and time-consuming. Most importantly, it can be difficult to actually ensure that the carbon footprint of so-called sustainable pieces does not exceed that of regular alternatives.
There are three important aspects to monitoring the carbon footprint of sustainable and ethical manufacturing:
- Supply chain efficiency.
- Environmental concerns and mining.
The first step when evaluating jewelry’s sustainability and ethics is to think about how items are purchased. Some jewelry is top-quality luxury style. Other pieces are one-off items that end up filling jewelry boxes and are rarely, if ever, worn. These cheap and unsustainable pieces are worn a few times during their life.
The global jewelry market is forecast to reach over $480 billion by 2025. Most of this is known to be cheap, also known as ‘one-year jewelry.
As well as being environmentally damaging from a production perspective, single-use jewelry continues to cause damage even at the end of its life. The cheaper green layers used to make ‘gemstone’ style jewelry leak toxic substances into the water tables.
Overconsumption is fuelled by the aggressive advertising of new designs from the big jewelry brands and the rapid fulfillment provided by the eCommerce boom. It is important that this cycle is broken and more sustainable alternatives to jewelry consumption are found. The chain of supply and demand is what currently fuels unsustainable growth.
The issue of supply chains
The supply chain for jewelry production is complicated to keep in check. Mining often occurs in one state, processing occurs in another, followed by actual jewelry crafting. This cross-border process is highly complex, from the initial exploration of natural resources to selling the end products.
With so many touchpoints lacking appropriate regulatory control, corruption is another major obstacle to supply chains. Even basic transparency can be lacking. This means a lack of oversight on everything from mining processes to health & safety provision for workers.
Environmental concerns and mining
For every tiny diamond that is mined, hundreds of tons of soil have to be shifted. The environmental impact of mining machinery and mines themselves on natural habitats cannot be understated.
Mining precious metals used in rings and other jewelry is almost as bad. All kinds of pollutants are the by-products of metal processing plants. There is also a high risk of groundwater contamination and poisoned drinking water. This can be so serious that local villages can be exposed to toxic substances such as cyanide or mercury.
Loss of natural habitats also occurs due to mining for the natural resources required in jewelry production. One thing often leads to another, with deforestation causing a loss of biodiversity. From there, a lack of vegetation then contributes to erosion and landslides due to the relatively unstable soil.
Much of it goes into landfill sites at the end of short-life jewelry’s lifecycle to compound matters. The biodegradable nature of the cheap materials used in some jewelry means that they then occupy landfills permanently.
Buying sustainable and ethical jewelry is not to be confused with being anti-jewelry. It is still possible to look fashionable while protecting the planet. Ethical production is also about ensuring that local people involved in the different stages of the assembly process receive their fair share.
As with other unsustainable industries, jewelry production relies on demand. As the global trends in single-use jewelry sales continue to soar, overconsumption remains rife. Until this trend is reversed, it is unlikely that the global jewelry trade will become sustainable.
Improvements in ethics are another matter entirely because this can be addressed with more rigorous controls and governance over the different elements of the supply chain. A small number of big producers still dominates a large proportion of the worldwide trade. The onus is, therefore, on these organizations to identify and prevent unethical behavior in jewelry production.