Ethical jewellery, what does it actually mean?
In recent years, the popularity of ethical jewellery has been increasing as more of us are becoming aware of the environmental footprint associated with what we are buying. Since conventional jewellery-making nowadays has a deeply negative social and environmental impact, it’s very important that we become more aware of what we’re buying and the effect that our choices have on the environment.
In this article, we’ll introduce the basics of ethical jewellery – what it is, why it’s important and how to make sure the jewellery you are buying is as ethical as advertised.
What’s wrong with conventional jewellery production
Precious metal and diamond mining are some of the dirtiest industries in the world, one that has many negative ethical and environmental implications unless performed under strict standards. In this part of the article, we’ll share some of the common practices from conventional jewellery production which ethical jewellery is working to eradicate.
The mining process releases many dangerous chemicals, including arsenic, lead or cyanide, which are often released into the environment by non-ethical producers rather than disposed of properly. These can be dangerous to both the local ecosystems, but also people living in the area, whose water sources can be contaminated. Aside from these chemicals, a lot of mining waste is produced in the process – a single gold ring can generate as much as 20 tons of waste!
The people living in areas where precious metal or diamond mining occurs don’t have it easy. Often, indigenous communities are evicted from their homelands, as they lack legal ownership of the area despite living there for generations. Miners are frequently abused and forced to work in inhumane and unsafe conditions. Often, they’re exposed to extreme temperatures, structurally unsafe tunnels, fires and more.
Additionally, mining is also causing structural changes in the local societies. Mining provides more work for men, but frequently limits the opportunities of women who can also, for example, be exposed to more violence or crime as a result of these social changes.
Economically, it may seem as if mining provides a boost to the local areas. However, this is only a short-term effect which creates more damage than benefits in the long run, as most countries where mining is taking place have no legislative holding mining companies accountable for the environmental and social damage they’re causing.
What does ethical and sustainable jewellery promise?
While there is no enforced definition of the term, ethical or sustainable jewellery is commonly understood to be produced with a reduced social, environmental, economic, cultural or political harm to the local communities. Some of the most pressing issues being addressed by ethical jewellery include safe working conditions, environmental damage to the area, economic contribution to locations where mining takes place or fair wages.
Jewellers labeling their products as ethical or sustainable usually have a section on the standards they upheld on their website, or use further certifications from external bodies, such as Fairtrade, for their products.
While these certifications make it easier to see whether the company truly is upholding, not all ethical jewellery is Fairtrade certified. A good example is recycled jewellery – it’s more ethical than any new jewellery, since no new material has to be produced, but it doesn’t carry the Fairtrade mark.
Ethical silver, gold and other precious metals
If you’re buying new ethical silver or gold jewellery, it’s a good idea to look for a Fairtrade certification or transparent communication from the manufacturer about how their jewellery is made. This means you’re supporting small, independent miners who are protecting the local environment and communities, resulting in much more ethical jewellery than what you’d buy at any non-ethical jewellery store.
However, don’t forget that some of the most sustainable and ethical silver and gold on the market is recycled. Metals are a great material to recycle, as they don’t lose quality in the process and can be recycled indefinitely.
No new materials need to be mined in order to produce recycled ethical silver and, which means you don’t have to worry about any of the environmental threats we’ve discussed before. The only environmental impact is associated with the resources needed to recycle these materials and turn them into a new piece of eco-friendly jewellery and any necessary shipping and transport.
Like many other materials, diamonds are a finite resource – and their numbers in the market have been decreasing in recent years because of that and their prices have gone up. This has also increased the demand for ethically and sustainably sourced diamonds.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a Fairtrade certification for diamonds that could put your mind at ease about the jewellery that you’re buying. That’s why finding new ethical diamonds can be substantially more complicated than finding ethical silver or gold. The key to being successful is complete retailer transparency: look for as much detail on mining practices, labour conditions, cultural impacts and other factors as possible. A ‘conflict-free’ certification does exist for diamonds, but it only covers some of the bases.
Repurposed diamonds are a great way to reduce the environmental impact – not only are you eliminating the need for new diamonds to be mined, but the repurposing of diamonds requires nearly no resources and makes it possible to reuse diamonds which would otherwise be discarded.
Lastly, you may also ask yourself whether diamonds are really necessary. There are many much more eco-friendly alternatives which are also much more affordable. For example, sea glass makes for beautiful and unique additions to jewellery!
Image: Salt & Wild’s Sea Glass ring.
If you’re on the search for your first piece of sustainable and ethical jewellery, we hope this article has been helpful in equipping you with all the information you need to know!