In October, MYEL was in Chicago to attend a conference on ethical and sustainable jewelry. Along with the conviction that the industry’s future lies in its producers and consumers’ conscious choices, we also learnt about three elements that can propel these choices.
1. Large-Scale, Small-Scale, and Artisanal Mining
Large-Scale Mining – Increasing Productivity at All Costs
The ever-growing global demand for minerals generates an expansion of exploited territories, including remote areas known for their biodiversity. Incentives such as the privatization of resources and the influx of foreign investors drives the mining activities to a point where they destabilize the ecosystem of developing countries and negatively impacts their communities. On a brighter note, large mining companies use increasingly innovative technologies so as to minimise their environmental and social impact.
From that point of view, large-scale mining –if it follows guidelines of environmental and social responsibility – can mobilize significant financial resources to create jobs and contribute to the economic development of remote areas. The respect of the exploited territory is determined by an evaluation of repercussions and gains, and negotiations of agreements with the local communities. It is primordial that protected territories are spared so that biodiversity can thrive.
Artisanal Mining – Trouble for Local Communities
Watching the documentary River of Gold made us aware that the growing global demand for gold means an abusive exploitation of some artisanal and small-scale mines and impend over the local populations through irresponsible mining practices. One of those is the mercury amalgamation technique, a cost-effective yet pollutant way to extract gold, which contributes to the deterioration of the tropical forests in Peru for example.
On the other hand, Roberto Alvarez’s mine in Colombia shows us that it is possible, even for small players, to eliminate irresponsible practices in order to obtain the Fairmined certification. The certification ensures the trustworthiness of the source, control over extraction methods and good work conditions. A lot of small mines make that transition to sustainability and fair practices and benefit from the visibility their efforts grant them.
2. Due Diligence and Blockchain Technology
Due Diligence – Demand Information on Product Provenance
Due diligence is the principle according to which a consumer or an investor questions and verifies the intentions and the trustworthiness of a company before proceeding with a transaction. Individuals can enact this principle to anticipate the direct and indirect negative impacts their transaction might generate.
Consumers and companies can ask the right questions to learn about the source of the product and the practices that are behind it, and contribute to the rise of ethical jewelry by insisting on ethical standards. Being more attentive to our choices as consumers means that we have the power to inspire positive change.
Blockchain – When Technology Remodels the Economy
Blockchain technology, often discussed in relation to the virtual currency Bitcoin, stands for a more transparent, secure and decentralized economic future that intends to facilitate commerce worldwide. The Blockchain system – some say as innovative and transforming as the World Wide Web in the 1990s – automates the steps leading to a transaction and guarantees administrative traceability online.
Operations are listed on an immutable and public database, thus eliminating important costs related to legal paperwork by replacing its many actors with a secured peer-to-peer system. This synchronized online business network will simplify the diamonds and gold chain of supply, from the mine to the consumer. Blockchain technology and companies like TrustChain offer promising solutions to problems that currently plague the jewelry industry.
3. Diversified Supplying - From Lab-Grown Diamonds to Recycled Gems
Lab-Grown Diamonds – An Ethical Alternative
While we wait for diamond suppliers to take the ethical turn, lab-grown diamonds remain our best option. Identical to their mined counterpart, they are produced via chemical and mechanical processes and present the undeniable advantage of having their provenance, purity and quality certified. They facilitate local and responsible production and minimize the supply chain, meaning they also help reduce prices.
Recycled Gems – An Environmentally Friendly Option
Why produce new gems when you can find gems that are already cut and ready to use? Purchasing recycled gems goes hand in hand with reducing our ecological footprint. Without altering the quality of the stone, it can simply be taken out of its old setting and put in a new one before being back on the market with a new certification. Recycled gems allows us to wear original, one-of-a-kind luxury jewelry and contribute to a fairer world.
Conclusion : Small Actions for Big Changes
Solutions do exist to ensure the sustainability of metal and gemstone consumption while protecting both the environment and workforces. That is why we are proud to now be a member of Ethical Metalsmiths, an organization that promote social and environmental responsibility. Ethical Metalsmiths encourage jewelry makers and consumers to become informed activists, promoting responsible mining, sustainable economic development, and trustworthy supply sources for the industry.
Some retailer prefer not to talk about ethical practices unless they can prove they are 100% committed to them. Because the industry is changing slowly, we have to double our efforts to commit to ethical standards. At MYEL, we believe in transparency and telling the truth about our industry’s darker realities, so that the steps we take towards offering 100% ethical jewelry will come to fruition. It can be easy to not talk about issues and not ask ourselves questions, but we don’t believe in that. Talking about the issues that affect our industry is a token of our ethical engagement.
Harvard Business Review France February-March 2018