We try to be mindful of what we put on our bodies: clothes, makeup, skincare, but what about jewelry? Many of us wear jewelry every day, especially wedding rings. But what impact does our jewelry have on the earth?
Let's start with gemstones.
The process to mine gemstones runs the risk of causing pollution, erosion, and destruction of the environment. The process of extracting gemstones requires a lot of water to break up the rocks that encase the gems. Not only is this a huge waste of a precious resource, but it can also run off and pollute the surrounding bodies of water. Overall, unethical mining processes destroy natural environments, displace wildlife, waste a ton of water, and pollute the ecosystem.
Not all mining operations will pose these risks, but as consumers we only see the end product and are detached from the process it takes to create these pieces. So for us it can be extremely difficult to trace the origins of our gemstones, which makes it hard to know what types of practices were used to mine these stones.
So, what can we as consumers do about it?
Luckily we have a few options. Lab grown gemstones are a great alternative to start with. They are exactly the same in their chemical and physical structure compared to their mined counterparts, but they have fewer imperfections, are potentially cheaper, and instead of taking hundreds of years to form the gemstone it only takes months. And the best part? They have a much lower impact on the environment. Compared to mined diamonds, synthetic diamonds use 86% less water, 50% less energy, and produce 95% less carbon emissions.
Another way to ensure your gemstones are environmentally friendly is to buy from jewelers who are supplied by the American Gem Trade Association. The AGTA has developed the industry’s strictest and most comprehensive Code of Ethics and Fair Business Practices, which means that you can be sure your gemstones are mined using ethical practices.
Now let’s look at the metals that make up your jewelry.
Just like gemstones, these metals are mined from the earth and can cause erosion, soil and water pollution, environmental destruction, and all of those other nasty consequences we discussed. Luckily, there are 3 different places to get your metals from to ensure that they are ethically sourced. The first is to get your metals from mines that are Fairtrade certified. Fairtrade ensures human rights, environmental protection, and health and safety requirements are upheld and maintained in their mines. Similarly, getting metals from Fairmined certified mines assures that metals have been mined through safe, environmentally and socially responsible practices.
The final way to get ethical metal jewelry is to use recycled metal. Using metal that has already been dug up from the earth ensures that there is no risk to the environment that further mining could cause, and is arguably the most environmentally-friendly way to source your metals.
Refining metals to be made into jewelry also comes with its environmental hazards.
Hoover & Strong and United Precious Metal Refining, Inc. are both refineries that come with “Certified Responsible Source” designation awarded by Scientific Certification Systems (SCS). Not only does this ensure that these companies get their metals from ethical sources, it also looks at how their facilities function. This means that they are energy efficient, conserve water, properly dispose of waste products, and continuously make improvements to further reduce their environmental impact, such as eco-friendly packaging.
So when it comes to picking out environmentally friendly jewelry, be on the lookout for how they source their gemstones and metals, and what steps they take in the jewelry making process to ensure their environmental impact is minimal. How does their packaging look? If they don’t have an emphasis on using recyclable, environmentally friendly packaging then odds are they don’t have an emphasis on making their whole process environmentally friendly either. Don’t be afraid to contact a jeweler to ask them about what their process is like. They should be fairly transparent about the process and all of the steps they are taking to reduce their environmental impact. If their answers are rather vague, then they are probably not what you are looking for.
If you’re looking for a company to start with then check out Metalicious! We only use ethical sourced gemstones and recycled metal in their jewelry. We specialize in eco-friendly engagement rings but have a ton of options for every jewelry lover!
What are your favorite eco-friendly jewelers? Leave their name down in the comments!
Stephanie Maslow Blackman
I’m the CEO of Metalicious.com, my online NYC-based fine jewelry business that I started in 2005. I am a wife, mom of 2 boys, red-haired, loud laughing metalsmith. I’m so thankful every day to be able to do what I love to support my family. Jewelry is my true passion, I love creating things that bring joy to people, that represent milestones, that make people feel loved. Like tiny works of wearable art you will treasure for a very long time.
Our environment is very important to me so I use recycled metals and ethically sourced gemstones in all of my work. I also use green practices in running my business as much as possible. I’d like to leave behind as small a footprint as I can and hope to be a positive example for my kids for a better future.