Sustainability is an oft overused buzzword, especially when it comes to the fashion and jewelry industries. It’s a blanket word used liberally as lip service, but in reality, the practices that make jewelry eco-friendly and sustainable aren’t being followed as they should.
The jewelry industry, specifically, has a lot of different touchpoints where being sustainable and eco-friendly needs to come into play, and the lack of transparency makes it difficult for the consumer to know if each stage hits the mark. And, consumers want to know: a 2020 study by McKinsey surveyed over 2,000 people in the UK and Germany to gauge their engagement with sustainability, and if there was a growing inclination from consumers to see brands adopt more eco-friendly practices in a post-COVID-19 world. Of the respondents, two-thirds responded saying that it is more important to limit impacts on climate change; 57 per cent have themselves made significant changes to their lifestyles to lessen environmental impact; 67 per cent consider the use of sustainable materials to be an important purchasing factor. Millennials and Gen-Z consumers are the ones who are most likely to be spearheading this sustainability charge and are actively searching for options, including eco-friendly and sustainable jewelry. So, what exactly is eco-friendly jewelry?
Firstly, eco-friendly jewelry goes beyond using recycled materials and ethically-sourced gemstones (while these are, of course, crucial elements). Each stage before the final item is ready for consumption—starting from exploration and mining to cutting, polishing and creation—has an impact on the environment in terms of pollution, waste, disposal and usage of hazardous materials, and even social impact like worker welfare and fair trade. To give a little more context about the impact of jewelry mining, research shows that a single carat of a polished diamond will produce about 160 kilograms of carbon dioxide—that’s the same amount driving a car for approximately 628 kilometers would emit. The impact of that diamond goes deeper still: to mine a natural diamond, the earth must move. Studies have shown that for a diamond anywhere between 200 to 400 million times as much rock needs to be extracted. The magnitude of the carbon footprint varies across metals and gemstones, but it’s clear that each jewelry piece has a heavy stride.
So, in order to be classified as sustainable and take into account the environment and society, there is a need to collectively address these issues and for brands to align each facet with sustainable norms.
Now, why—and how—should someone choose sustainable jewelry for casual outings and events that require more glamour (and everything in between)?
Generate less waste
Typically, the production of fine jewelry generates tonnes of waste; so as a consumer, with each eco-friendly jewelry piece you consume, you reduce your own carbon footprint by opting for choices that limit chemicals and water in their production, thereby reducing pollution as well. This waste transfers to usage as well, with fast fashion trends that emphasise quick purchases with low wear time. When you choose sustainable jewelry, you’re not buying into passing trends—you’re making a worthy investment.
A responsible outlook
Sustainable jewelry brands assess each step of the supply chain to ensure responsible and conflict-free sourcing, and they also pay attention to the labor welfare of the places being sourced from by taking into account local conditions. By supporting such brands, you, as a consumer, are supporting fair practices and encouraging them to be adopted by more companies.
With eco-friendly jewelry, you’re opting for timeless and conscious designs, and something you won’t find elsewhere due to limited production. Conscious design can also be incorporated by working with known and upcoming designers who are equally keen to make the design process more circular and will incorporate upcycled stones and materials to avoid wastage. These pieces are one-of-a-kind, don’t compromise on quality, and often use novel design techniques, which leads to the next reason.
To upcycle metals and stones and use sustainable materials to make eco-friendly jewelry, designers get the chance to play with both form and function. You’ll find pieces that serve a multi-purpose role with detachable elements, allowing you to mix and match sensibilities as desired. Think of a brooch that detaches into individual bracelets, or a choker with a detachable headpiece. This again comes back to less wastage and more utility value for consumers. Creating such jewelry, however, requires an investment in talent and the space for them to innovate without chipping away at the end result’s finesse.
Supporting the SDGs
The Sustainable Development Goals can, and should, be abided by and strived for by every brand. They lay out a framework that can be followed in order to create a sustainable society, and these naturally extend to every industry and individual. When you make the choice to support any brand that respects these goals, you are doing so as well.
Fine jewelry that’s also eco-friendly jewelry doesn’t have to compromise on anything: not quality, not appearance, and not durability. And as a consumer, you have the right to all of these things—as well as the assurance that you’re helping society make strides in the correct direction. What does this look like for you? A little more research when searching for jewelry that you wish to become a keepsake. Holding brands accountable for their processes and expecting transparency is the first step. Next is looking at the materials being used and asking questions. Even when shopping online, you should have clarity that the brand is socially motivated and has values that align with your own. If it’s sourcing precious and semi-precious stones, you should be confident that they can be traced back to ethical sourcing chains. By coming together, brands and consumers can reduce the environmental footprint and make a difference.