The latest news from the world of sustainability, the latest views from the brains behind Best Foot Forward
Blog by Nicola Jenkin, Senior Consultant, 20 February 2013
Being of South African origin, jewellery has been part of my life – whether a gold bracelet given to mark a graduation or a simple beaded ring bought on the side of a dusty road from a woman bearing a bright sunny smile. Even though important memories are attached to a signet ring or a bejewelled birthday bracelet, I’ve sometimes had an internal struggle with wearing them. Are they sustainable? By wearing gold am I contributing to the demise of a precious metal or turning a cog in the wheel of unethical practices?
When investigating this theme in order to ‘release my guilt’ it became immediately apparent that environmental, socio-political and economic issues are inextricably linked, as noted in one of the first articles I read which startlingly lists genocide, water pollution, waste, impact on workers’ welfare and indigenous rights, cyanide, mercury and ecosystem damage as by-products of gold mining. Not a good start! One of the perpetual questions in the world in which I work is ‘will it run out’? The story is not quite clear with some geologists suggesting gold is not rare and that ‘we’ve barely scratched the surface’ (apparently only 20 cubic metres of gold have been mined since the beginning of civilisation), while others say over 90% of reserves have already been mined (with quite a bit of this held in warehouses so investors can speculate on its value).
So making the point of whether I should wear it or not based on availability doesn’t seem to be that simple, but what is more compelling and worthy of exploration is the issue of its abstraction and why we need it. It’s not like coal or gas – for example - which provide us with energy; we basically have a propensity for it because it ‘sparkles’ and as such, companies will continue to extract it as long as we desire it. From an abstraction point of view the figures are staggering. Almost 1 million kilograms of ore, rock and soil are excavated to produce one kilogram of gold!
So how do we ensure that if we want a bit of the glittery stuff it has been mined or produced in a manner which is both fair to the environment and humankind? Well, you can either hope that the Rio Tintos and AngloGold Ashantis of this world are doing the right thing or you could investigate further and spend a little more time getting to know the story behind your purchase. The messages however can be confusing, so as a guide here are some of my top tips for buying jewellery you can be proud to wear and which will last:
Do you really need it? By separating your desires from your needs you will not only ensure the piece is treasured but you’ll also be reducing the demand on virgin materials required to make it in the first place.
Buy vintage or second-hand, and it’s so de rigueur these days - etsy.com is a wonderful place to source hidden gems.
Buy recycled. Did you know that approximately a third of gold on the market at any given time is recycled? With this in mind, there is some seriously funky jewellery made from recycled materials out there (I do recall possessing a wonderful set of earrings made from beer bottle glass – but that’s another story!) You can still do sparkly by buying recycled metals, for example Ute Decker produces wonderful designs inspired by the Japanese concept of wabi sabi or timeless sea-glass by Gina Cowan.
Try and find out how it was made. There are a number of initiatives to help you make a choice, for example ‘The No Dirty Gold’ campaign lists retailers and suppliers who actively pursue ‘cleaner’ gold (such as those signed up to the International Cyanide Management Code) and Amnesty International and Global Witness have produced a list of four very useful questions to ask a jeweller about their diamonds.
I suppose the lesson I’ve learnt – whether buying a piece of jewellery for a ‘big occasion’ or something inexpensive and pretty for everyday wear – is that it’s about taking time to find out a little more about the piece so it becomes something treasured you are proud to wear. I can’t express it better than Gaetano Cavalieri, President of the World Jewellery Confederation who said ‘When consumers buy jewellery, they should know that not only is it an expression of value, beauty and emotion, but they have contributed to making a better life for people who need it most dearly.’
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