What is sustainability? In short, it is creating and enacting practices that can help protect the earth's natural resources as well as the creatures that inhabit it. While the catchy mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle” is an essential first step that we are all capable of, business owners have a larger responsibility. Companies all want the benefits of saying they are doing something for the environment, but they actually need to put words into action. For those of us in the jewelry industry, this is a very real challenge.
The relationship between creating jewelry and “sustainability” is a complex one with numerous obstacles. First, there are serious environmental issues around the safe mining of raw materials—mining being an infamously unethical industry. Second, the ability to trace all the hands that raw materials have passed through is often impossible. While in theory blockchain technology now allows companies to do this, blockchain enforced sustainability is still in a nascent stage due in large part to its massive expense. Third, unhealthy working conditions at many gem polishing facilities cannot be minimized. Fourth, jewelry production often uses harsh chemicals that produce toxic waste. Ultimately, use of the word “sustainable” and “jewelry” is a challenge, especially for emerging designers who can’t afford the expense of sourcing and tracing to this heightened degree. I see the way forward as taking meaningful steps towards sustainability, because there is a hard road ahead and a very long way to go.
At The Jewelry Edit, it begins with our Code of Ethics. We combine the desire for sustainable business practices with fair trade and humane working conditions—a sort-of mission statement for our designers to embrace. Importantly, transparency is everything. I want customers to know they can trust us and turn to us when they want to shop more consciously. Each of our designers are handpicked to ensure our ethos align, especially when it comes to the topic of environmental responsibility.
Designers we carry like Soko, Wolf Circus, Nina Berenato and Paige Novick are strong proponents of environmental and social responsibility. Paige Novick can trace her diamonds to the Rio Tinto’s Argyle mine in Australia. Nina Berenato uses recycled metals and lab created gemstones, which eliminates the negative impact of mining from her jewelry. Soko uses recycled brass and increases their social responsibility by sourcing it from local vendors. The environment is something we want all our designers to be thinking about, as the industry as a whole finds and develops ways to become more sustainable.
Ultimately, designers have to start taking real steps towards sustainability, no matter how challenging they are from a resource or financial standpoint. Sometimes our steps mean narrowing in on specific elements of sustainability—an easy one for us to champion is the human element. Ensuring our designers use small batch production and create a safe and fair environment for workers is an essential first step that leads to a chain reaction that ultimately helps our planet.
Sourcing more designers focused on sustainability and creating a platform to allow customers to shop responsibly is an exciting challenge for us at The Jewelry Edit. Becoming more sustainable, especially within the jewelry industry, is a process that requires reexamining and challenging some long-standing institutions. But the payoff is worth it – resulting in a world that’s better for us and generations to come.