sustainable jewelry



Sustainable Jewelry: A Beginner’s Guide to Eco-Friendly Materials and Practices

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Sustainability is more than just a buzzword — especially for the jewelry industry. Consumers are becoming increasingly conscientious about their product choices, from the materials used and how they’re sourced through production and disposal.

The good news is that many in the jewelry industry are already making sustainability a top priority. This is not only to meet the growing demand for ethical jewelry but also to create a better future for everyone.

By using sustainable jewelry suppliers, you can join this sustainable jewelry movement and start making a difference today.

Below, we’ll discuss why sustainability matters, what the most eco-friendly materials are, how those in the industry are doing their bit, and how you can too.

Why Sustainability Matters in the Jewelry Industry

While the jewelry we wear may be beautiful, some of it hides an ugly truth. The fact is not all jewelry is sustainable and, until recently, producing pieces caused considerable damage to the environment and communities.

Mining the precious materials we use for jewelry, such as gold, silver, and diamonds, can be environmentally destructive. The mining process involves taking ores out of the Earth’s crust, which is no small feat, even with modern technology. Without responsible mining practices, ore extraction and processing can lead to habitat destruction, soil erosion, and water pollution. Ultimately, this damages ecosystems and reduces biodiversity.

One of the biggest issues is the leaking of mercury and cyanide into nearby waterways. These substances are used to help separate precious materials from rock but often find their way into the surrounding area.

All this processing is also extremely energy intensive. The gold mining industry alone uses around 131 terawatt-hours of electricity a year, about the same as the UK, releasing around 1126 million tons of CO2.

The social impact of jewelry production has historically not been pretty, either. The entire industry is plagued with accusations and allegations of human rights violations, the use of child labor, and worker exploitation.

Making things more difficult is the fact that traditionally the jewelry supply chain is opaque. This makes it difficult for consumers to know where the materials have come from and whether workers were treated fairly.

Fortunately, influential jewelry industry companies are now pushing for transparency and promoting ethical jewelry.

Sustainable materials in Jewelry Making

Sustainable jewelry materials include those made from recycled metal, ethically sourced gemstones, and sustainable natural materials.

Not only are these better for the planet (and your conscience), but they can look every bit as good too!

Using recycled metal brings down the demand for mining new ore. This can help prevent further deforestation and prospecting for new sites, preserving natural environments and greatly reducing carbon emissions. Recycled metals like gold, silver, and platinum can easily be melted down without compromising the integrity of a piece or its quality. They will still display the same beautiful appearance as if they were forged for the first time.

Ethical gemstones are another area where the jewelry industry is making great strides. Brought to the public’s attention with films like Blood Diamond, it’s well-known that the gemstone industry has a bad reputation for the welfare of workers and local communities. Ethical gemstones are sourced from artisanal miners or companies that are committed to working with local communities with full transparency with minimal impact on the environment.

This concern has also led to the development of lab-grown gemstones, which can help lower the cost of gems and dramatically reduce the environmental impact. Such stones are created in a lab without the need for mining, though demand for natural gemstones still remains high.

Jewelry makers are also returning to the use of natural materials like wood, bone, and plant-based materials that can bio-degrade. At the minute, such pieces are mostly made by jewelry makers that prioritize sustainability and minimal environmental impact. Such pieces have a very low carbon footprint and will not contribute to landfill when finished with!

Sustainable Practices for Jewelers

All jewelers can help in the push for sustainability by adopting renewable energy and reducing waste where possible.

Large-scale mining and jewelry production operations can install solar panels to generate electricity or (if a smaller company) switch to a tariff that makes use of wind and hydropower. Further energy savings can be made by switching lighting to more eco-friendly LED options, maintaining equipment such as motors to prevent inefficiency, and implementing smart options for heating, HVAC, and more.

Waste can be reduced across the board by jewelers and wholesalers by making more use of recycled materials or producing high-quality pieces designed to last a lifetime. Independent and large-scale sellers alike can also do their bit by reducing packaging waste — shipping items safely using the minimal amount of packaging possible or using fully biodegradable options.

For larger outfits, a recycling program is also essential. Providing a place for customers and partner companies to bring old and scrap jewelry to be made into new pieces helps bring down emissions and provide a traceable alternative.

Tips for Buying Sustainable Jewelry

  1. Look for sustainable materials: consider buying jewelry made from only sustainable materials. This can include upcycled natural materials, recycled metal, ethical gemstones, and biodegradable options.
  1. Choose pieces that will last a lifetime: fast fashion and changing trends can lead to unnecessary waste in terms of jewelry production and waste. Instead, be selective about your jewelry and look for high-quality, timeless pieces that will look good today, tomorrow, and ten years from now! For example, surgical steel jewelry is ideal for body piercings as they are biologically inert and won’t degrade.
  1. Buy second-hand: the vast bulk of emissions that jewelry causes is down to its production. By buying second-hand when possible, you essentially cut out the mining, processing, production, and transporting of jewelry. You can then enjoy a piece knowing its carbon footprint is all but offset compared to a brand-new piece!
  1. Use local and independent jewelry makers: you can reduce the carbon footprint of your jewelry significantly simply by buying from independent jewelry makers and smaller companies in your surrounding area. When possible, shopping nearby not only helps a local business but can help cut down on transportation and the emissions associated with more commercial enterprises.
  1. Research wholesale jewelry companies: when you need to buy jewelry in bulk, or you can’t find what you’re looking for locally, be sure to wholesale jewelry companies first. Companies such as Salamander Jewelry are committed to sustainable practices, including the use of renewable energy where possible, reducing waste, and supporting suppliers that implement Fair Trade practices. Though be warned, not all wholesalers make such a commitment.
  1. Look for ethical certifications: if buying individual pieces from a commercial outlet, be sure to look for ethical certifications. Sustainability initiatives such as Fair Trade and Responsible Jewelry Council (RJC) only allow citation if pieces meet strict criteria and their impact is known.

Become a sustainable jewelry advocate!

The industry-wide push towards sustainability starts with each and every one of us making the right choices. Whether you’re a reseller, an independent jewelry maker, or someone who just loves shiny things, choosing to buy sustainably and support companies that believe it’s the future of jewelry will go a long way to making the world a better place.