5 ways to make your jewellery more eco friendly and ethical

There is a massive and growing trend towards mindfully made products, and jewellery certainly is no exception. Embarking on this path starts with introspection about what will work for your brand, and what is achievable at your scale of operations. How can you reduce the burden on the Earth and benefit or support local people? Where do your materials come from? Whose hands and lives have they touched along the way? What environment were they made in? Here are some pointers to get you started on your journey to feel-good jewellery production:

Use an RJC accredited refinery
Know where your metals come from and support ethical sources of raw materials. Setting your studio up to be able to recover precious metals from waste items like electronic scrap is a commendable effort, and using recycled materials to produce beautiful globally-marketable products is highly satisfying. However refining can be a massive logistical headache and takes setup costs as well as the time to research how to operate legally. There are also health and safety as well as environmental issues to consider when utilising and disposing of the (expensive!) chemicals involved. Plus, house-refined metals rarely achieve an optimal purity and cause problems for licensed refiners when processing the resulting impure mixes of metals. When you choose CPM, you’re guaranteed 100% recycled, Chain-of-Custody certified metals backed up by stringent Responsible Jewellery Council accreditation. Save your energy and focus for your creative projects and rest assured that your jewellery is not indirectly supporting crime, exploitation of vulnerable communities or environmental degradation.

Turn your business into a force for good
If you draw inspiration from the beauty of the planet, use that as a rallying point for your marketing and put a sharper focus on why. Your jewellery has the potential to raise awareness and spark conversations around the peril our wild places and ecosystems are in simply by creating beautiful tributes to them. Become an outspoken advocate for labour rights, and back that up with progressive and fair employment contracts, salary structures and ethical working conditions that you’re proud to talk about on your digital channels. Explore all ways that can you reduce waste across the entire supply chain, and share your wins and tips for other jewellers. You’ll be creating a positive impact and your brand will benefit from the authority, passion and innovation you’re demonstrating. Educate your clients on why your jewellery is the superior, ethical choice and get them thinking about the environmental impacts their choices in jewellery have.

Support local
Lower your carbon footprint and support our economy by sourcing metals, gemstones and all other components as close to home as possible. The knock-on benefits of more cash flow locally are reduced crime and hunger and a better life for all, and every single fitting, finding or raw material presents another opportunity to keep Africa’s wealth on the continent. Choose suppliers whose business practices match yours and who are creating employment or empowerment opportunities for South Africa’s people. Could you perhaps collaborate with other local small-scale jewellers to upskill a job seeker in your area for tasks that you only need done a few times a month, but that is costly to outsource or time-consuming to do yourself? Get behind a home-grown cause and donate a percentage of profits to them (for some international inspiration who are benefitting their local people check out Emma Aitchison Jewellery or Article 22). If the issue you choose to tackle is directly linked to an injustice in our industry, even better. Rallying around this point will immediately throw a question mark over your competitors’ silence towards it, and position you as the more ethical choice. Caring members of the general public will not be put off of buying jewellery outright but they’ll be prompted to make more conscious purchasing decisions.

Make it durable
Create quality, timeless collections that are made to last. Fast fashion culture has created an epidemic of poorly made pieces that tarnish quickly and are thrown out when the trend fades. The wasted resources, extra chemical processes and resulting landfill mass is your responsibility to consider as the manufacturer. When you decide to put effort into your own carefully developed style and create quality pieces, you gift yourself the opportunity to step off the treadmill of trend-chasing, race-to-the-bottom pricing and position yourself as a quality brand that will garner a loyal following or likeminded people. Ways to reinforce this idea and create more brand loyalty include offering a free repair service, or inviting your clients to return any pieces that are no longer being worn.

Choose your materials wisely
Investigate sustainable alternatives and refuse to work with anything that you consider unethical. There are a wealth of options that are often more beautiful than the standard, for example the Tagua nut (known as vegetable ivory) or Argentium Silver which is much more durable and brilliant than traditional Sterling. Minimise your use of metals that contain nickel or lead, due to their toxicity to the environment as well as to the people that work to produce them. Offer packaging that is recyclable and/or biodegradable, and locally made where possible, and always try to avoid plastics. Choose metals and other components that use fewer or less harmful chemicals in their production process, or can be easily recycled, and be sure to educate your clients on how to dispose of them when the time comes to do so. For those of you who do not manufacture fine jewellery or whose collections are more casual, be mindful of the kinds of materials you’re mixing or bonding and how they might be recovered at the end of their lifespan. Using upcycled or reclaimed elements is a wonderful first step, but if you’re creating a piece that renders its components unrecyclable, you’ve only delayed its inevitable arrival at the landfill.

The debate continues around whether lab-grown diamonds are more ethical than mined diamonds, so it’s best to do some digging into whether your suppliers’ practices are in line with your philosophies. Irresponsible mining can displace communities and wildlife, pollute ground waters, destroy ecosystems and exploit workers, but when done responsibly, can uplift local economies. While lab-grown diamonds can provide you with 100% certainty of their origin, they can in some cases have a larger carbon footprint depending on the energy source used in their production (three times higher according to a 2019 Trucost report). Always look for a supplier who has a third-party accreditation (for example from the RJC) when making your choices, and use recycled natural diamonds and gemstones where possible.

Looking for some local inspiration? Check out two CPM clients leading the charge in ethical and sustainable jewellery: Kiira and Ashley Heather.




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