In recent times, some of the most popularly proffered buzz words relate to the environment. “Going green,” “eco-friendly,” and “ethically derived” are just a few of the oft uttered (and marketed) phrases that are essentially straight forward and universally understood in their meanings. But what exactly is “sustainable jewelry,” and why is it something to strive for? Nobody is throwing their jewelry items in the garbage (hopefully), so what’s the big deal?
The big deal is this; the way that the precious metals and gems that make up jewelry pieces are obtained can have a significant impact on the environment. First, the methods employed in removing these ores and stones from the ground can have an extremely negative effect on surrounding soil, vegetation and ecosystems. Often, the surface soil of a mined area is completely decimated; this topsoil is the main area where new plants can grow, so after the mining is finished, the land remains barren. Toxic chemicals used during this ‘soil stripping’ process obviously contribute to more of the same thing. The chemicals which are disseminated about typically do not stop their subterranean spiral at the soil; they proceed downward to whatever water flows beneath, contaminating that as well. Well, once the soil is poisoned and eroded and nearby water is rendered malignant, that’s it, right? Nope. There’s even a lovely sinkhole or two to look forward to.
When thinking about this sort of environmental devastation, it can be all too easy to envision that this only occurs in remote parts of the world, where the environment is not regulated, correct? Nope again. The organization Ethical Metalsmiths reports that right here in the good ole US of A, one of the most virulent (and fervently active) industries is metal mining. The unrestricted practices endemic to this business have lead to 96% of the nation’s annual arsenic emissions, and 76% of the yearly lead that is released into the atmosphere and earth as well. The conditions in certain African, Central and South American countries are even worse as ground contaminants have reached alarmingly dangerous heights.
(more information on Diamond Mines)
Next comes the hazards inherent in jewelry manufacturing. Vast amounts of energy are routinely consumed to create different glass materials, which are frequently colored with noxious dyes. These harmful substances then end up in the ground and leach their way into the water supply too. Even if a company adheres to fairly strict practices in regards to the allocation of hazardous chemicals and the proper disposal of waste, there are still the production factors to consider. Some companies may develop their jewelry through sound means, but end up creating a huge amount of waste in the packaging, delivering and distribution of their items.
So when a brand or particular designer claims to make truly “sustainable jewelry,” they should be taking each and every one of the aforementioned environmental considerations into account. In the actual creation of the jewelry pieces, they should be using recycled metals whenever feasible. Such materials can be easily acquired, and dynamic designers all over the world have found innovative ways to let these up-cycled metals really stand out. In addition to the metals used, various other vintage articles can be craftily assembled, making the jewelry not only environmentally conscious but uniquely conceived as well. Rubber, vinyl, plastic; all make great additions to jewelry and can be literally extracted from places where they would otherwise go unused or harm their natural surroundings. Many designers repurpose materials too; an old phone cord can be fashioned into a daring new bracelet, a chunk of chandelier crystal converted into a fascinating Art Deco inspired necklace. The way that sustainable jewelry is put together must be considered also, in a manner that wastes as little natural energy and resources as possible.
There are many designers out there today making totally sustainable, chic and wearable pieces. Here is a list of just some of the coolest and most environmentally responsible talents currently revolutionizing the industry (from ecosalon.com).
When all is said and done, producing anything new will always require energy and resources of some sort. Hopefully we can collectively agree that jewelry should be made in as sustainable a manner as possible. It’s nice to own pretty things; it’s also nice to live on a pretty planet.