AGTA’s FTC Green Guides Recommendations: Unpacking the Industry Terms Committee’s Suggestions

By Jennifer Heebner, Editor in Chief

Efforts from the AGTA’s recently established Industry Terms Committee are providing guidance to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for updates to its Green Guides.

Yesterday, AGTA issued a press release outlining the recommendations, which came from its diverse and highly regarded committee of industry professionals that formed in January. The goal of the committee’s formation was to clearly identify contemporary terms, like “sustainability,” that lack uniform definitions, and its timing conveniently coincided with the FTC’s interest in revising the Guides.

“The Green Guides aren’t specific to jewelry, so we need to be realistic that many of the things we noted may not apply to other industries and may be most appropriate to address in the FTC’s Jewelry Guides revisions, which are currently planned for 2028,” says Jenna White, Committee Member, researcher, and PhD student in Earth Resources Science & Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines.

The committee has been working on definitions for some of jewelry’s most overused—and some would say, abused—terms, digging into their own field expertise to develop guidance that makes sense for each unique facet of the supply chain.

“We’re working on developing a set of guidelines and best practices specific to the colored stone industry to ensure our members are doing what’s right—even if it’s not legally required,” adds White. “Legal requirements are the bare minimum, and the AGTA membership has been clear that it’s time for us to take a leadership position and raise the bar.”

Committee members include Jaimeen Shah, PrimaGems USA; Bruce Bridges, Bridges Tsavorite; Becky Scheffler, Rio Grande; John Bradshaw, John J. Bradshaw; Ron Rahmanan, Sara Gem Corp.; Jeffrey Bilgore, Jeffrey Bilgore LLC; Ray Zajicek, Equatorian Imports; Jenna White; and Vincent Pardieu, field gemologist. (Pardieu is not an AGTA member, but he is a world-renowned gemological expert with a firm grasp of world cultures from his extensive travels to mines.) AGTA CEO John W. Ford Sr. and Kimberly Collins, AGTA Board President and Owner of Kimberly Collins Colored Gems, offered input and guidance as needed.

Below, more weigh with insights into their suggestions.

John Bradshaw, owner, John J. Bradshaw, a gemstone cutter and gemologist

“The committee was all in agreement to define terms like ‘sustainability’ and ‘ethics.’ Who defines what these are right now? I have a friend who exhibited at a trade show in Canada, and another exhibitor had the words ‘ethical’ and ‘certified dealer’ plastered all over his booth. Who is certifying anything or anyone? We also have to stop calling lab reports certificates.

“And the word ‘sustainable’ is a buzz word that gets used in the wrong way. Plus, the FTC doesn’t list any time frame for anything to be sustainable. People can also bend definitions to try to make their actions appear greener than they really are.

“In the end we developed some guidance for the FTC that is better than what is currently available, and we’ll eventually share some clear definitions with the membership that will put us all on the same page.”

Jaimeen Shah, Partner, Prima Gems USA

“I’m proud of what this amazing committee of people accomplished. Everyone’s areas of expertise complemented each other because the committee was such a well-rounded group of experts in their fields, from miners to cutters to dealers.

“Vincent and Bruce talked about sustainability from a miner’s perspective and what that means for gemstones, and Jenna spoke about it from a metals point of view, given her experience. This is the first time that gem dealers have sat down and worked together to produce guidelines like this. There was no overthinking, nothing was overly devised, it was the industry representing itself to create pure cohesive recommendations—which were produced with about 12 contemporary terms definitions in mind. The committee will unveil these after the Las Vegas shows.”

Aquamarine from Mayer & Watt
Aquamarine from Mayer & Watt
Jenna White, researcher with a focus on transparent and traceable jewelry supply chains and PhD student in Earth Resources Science & Engineering, Colorado School of Mines

“The first thing we addressed was the definition of ‘sustainable.’ Because the Green Guides apply to all industries and not just gems and jewelry, we wanted to ensure that the definition was something that would be applicable to gemstones. We tend to forget that if something is not grown, it’s mined! Gems may be minimally processed and closer to the mined product than most consumer goods, but it is no less capable of being sustainable. Therefore, we urged the FTC to adopt the existing, generally accepted UN definition of sustainable developed by the Brundtland Commission in 1987: ‘Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ Our committee believes that colored gemstones can meet this definition, so there’s no need to reinvent the term.

“There are specific terms we flagged as being problematic for consumers. One example is ‘carbon free,’ as it is misleading—even intentionally misleading. To say you are carbon free implies that you don’t emit carbon, which is not possible in our industry. ‘Carbon neutral’ with substantiation, however, says that while you have done nothing to reduce the problem through your core business activities, you have purchased an offset.

“Additionally, we are starting to hear the reuse of gems from estate jewelry being referred to as ‘recycled.’ We believe this term is being used to manipulate the consumer. The word ‘recycled’ generates a mental picture of environmental good in the consumer’s mind. However, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, ‘Recycling is the process of collecting and processing materials that would otherwise be thrown away.’ To our knowledge, people generally are not throwing gems and precious metals into the trash. Therefore, recutting or resetting stones is not diverting anything from the waste stream nor decreasing the demand for newly mined materials. We recognize that term is uniquely problematic for the jewelry industry and may need to be addressed in the FTC’s next Jewelry Guides revisions rather than the Green Guides. However, we wanted to use this opportunity to highlight how the term is being misused in the industry to manipulate consumers.

“We recognize that because the Green Guides are not specific to our industry, all of our recommendations may not be adopted. However, our review process has highlighted specific actions we need to take to protect consumers.”

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