How Jewelers Implement Sustainable Practices and Enhance the Industry
By Kyle Roderick
On the most basic level, “sustainable” means using materials that can be traced back to their sources to ensure they were produced ethically and without degrading the environment. Working definitions of sustainable colored gemstones and sustainably sourced cultured Pearls are evolving, however, as private sector and governmental entities co-create legislation and third-party, sustainable certification standards.
The Responsible Jewellery Council defines sustainable gemstones as those which have been mined with zero or measurably minimal negative environmental impacts. (CIBJO’s Responsible Sourcing Book provides a guide for due diligence related to responsible gemstone sourcing.) AGTA has been an early articulator and embodiment of the green and sustainable narrative when it was founded more than 40 years ago. As CEO John Ford explains, “Experts agree that any and all standards must be founded on impartial assessment of documented proofs of origin, plus environmental, social, and governance practices.”
Other forward-thinking entities in jewelry reveal more policies and practices that aim to help the trade attain sustainable nirvana.
One newly debuted and notable program for jewelry professionals comes from the World Jewellery Confederation, also known as CIBJO, and Intertek Italia SpA. Unveiled in September 2022, the online training and certification program is called the Jewellery Industry Sustainability Officer Online Training & Certification Programme. It targets professionals seeking to gain the knowledge and tools necessary for applying sustainability and corporate social responsibility practices in their businesses.
Intertek Italia SpA is the Italian subsidiary of the Intertek Group, a multinational assurance, inspection, product-testing, and certification organization that helps companies ensure operating procedures and products meet quality, health, environmental, social accountability, and safety standards. Intertek Italia SpA worked for two years with CIBJO’s Sustainable Development Commission to develop the training curriculum and course materials. The course is administered by the International Council for Sustainable Business, which was established by CIBJO’s World Jewellery Confederation Education Foundation.
While this is the first course of its kind, potential candidates for certification include gemstone and Pearl dealers and those wanting to become sustainable jewelry compliance officers. While students learn the complexities of how to assess a company’s environmental, social, and governance performance, they also learn how to define and work towards achieving a company’s sustainability goals. Plus, along with learning how to implement auditing and documentation procedures that will help them reach those goals, students undergo training in how to communicate their sustainability initiatives.
Additionally, pupils study laws and regulations specific to the industry, including due diligence guidelines for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Responsible Jewellery Council’s Code of Practice, and CIBJO’s Blue Book on Responsible Sourcing.
Because this course encompasses sustainable practices for the international jewelry industry and is accredited by Accredia, which is a member of the International Accreditation Forum, this certification is recognized and accepted worldwide. In other words, certification in this course benefits an individual by allowing them to apply their knowledge of sustainable jewelry industry standards and practices in companies based in the U.S., Canada, Switzerland, the U.K., and more.
Certification in the Works
Meanwhile, a climate-neutral or sustainable standard certification for colored gemstones is being developed by the third-party standard certification organization Scientific Certification Systems or SCS Global Services. This firm has been providing certification services to the jewelry sector for over a decade.
Stanley Mathuram, executive vice president, explained to the media in 2021 that its SCS 007 certification programs “assist the gem and jewelry industries by providing added layers of social and environmental assurance that designers and consumers are looking for when shopping for gems and jewelry.”
Mathuram expanded on these thoughts during a phone interview. “Many baby boomers, millennials, and members of Gen Z grew up eating USDA-certified organic food, wearing certified organic clothing, and pursuing sustainable lifestyles,” he says. “Thus, they are looking for jewelry that contains the added value belonging to products certified as environmentally sustainable, ethically sourced, and produced by people who were paid fairly and worked in safe conditions.”
To wit, professionals working with certified sustainable colored gemstones stand to differentiate themselves and engender brand loyalty “through telling the fact-based, sustainable stories behind their products,” Mathuram adds.
Responsible Business Practices
While certification programs are one way to gain sustainability savvy, many in the trade already have reliable standards and follow practices that help responsible businesses flourish.
According to Southern California goldsmith and designer Katey Brunini of K. Brunini Jewels, “The most sustainable gemstones that I work with are those removed from vintage or antique pieces that are brought in by my customers who ask me to use them to make new jewelry designs.”
For colored gemstone dealers like New York-based Robert Bentley, a former AGTA Board member, ethical and respectful business dealings are key to sustainability. “I have longstanding relationships with certain Brazilian miners and cutters,” he explains. “We take care of each other. I pay them on time, and sometimes I pay them in advance to help them through rough periods.”
There are also times, he adds, when miners present him with material at a certain price, but Bentley will give them more because he knows it will sell well. “In gratitude for advance payment and for paying higher than their asking price, many miners and cutters put aside their best material for me, so everybody’s business grows.”
Tahitian cultured Pearl farmer Josh Humbert of Kamoka Pearls has long had responsible practices in place that position his family-owned operation in Tahiti’s Ahe lagoon at the intersection of sustainability and climate neutrality. Nearly all of Humbert’s nuclei are made of mother-of-pearl from Pinctada margaritifera oysters or their Pinctada maxima cousins. The move prevents further over-exploitation of North American freshwater mussels. “These are the most commonly used nuclei in Pearl farming,” he says. The results are positive. “The Tahitian Pearl Farming Board found in independent tests that our nuclei produced three times more A-grade pearls than any other nucleus type,” he notes on his website.
What’s more, Kamoka’s electricity needs are met by solar and wind power, fresh water is supplied by rainwater catchment systems, and its septic systems are fully biodegradable. Additionally, farming methods—which include moving oysters to shallow waters so fish can clean them, as opposed to power-washing them and causing harmful nutrient loads in the water—have increased fish stocks in his lagoon.
All moves sit well with Ford. “I believe that implementing as many sustainable practices as possible can lead the colored gemstone industry to greater artistic, economic, and environmental success.”
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