5 Tips for Buying Ethical Pieces from Sustainable Jewelry Brands

5 Tips for Buying Ethical Pieces from Sustainable Jewelry Brands

Jewelry helps you make a statement, embrace your personality, and put the finishing touch on your outfits. But sadly, the story behind most of these shining, alluring pieces is anything but glamorous.

Jewelry manufacturing has been one of the most unethical industries in the world for decades, largely due to its impact on the people involved in jewelry making and on the environment. In many cases, the people involved in the production of metals and stones used in making expensive jewelry barely make enough income to live on. The manufacturing and distribution processes subject the environment to greenhouse gas emissions and air and water pollution.

Fortunately, more consumers are becoming concerned about the origins of their pieces and want to ensure they’re only wearing jewelry that was produced ethically. To join the ethical consumption movement yourself, it’s important to find out what differentiates sustainable jewelry brands from the rest.

What Is Ethical Jewelry?

Edward Zwick’s 2006 film “Blood Diamond” alerted consumers of one of the most unethical practices in the jewelry industry: how anti-government groups in some African countries use diamond mining to finance their activities.

Besides financing war, these mining activities also involve child and forced labor. The workers earn wages that cannot support their livelihood, trapping them in a cycle of poverty.

In the wake of this movie, many customers wanted to avoid buying jewelry made using diamonds sourced in this manner. Jewelers began working with suppliers certified by the Kimberley Process, an initiative that oversees the diamond industry to keep conflict diamonds from the market.

To many, sticking to these conflict-free diamonds is enough to ensure they’re shopping ethically. However, this standard ignores all other unethical practices present in the industry.

Truly ethical jewelry manufacturing considers many different facets of the supply chain. The source is just one of them. Working conditions, environmental conservation, and fair trade practices are other vital aspects.

Good Working Conditions and Fair Trade

Materials should originate from a source that creates good working conditions by prioritizing the safety and health of the workers to be considered ethical. Training and necessary equipment should be provided where necessary. Fair wages should go hand in hand with good working conditions. 

It’s unethical to have the people responsible for the sourcing of precious raw materials living in poverty while the manufacturing companies make huge profits. Therefore, ethical jewelry comes from a supply chain that prioritizes fair trade.

Environmentally Conscious Supply Chain

Ethical jewelry is produced with strict adherence to environmental conservation measures. The fuels burned to produce electricity in gold and diamond mines are notorious for carbon dioxide emissions.

Workers and surrounding communities are also exposed to airborne particles of toxic metals and chemicals disturbed during the mining process. These chemicals may also pollute the water and soil, affecting both vegetation and aquatic life.

Producers keen on making ethical jewelry can avoid introducing these toxic materials to the environment when sourcing for raw materials. One way they do this is by avoiding mining altogether. This is possible by opting for lab-grown diamonds and recycled raw materials. When jewelers do source from mines, they can choose to engage in activities that minimize or offset the carbon footprint of their supply chain. For instance, a brand may choose to support reforestation efforts to offset its carbon footprint caused by using mine-sourced materials.

How to Find Sustainable Jewelry Brands

As more consumers look for ethical jewelry brands, many businesses want to meet their demands. The industry has seen a steady increase in the number of jewelry brands claiming to be sustainable.

However, not every brand that claims to be ethical takes the steps necessary to bring you the ethically sourced jewelry you’re looking for. Some do the bare minimum, while others outright lie. How can you find truly sustainable brands?

At Glaciera, we work with highly reputable brands that are concerned about sustainability. Here are our five tips on how to find a sustainable jewelry brand to shop from:

  1. Research

We’ve mentioned that when many customers think about conflict-free jewelry, they only consider whether they’re coming from government rebels in the production areas.

By researching the processes involved in producing the jewelry you’re eyeing, you can identify issues that go against your ethics. A quick search online can reveal whether the brand you’re shopping from cares about various ethical issues in the industry. Do they know anything about the source of the raw materials used to make their pieces? What about the communities that take part in their extraction? Do they think it’s important to ensure that the environment is not harmed during the production?

Legitimate sustainable brands usually publicize information about the measures they take to ensure ethical manufacturing. For instance, Nisolo goes into detail about how they calculate their company-wide carbon footprint and the measures they take to offset it.

Some brands will simply mention that they support environmental conservation but provide zero proof. This is why our second tip is crucial.

  1. Check Certifications 

There are many third-party organizations providing certifications to brands that maintain sustainable industry practices while making jewelry. These organizations set high industry-recognized standards that a company should meet to qualify for certification. If a brand claims to provide ethical jewelry but has no such certifications, it’s not trustworthy.

For instance, brands that strive to ensure their producers make a living wage should have a B Corp certification or an equivalent. Certified B Corp companies are committed to ensuring that their producers benefit from an equitable and sustainable trade relationship. With such companies, you can rest assured that workers are not exploited through poor wages or unhealthy working conditions.

Soko is a great example of a certified B Corp jewelry brand that prioritizes its producers. The brand works with independent artisan entrepreneurs in Kenya. It gives them easy access to a global marketplace that greatly increases their earning potential. Without the mobile technology provided by Soko, these artisans would be making much less with only local sales.

  1.  Explore Smaller Brands

Most environmental pollution or violation of workers’ rights happens where mass production is involved. Some companies are only interested in sourcing their raw materials at the cheapest rates possible, with little regard for workers on the ground. For others, it’s impossible to ensure adherence to ethical practices throughout their supply chain due to the many partners they engage with at every stage.

It’s much easier for smaller brands to track and monitor every participant in their supply chain. Sustainable small jewelry brands are more likely to take time and ensure that their business partners have the necessary certifications and similar work ethics. They also are more likely to have a close relationship with artisans and see how their trade is affecting their social lives.

Jewelry brand Ten Thousand Villages is very involved in the social welfare of its artisans. It partners with artisans from 30 developing countries to produce handmade jewelry. By partnering with economically marginalized people such as women and the disabled, the brand has been able to break the cycle of generational poverty in many communities.

  1. Shop Local

Some brands minimize their environmental impact by using local materials. Others, like Catbird in Brooklyn, New York a step ahead and make their jewelry in-house. Local material sourcing allows brands to reduce their carbon footprint by avoiding the transport of materials from abroad.

When you shop locally, it also means that you do away with the necessity of air shipping. This is important because the transport sector is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. By shopping locally, you also directly impact the livelihood of artisans and contribute to the empowerment of your community.

  1. Look for Recycled or Reused Pieces

Metals such as silver and gold can be recycled and used to make new jewelry without losing their quality. Sustainable brands recycle such metals from old jewelry or extract them from e-waste. In this way, they avoid mining and thus reduce the environmental impact of their pieces. 

For raw materials that cannot be melted and recycled, such as stones and diamonds, brands like those at Pretty & Smart or Old Soul Vintage Jewelry can repurpose them in new items.

Reused or recycled jewelry comes with the same value and durability as newly mined ones. As a plus, you might even spend less on them since their production process is less costly.

Make Every Piece Count

Many of the brands pursuing sustainable jewelry manufacturing are newer in the market and are smaller than major industry players. This means that they need all the support they can get to ensure that ethical jewelry has more market share over time.

With every ethical piece you buy, you’ll be contributing towards a better planet and better lives for the people involved in its making. Shifting attention to conflict-free jewelry pressures other manufacturers into being more socially and environmentally responsible.

What’s better, there’s no shortage of sustainable brands for you to shop from. With a bit of research, you’ll easily find a brand whose pieces you can wear proudly.

About Carson Derrow

My name is Carson Derrow I'm an entrepreneur, professional blogger, and marketer from Arkansas. I've been writing for startups and small businesses since 2012. I share the latest business news, tools, resources, and marketing tips to help startups and small businesses to grow their business.