What does sustainability really mean when it comes to jewelry?
We should start by defining what makes jewelry making harmful to the environment. It seems hard to believe that something as tiny and innocent as a silver charm can do damage. The main issue is in how metals are mined. The extraction techniques which may include stripping the surface soil and using chemicals can cause soil erosion, formation of sinkholes, loss of biodiversity and contamination of soil and both ground and surface water. This happens even when fairly stringent environmental regulations are followed, as they are in the United States, where metals mining is the most toxic polluter, responsible for 96 percent of arsenic emissions and 76 percent of lead emissions1. In the developing countries, where regulations can be less likely to be enforced, lead poisoning of epidemic proportions (Nigeria, 20102) or heavy metal soil contamination (Mexico, post NAFTA3) are just some of the likely (and, unfortunately, not entirely rare) consequences.
Secondary factors include manufacturing processes (energy to produce certain types of glass, for example), and materials, like toxic dyes, used in those processes. In addition, there is a possibility of environmentally harmful practices in jewelry creation, chemical disposal and packaging.
And then there is the issue of any production, however environmentally safe, leaving an energy footprint, and the questionable necessity of expanding that footprint on another piece of adornment.
So being acquainted with the basics of the general sustainability factors, and understanding that they are complex and nothing is clear-cut, a better question to ask is:
What does sustainable jewelry mean to Eco Lustre?
While we firmly believe that a pretty necklace can really brighten someone’s day, we cannot argue against jewelry making as a somewhat frivolous expansion of energy. We do, however, take reducing the impact of this frivolous business on the environment seriously. How do we do it?
By partnering with artisans who are environmentally proactive:
- Use recycled metals as much as possible*
- Use vintage or dead stock
- Upcycle vintage materials (it’s amazing what can be done with the vinyl of an old record)
- Use artisanal methods – non-toxic and with low energy requirements
- Recycle: metal scrap, paper scrap, packaging and shipping materials, as well as use proper chemical disposal procedures and energy-efficient practices in their studios and workshops
By educating new and emerging artisans (or well-established ones who haven’t yet focused on the environmental issues):
- Introducing them to eco-friendly sources
- Engaging in a dialogue to broaden their understanding of the issues
By practicing what we preach:
- Our lovely packaging is all recycled, recyclable or both (and so charming, customers may not want to throw it away). So are our cards and paper products.
- We stick to sustainable office and studio practices
- Our artisans are all based in the USA. While this decision was not entirely ecologically based (we wanted to support local talent), the impact of not having to transport jewelry we sell from overseas is undeniable
By supporting organizations that make a difference:
*Since mining new metal is fundamentally not an environmentally-friendly process, regardless of how many regulations have been put in place to make it more so, we would like nothing better than for everyone we work with to use 100 percent recycled metals. Accessibility, however, just doesn’t make this realistic. For example, unless an artisan crafts their chains by hand (for the most part, not a standard procedure), 100 percent recycled chains just aren’t readily available. We expect this to be remedied in the future. In the meantime, we support organizations that are working to improve mining practices and regulations, like Ethical Metalsmiths. Even if jewelry industry switches to all recycled metals, new metals will continue to be mined for other industries, making the work of these organizations very important.