Gem and Jewelry Industry Sets to Reduce Carbon Footprints
In 2020, around 2.4 million tons of greenhouse gases were emitted worldwide, a 7% decrease compared to the previous year. The figure was the highest decline rate because of the lockdown measure to prevent the COVID-19 outbreak. The measure curbed energy consumption of industrial sectors and businesses as well as domestic and international transport. The US carbon emissions were at the highest decline rate with 12% drop. The country was followed by the EU, India, and China with 11, 9, and 1.7% fall. However, in 2021, researchers at University of East Anglia, the University of Exeter and the Global Carbon Project have predicted that worldwide greenhouse emissions are likely to increase despite the governments’ efforts to induce the focus on clean energy transition and policy dealing with climate change under economic recovery plan.
Energy consumption in industries, transportations, businesses, and households was the source of air pollution. They contributed to 73.2% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture, forestry, and land use followed with 18.4% share. The sources generated high volume of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, which causes the greenhouse effect and global climate change.
Gem and jewelry industry is one of the industries contributing to air pollution throughout its supply chain from material sources to delivery of finished products to consumers. Most of the production cycles creating high carbon footprint are of gem and precious metal mining as well as manufacturing processes to create jewelry. Inevitably, carbon dioxide is released into environment through these processes.
Carbon Emissions in Gem and Jewelry Industry
Upstream industries release relatively high volume of carbon dioxide into environment, starting from preparing a bare open ground to access deposits of materials—diamonds, colored stones, and precious metals—primarily in open pit mining. Gem and precious metal mining processes also create carbon. Of all processes, preparing an open ground and mining account for 95% carbon footprint. Jewelry manufacturing processes only generate 5% of carbon footprint.
There are some examples of estimated carbon footprint produced from a piece of jewelry. A pair of heart-shaped gold earrings generates 31 kilograms of carbon dioxide. The volume is equivalent to driving a small car for about 200 kilometers. Platinum earrings with the same designs create 3 times more carbon footprint. On the contrary, such earrings made of silver produce carbon around 0.34 kilograms. Meanwhile, a 46-centimeter gold necklace creates 109 kilograms of carbon dioxide. The same necklace made of platinum releases 345 kilograms of carbon whereas a silver necklace generates 1.2 kilograms of carbon footprint. Apparently, carbon footprint volume of each jewelry piece depends on materials used. Silver is the precious metal which produces the least volume of carbon footprint. A ton of silver emits 520 tons of carbon dioxide. A ton of gold generates 38,100 tons of carbon dioxide and a ton of platinum produces 77,000 tons of carbon dioxide. Producing a carat of polished diamond emits 160 kilograms of carbon dioxide, equivalent to driving a car for about 628 kilometers.
Carbon Reduction by Modifying Manufacturing Process & Using Renewable Energy
Nowadays, many companies in the industry have increasingly given priority to environmental issues. With the goal to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, manufacturing processes have been adjusted to employ green renewable energy. For example, the Diamond Producers Association (DPA), which has changed its name to the Natural Diamond Council (NDC), is aware of the issues and researched on the impacts. The council has disseminated a research report called “The Socioeconomic and Environmental Impact of Large-Scale Diamond Mining”, which describes social, economic, and environmental benefits and impacts to local communities, employees, and environment from mining operations of its members, including major 7 diamond producers of the world-- ALROSA, De Beers Group, Dominion Diamond Mines, Lucara Diamond Corp., Murowa Diamonds, Petra Diamonds, and Rio Tinto. With more than 77,000 employees worldwide, the companies’ production accounts for over 75% of the global diamond production. Each of the diamond producer sets its goal to reduce carbon from diamond mining to the atmosphere. They have cut down their dependence on fossil fuels and electrical power, escalated renewable energy usage, and conducted a research on trapping and storing carbon to lessen environmental impacts.
Source: Natural Diamond Council (NDC)
Targeting toward carbon neutrality by 2030, De Beers has announced its 12 sustainability goals for the next decade, including adjusting their operations for carbon neutrality, providing origin for every diamond, and building gender parity in all operational sections. They are parts of the firm’s new roadmap called Building Forever, which is used to promote De Beers. With the firm’s awareness of climate change risks in some areas where it operates, it started using new technologies to utilize energy more efficiently.
An element enabling De Beers to achieve the goals is its developed proprietary technology, which is a collaborated work with its key shareholder, Anglo American. Tracr is its blockchain-based program determining a diamond’s origin. The company curbs its energy consumption through the FutureSmart Mining™, which boosts mining capabilities for sustainability and reduces environmental carbon footprint. Moreover, it almost completely stops using fossil fuels and builds electrical plants for wind and solar energy. In addition, it will go carbon-neutral through natural principles with the CarbonVault™, an advanced research initiative utilizing kimberlite’s property of absorbing and storing high volume carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Kimberlite is a rock variety in which diamonds are found. The efforts will lead to sustainable diamond mining.
Source: De Beers
Furthermore, De Beers has joined hands with 9 diamond producer companies, namely, D Navinchandra Gems, Dianco, Diamant Impex, Diarush, HVK International, Hari Darshan, H Dipak and Co, Yaelstar, and StarRays, to change production processes of midstream businesses to build sustainable and righteous supply chain. They will develop a substantial plan to curtail carbon emissions, for instance, shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy. It is anticipated that some producers have to buy carbon credits in order to achieve the goals. Generally, diamond production emits carbon starting from usual electrical energy consumption, transportation, to product distribution. There are points in the processes which can be adjust for the benefits of overall society and environment.
Apart from the diamond producers, Cartier has been carbon-neutral since 2009. Pandora has also been determined to become carbon-neutral by 2025. At present, the brand has been recycling or reusing all scraps of materials such as silver, gold, glass, rubber, and gypsum. It has also modified its production process by using only renewable energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and using packages made by sustainability-conscious sources to curb environmental impacts. Meanwhile, Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, Celine, Fendi, and other 24 leading brands have pledged to reduce 25% of carbon dioxide emissions by 2020. Moreover, Tiffany & Co. has set its goal to cut 15% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and to achieve zero-emission goal by 2050.
In addition, Brilliant Earth, an American jewelry brand emphasizing on transparency, trade ethics, and social and environmental sustainability since 2005, uses conflict-free diamonds, gemstones and precious metals from ethically and environmentally responsible sources, reuses diamonds to cut down new diamonds from mines, and chooses recycled precious metals to manufacture jewelry to curb carbon footprints. The company has been certified with Carbonfree® from Carbonfund.org. It also uses packages made from wood or paper from sustainable forests under the FSC™ certified by the Forest Stewardship Council to contribute to environmental sustainability.
Reducing Carbon Emissions by Recycling & Reuse
Reducing carbon footprints on sellers and consumers’ end can be done by cutting back on buying newly produced jewelry and recycling existing jewelry pieces. In the past, consumers would choose products according to what they were presented by sellers. The products were offered in conform with producers’ guidelines. However, technology may add more variations to the equation. Sellers do not have to buy jewelry from manufacturers, which will add more carbon footprints. They could trade old jewelry pieces with other sellers through a B2B platforms. This means will efficiently help reducing carbon emissions from jewelry production.
Meanwhile, recycling existing jewelry or buying jewelry made of recycled precious metals—gold, silver, and platinum— or reused gemstones greatly helps slash carbon dioxide emissions. Recycled silver yields the gas less than silver produced from mining 35 times per ton. Recycled gold and platinum emits less than gold and platinum from mining 200 and 100 times per ton as shown in the following table.
Source: “What’s the carbon cost of your jewellery?” by Benn Harvey-Walker
Buying used jewelry pieces is a part of the “slow fashion” trend among consumers. It is realizing value of existing jewelry pieces and avoiding “fast fashion” products, which are usually of low quality, shorter lifespan, and possibly create environmental impacts.
Due to the global trend concentrating on social and environmental sustainability, beside transparent business operation and ethical trade, being care for environment, community, and society also plays an important part in young consumers’ purchasing decision. Consequently, it is now time for entrepreneurs to place importance on consumption trend, which is more conscious of environment, by utilizing technology in adjusting production process and operation throughout the supply chain to cut down carbon footprints. In the long run, these adjustments will form sustainable operation process and thorough responsibility in the industry as well as reduce impacts to the global climate change.