Sustainable Jewelry

Canadian Diamonds – Diamonds that are labeled as Canadian diamonds are guaranteed to be conflict free in that they originate in a country of peace where there is no armed conflict. Most diamonds mined in Canada are shipped to India and Africa for cutting and polishing. Only those with the added certification of being from the Northwest Territories are cut and polished in-country. Of the five diamond mines in Canada, only 1 is majority owned by a Canadian company.

Conflict-free – Conflict diamonds, also known as 'blood' diamonds, are rough diamonds traded by rebel movements or their allies for the financing of armed conflicts historically aimed at undermining legitimate governments. Currently, there are 48 participants in the voluntary Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), which was established to regulate the trade of conflict diamonds and prevent conflict diamonds from entering the legal diamond market. Companies wanting to export rough diamonds from a country participating in the Process must provide a KPCS certificate to customs.

Unfortunately, the Kimberley Process does not ensure the source of rough diamonds or take into consideration the labor conditions under which the diamond has been mined, cut or polished. Moreover, KPCS is only applicable to diamonds, and does not consider the environmental impact of diamond mining. Therefore, conflict-free is a small step the industry has made toward greater responsibility and, given the narrow definition and the challenge of regulating the KP certification, consumers seeking sustainable jewelry will want to consider a myriad of other factors.

Ethically-sourced – In the absence of universal jewelry industry standards and definitions of fair-trade, "ethically-sourced" refers to gems that have been mined, cut and polished with regard for the social and environmental impact. Whether or not a gem is ethically-sourced, the process of mining has significant environmental consequences. However, ethically sourced gems go beyond just conflict-free to indicate a positive community contribution.

Fair Trade – Fair Trade is a general term that refers to goods produced and traded with regard for transparency and respect for cultures and the environment. Fair trade contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers, primarily in developing countries. The fair trade movement seeks to help workers move from positions of economic vulnerability to self-sufficiency. The term "fair trade" is used to refer to the movement as a whole and encompasses both fair trade certified and uncertified goods.

Fair Trade Gems – Fair Trade Gems are those that are closely tracked from mine to market to ensure that they have been handled according to a strict set of protocols. The protocols include environmental protection, fair labor practices, health and safety standards, and a tight chain of custody that eliminates the possibility of treated gems or synthetics being introduced into the supply chain. The program also includes promotion of cultural diversity, public education and industry accountability. Fair Trade Gems is a proprietary program of a specific gem dealer. Ethically sourced gems may meet the protocols of being fair trade, but not be traded through the supplier who owns the registration for this term.

Lab-created Diamonds and Gems – Lab-created gems are chemically, optically and physically identical to mined gems. Unlike their mined counterparts, lab-created gems are not treated in any way to bring out vibrant color. The color of lab-created gems is inherent to the process and will not change over time. In reference to gem stones, the term "lab-created" is synonymous with man-made, lab-grown and synthetic. Often, lab-created gems are only identifiable to a trained jeweler by their high standard of clarity. It is possible for lab-created gems to be perfectly flawless. Lab-created gems are considered by many to be the most sustainable option available in gems.

Recycled Precious Metal – A typical gold ring results in 20 tons of mine waste, and more than 80% of gold mined in the world is used for jewelry. Metal mining in the United States is the single largest toxic polluter. Since metal can be melted down, refined and reused for fine jewelry without compromising the metal's integrity, recycled metal is a sustainable alternative for consumers concerned about the environmental impacts of mining.

Issues Concerning Green Jewelry


Anti-trust laws in the United States and elsewhere are passed to create a competitive environment whereby consumers are protected from industry monopolies. However, the mined diamond industry has remained outside the jurisdiction of these laws and has been controlled by a handful of multinational companies. Only in recent years has the industry as a whole been regulated on a global scale.

Trade Conflict

The trade and sale of diamonds in exchange for weapons in war-torn developing countries has been well documented. Traditional diamond companies have responded by participating in the Kimberley Process, created in 2003 to establish industry standards for “conflict-free.” Though steps have been made to resolve this issue, the extent of progress has been overstated.


Diamond mining operations are frequently marked by inhumane working conditions. Poor conditions such as long hours, inequitable pay, lack of safety precautions and unhealthy environmental settings exist. Slavery, including the forced labor of children in the most extreme cases, has been uncovered in diamond cutting factories in India where much of the world’s diamonds are cut and polished.

Mining Conflict

Diamonds are forced upward from deep inside the Earth, bringing them close to the surface. Open-pit mining is used to uncover these primary deposits. In so doing, layers of earth, plant life and wildlife habitats are stripped away. Many animal species are affected, which may lead to endangerment. In many cases, fresh water supplies and landscapes are compromised for decades.

Deforestation and environmental degradation have contributed to exposure of diamond deposits, known as alluvial deposits, on riverbeds and ocean shores. Though alluvial diamonds do not lay as deep, mining still takes a toll on the environment as biologically sensitive areas are disturbed.


In creating a false commodity of value, the traditional diamond industry has perpetuated a culture of social disruption. Poverty stricken aboriginal and indigenous communities worldwide struggle with development. Focus is placed on everyday survival, rather than long-term strategies for lifting out of poverty. The most promising in these communities are often discouraged from the pursuit of education. Instead, children are taught to value the immediate reward associated with finding a diamond in the rough, thereby advancing a culture of exploitation and suffering.

Why Green Jewelry is Important

Metal Mining

  • 22 of 22 metal mines investigated by Earthworks were found to be contributing to water contamination
  • A typical gold ring results in 20 tons of mine waste
  • Cyanide and Mercury are typically used to separate gold from the ore
  • Metal mining is responsible for 96% of arsenic emissions and 76% percent of lead emissions in the US

Unstable Governments

  • The Democratic Republic of Congo produces more than $2 billion of diamonds annually, but 90% of its population (60 million people) lives in poverty
  • 70% of the world's gold comes from developing countries such as Guatemala and Ghana
  • Nearly 2 million children work in mines around the world. Thousands more children work in cutting and polishing factories
  • Burma exports 80-90% of the world's rubies and jadeite
  • Madagascar produces 50% of the world's sapphires
  • Globally, metal mining employs less than 1% of the workforce but consumes as much as 10% of energy


  • Each diamond mine consumes 13 million gallons of diesel fuel annually to power generators
  • Genuine diamonds created in a lab are optically, chemically and physically identical to their mined counterparts
  • Most diamonds marketed as Canadian Diamonds are mined there, but then sent to India and Africa for cutting and polishing
  • Of the four major mines in Canada, only one is majority owned by a Canadian company
  • 65% of the world's diamonds are mined in Africa (annual value of $8.5 billion)
  • 46% of Angolan diamond miners are under the age of 16
  • Certified conflict-free does not mean that the diamond is "clean." It is still marked by severe social and environmental impact. It just hasn't been sold to fund armed conflict in a developing country