Ultimate Guide to Buying Ethically Conscious Sustainable Jewelry

Sustainable jewelry or ethical jewelry is becoming more and more popular as people become more aware of the environmental impact of this accessory. No longer is this fashion accessory overlooked when it comes to the environment. Jewelry can be a significant investment and knowing where your money going is important for sustainability.

This is a complete guide to buying from ethically conscious companies that make sustainable jewelry in Canada.

In this in-depth guide you’ll learn:

  • What is Sustainable Jewelry
  • What is Ethical Jewelry
  • How Can You Tell if Your Jewelry Is Sustainable or Ethical
  • Where to Find Good Quality Sustainable and Ethical Jewelry
  • How Much Does Sustainable and Ethical Jewelry Cost?
  • Which Types of Jewelry Are the Best for Sustainability and Ethics?

So if you’re ready to go “all in” with sustainable and ethical jewelry, this guide is for you.

What is Sustainable Jewelry

With sustainability becoming an increasingly important issue for consumers and businesses, it's no surprise that sustainable jewelry is becoming more popular. But what exactly is sustainable jewelry?

In a nutshell, sustainable jewelry is made with minimal impact on the environment and the people involved in its production. Sustainable jewelry also includes jewelry made to last, which encourages quality over quantity of consumption.

By understanding what sustainable jewelry is and why it's important, consumers can make more informed choices about the jewelry they purchase.

How does the jewelry industry impact the environment

Generally speaking, the jewelry industry has a significant environmental impact. The production of gold, silver, and diamonds requires large amounts of energy and water. Gold mining is especially damaging to the environment because it often uses cyanide to extract the gold from ore. This process can pollute the air and water with toxic chemicals. In addition, the mining of diamonds often leads to soil erosion and deforestation.

According to estimates, over 180 million tons of toxic waste is dumped from mines every year. Mine waste contains as many as three dozen dangerous chemicals including arsenic, lead, mercury and processing chemicals such as petroleum byproducts, acids and cyanide. This hazardous waste and chemicals is harmful to human health and the environment.

Recent estimates indicate that over 180 million tons of hazardous waste is disposed from mines each year, containing an array of dangerous chemicals including arsenic, lead, mercury and processing chemicals such as petroleum byproducts, acids and cyanide. This toxic waste poses a serious threat to human health and the environment.

FACT: It takes 20 tons of waste to produce a gold ring, making the jewelry industry one of the major contributors to this problem. 
Source: Miningwatch.ca

What materials are considered to be sustainable jewelry

Not all jewelry created today negatively impacts the environment.  Let's take a look what is considered to be sustainable jewelry and/or practices.

Recycled jewelry is taking an existing piece of jewelry and repurposing it.  This doesn't mean that the jewelry has an unfinished look to it.  In fact, recycled jewelry can be made into beautiful and luxurious bespoke pieces using old materials that would otherwise go to waste. No compromise is made as metal and stones are as good as if it was newly mined.

Fairtrade gold ensures a fair price for artisanal small-scale miners gold producers to not only improve working conditions and reduce the use of dangerous chemicals and additional premium that is invested back into their communities for improving healthcare, investing in education or environmental protection.

Fairmined gold is very similar to Fairtrade gold. There is one difference to consider and that the Fairmined standards offers some gold that has been mined without the use of chemicals (known as ecological gold) and as result a higher premium to delivered to the artisanal miners.
Conflict-free stones are certified by independent agencies that vouch that the stones were not mined under cruel working conditions such as substandard working and safety conditions and/or the use of child labor. In addition, the certification also ensures that the stones do not have a connection to rebel or terror groups.

Lab grown stones, commonly referred to as synthetic stones, are physically, chemically and visually identical to their natural counterparts. This type of stone undergoes a similar process to what nature does underground millions of years; however, this process is carried out in a lab and occurs in a fraction of the time. In addition, lab-created stones typically have fewer flaws than natural stones and they have a lower environmental impact and cost less. 

What is Ethical Jewelry


Ethical jewelry is highly transparent and responsible in that each piece of jewelry can be traced at every step of production process. This level of detail ensures that you know where and how the jewelry was made. Ethical jewelry also includes the use of sustainable materials which ensures that it leaves minimal impact on the people and environment in which came from. You may hear people in the industry use the term "from mine to market". This is a commonly used phrase when talking about ethical jewelry. This means that the journey of a piece of ethical jewelry should be direct and traceable, from the mine to the customer.


How does the jewelry industry treat its workers

The jewelry industry continues to have problems, but progress is being made for better working conditions and pay. There are critics that argue that the industry is one of the leading contributors to human rights abuses, specifically, the employment of child and slave labor. 

While it's impossible to verify every accusation made against the jewelry industry, a 2016 study by The International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) did show some progress has been made in recent years.

One of the main challenges faced by workers in the jewelry industry is their status as semi-independent contractors. As such, workers have little recourse if they experience exploitation or abuse at work. This means that even if you do see signs of abuse, you may have difficulty proving it occurred.

This is why you should strongly consider using companies that use Fairtrade gold or Fairmined gold and conflict-free stones.

What is Fairtrade Gold and Fairmined Gold

Fairtrade Gold is a certification run by Fairtrade, a global organization working to

secure a better deal for producers worldwide. Fairtrade believes that trade can be a fundamental driver of poverty reduction and sustainable development, but only if it is managed with greater equity and transparency. Fairmined Gold is an assurance label that certifies gold sourced from artisanal and small-scale mining organizations which strive to adhere to responsible practices. This assurance of gold mines ensures social development, environmental protection, and a powerful positive force for good. With Fairmined-sourced gold, everyone can proudly contribute to ethical and responsible mining practices

What are conflict free diamonds or stones?

Conflict free diamonds or other precious conflict free stones that have been sourced without causing harm to people or the environment. These stones are monitored through the Kimberley Process. The Kimberley Process (KP) is an international, multi-stakeholder initiative created to increase transparency and oversight in the diamond industry in order to eliminate trade in conflict diamonds, or rough diamonds sold by rebel groups or their allies to fund conflict against legitimate governments. It is a process adopted by the United Nations in December 2000. However, there is little oversight and this process is not foolproof and there have been reports conflict diamonds have been mixed in. 

How Can You Tell if Your Jewelry Is Sustainable or Ethical

Nearly all ethical jewelry companies will have a label that proves their product is ethically made. The most common of these labels is Fairtrade. Fairtrade has a certification program that guarantees the workers who make the products are paid a fair wage and are treated with dignity and respect. Other labels that you may see are can be considered to ethical and sustainable:

Conflict Free Sourcing Initiative - The Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative (CFSI) is an international coalition of more than two hundred leading companies from seven different industries dedicated to providing information and resources to promote responsible sourcing of conflict minerals in their supply chains.

. CFSI was founded in 2008 in response to the growing concerns over the use of conflict minerals in global supply chains. The initiative works with companies of all sizes to develop responsible sourcing practices and promote transparency in global supply chains.

Alliance for Responsible Mining - The Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM) is a leading advocacy organization promoting sustainable mining practices around the world. ARM works with miners, communities, governments, and other stakeholders to ensure that mining operations are conducted in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. The organization also provides training and support to help miners adopt best practices and improve their environmental and social performance.

FLOCERT - FLOCERT GmbH is the independent Fairtrade certification body offering Fairtrade certification services to clients in more than countries. As the certifier of Fairtrade gold, silver and diamonds, FLOCERT is committed to ensuring that jewelry products are sourced sustainably and responsibly. Through its certification services, FLOCERT helps jewelers to meet consumer demand for ethical and sustainable jewelry products.

Responsible Jewellery Council - The Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) is an international non-profit organization that promotes responsible ethical, social and environmental practices in the gold and diamond jewellery supply chain. The RJC's membership includes jewellery companies of all sizes, from large retailers to small artisanal workshops, as well as suppliers of gold, diamonds and other precious materials. The RJC's Code of Practices covers all aspects of the jewellery supply chain from mining to retail, and provides a framework for companies to implement responsible business practices. The RJC is committed to transparency and accountability in the jewellery industry, and works with its members to continuously improve their practices.

B Corps - B Corps is a certification given to businesses that meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. To become a B Corp, a business must complete an assessment of their impact on all stakeholders, including employees, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. Businesses that earn the B Corp certification are leaders in sustainable business practices and are committed to using business as a force for good.

SCS-007 - The SCS-007 certified diamond standard is a new way to ensure that your jewelry is sustainable. This standard is the jewelry industry's equivalent of the USDA certified organic label. The USDA certified organic standard applies to foods grown according to strict, environmentally friendly farming standards and practices, whereas the SCS-007 standard applies to natural or lab-grown diamonds that are sustainability rated, i.e. environmentally friendly. This certification guarantees that your diamonds are sourced from certified mines that meet the highest environmental, social and ethical standards. With this certification, you can be sure that your jewelry is not only beautiful, but also sustainable.

Where to Find Good Quality Sustainable and Ethical Jewlery

There are many places to find good quality sustainable and ethical jewelry. Before you start shopping, here is where you can do your research to find sustainable jewelry from ethically conscious companies:

  1. Start with Google - There is no better place to start your research than using Google.  Use keyword terms like "sustainable jewelry near me" or "ethical jewelry companies". 
  2. Go local - Visit local arts and crafts stores to help you get an idea of what you like and learn more from the owners who also believe in sustainability.
  3. Ask Reddit - There are plenty of people who have come before you looking for the same thing. They done their research and provide you valuable feedback on certain brands to trust and to avoid. You can visit this subreddit or this one.
  4. Check Instagram - Like Reddit, Instagram is a great tool to find sustainable jewelry. Be wary of the glossy images winning you over.  Do your research if you like something to confirm that it is indeed sustainable and ethical jewelry.  Use this link to get you started.
  5. Speak with friends and family - While friends and family are a great resource and often have the best intention in mind, they may not be the most informed. Always do your own research with brands that they recommend to make sure that it meets your ethical and sustainable guidelines.

How Much Does Sustainable and Ethical Jewelry Cost?

On average, sustainable and ethical jewelry costs a bit more than conventional jewelry. However, this extra cost is often worth it because sustainable and ethical jewellers take their responsibility to the environment seriously. That extra effort to monitor and ensure that mining practices have minimal impact to the environment while supporting and sustaining local economies is critical for our generation and future generations to come. Not only do they use better materials, but they also promote social responsibility through their businesses. 

Which Types of Jewelry Are the Best for Sustainability and Ethics?

There are many different types of jewelry that can be considered sustainable and ethical. Let's take a look at three types 

  1. Recycled Precious Stones, Metals, and Other Materials

    Precious metals can be recycled. For example, silver and gold can be easily melted and reformed into a new piece of jewelry. Melting the precious metal jewelry doesn't affect the quality nor does it lower the value. This is great from both an environmental and financial standpoint. Precious gemstones can also be recycle but it is more difficult to do and not as profitable. This can only be achieved only a smaller artisanal scale to ensure that it is sustainable.

    The big upside to recycled jewelry is that it doesn't require further mining which is better for the environment. Aside from the initial mining process, no additional use of cyanide solvents are required which means that environmental damage is eliminated. The use of recycled gold and other metals in jewelry also gives new life to old or damaged pieces without losing its value (monetary and sentimental). 

    Always look for brands that use recycled gold or other recycled metals when you shop for ethical and sustainable jewelry. Or, consider a buy-back option where jewelry can be upcycled. Reimagining the way we view jewelry is critical if we are to achieve a zero waste economy in the industry.
  2. Ethically-Sourced Gems

    Ethically-sourced gems is also an excellent option because the brands you purchase from believe in transparency in sourcing their materials. You can be sure that the conversation will mention or touch upon workers rights, their health and safety, equitable pay and in a non-conflict region.  Part of the conversation should also include sustainability practices and environmental protocols in place to minimizing or reducing the environmental impact.
  3. Lab-Grown Diamonds

    Even with the Kimberley Process (mentioned above) and a variety of claims, it’s really difficult to ensure that mined diamonds are sourced ethically.

    As a result, lab-grown diamonds are becoming more popular, with nearly 70% of millennials saying they would buy a lab-grown alternative.

    Why is this?

    Lab-grown diamonds are an eco-friendly and ethical alternative to natural

    diamonds, as they are produced without the environmental and humanitarian catastrophes that often accompany diamond mining. Lab-grown diamonds are produced using heat and pressure, similar to their natural counterparts. However, instead of being mined from the earth, these diamonds are created using different type of machines. One type of machine used is a High Pressure High Temperature system, while another is a Chemical Vapor Deposition system.

    Although technology may sound like the perfect solution, the processes are not all squeaky clean. Since it requires a lot of energy to power these machines, it has been suggested that the emissions from growing diamonds in a lab are higher than those from mining natural diamonds. However, without lab data it is difficult to draw concrete conclusions.

    Several lab-grown diamond companies have become certified carbon neutral over the years, using only renewable energy to power their operations. This has led natural diamond companies to start doing the same.

Wrapping Up

Now that you know when you buy ethical and sustainable jewelry, you're not only supporting a responsible industry, but you're also benefiting yourself.

Malleable is dedicated to upholding ethical standards from the procurement process to the finished product. The company ensures their employees receive a fair wage for their labor and emphasizes the importance of sustainability in jewelry making. Prioritizing recycling or reuse of existing jewelry, Malleable then looks to sustainable sources when creating pieces that customers will love while helping both society and the environment.

Whether you decide to shop here or elsewhere, here are three key takeaways why ethical and sustainable jewelry is a good choice:

1. You're helping protect the environment.

Sustainable jewelry is made with natural materials that can be reused or recycled, reducing the need for new resources. By buying ethically made jewelry, you're helping to preserve the planet's resources.

2. You're supporting independent designers.

Many ethical and sustainable jewelry designers are self-taught artisans who create unique pieces without using harmful chemicals or exploitative labor practices. Buying their work supports their livelihoods and helps keep talented artists in the industry.

3. You'll look great!

Ethical and sustainable jewelry is often more beautiful than traditional jewelry because it's made with natural materials that retain their colour and shine.

If you are looking for more advice or have additional questions, reach out to us book a free a consultation on creating your sustainable and ethical jewelry piece for you or your loved one.


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