What Does ‘Sustainability’ Mean? No One Knows, Panel Says


The jewelry industry needs to do more for sustainability, but it hurts that there’s no agreed-upon definition of the term, according to panelists at JCK’s first-ever Sustainability Summit, held on May 30 at the Venetian in Las Vegas.

“In the U.S., ‘sustainability’ is a catchall phrase,” said Tiffany Stevens, president and CEO of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee. “It really doesn’t mean anything.” She urged companies that make claims about sustainability to “do the work and have the proof of that work,” especially with greenwashing claims on the rise.

Ann Grimmett, vice president of merchandising of Jared, said company research shows that “sustainability is considered by consumers to mean caring for the planet and caring for people.” Signet “asks a lot of questions” of suppliers, she said. “We have to check our facts. We just don’t take things at face value. We have to see backup.”

Glenn Hansen, founder and CEO of Reduce 2, which helps companies improve their business practices, stated, “Sustainability is defined by the consumer.

“As long as you’re able to communicate that we’re trying, we have a target…people will be forgiving of you,” he said. “Whereas if you’re not doing that, and you’re just making claims, people won’t.”

Sustainability panelists
Glenn Hansen, Tiffany Stevens, Ann Grimmett, Melanie Grant, and Harvard Business School professor Dennis Campbell, who moderated

Melanie Grant, executive director of the Responsible Jewellery Council, noted that the RJC sees “sustainability as a journey of continuous improvement” since “nothing is completely sustainable.”

Dr. M. Sanjayan, CEO of Conservation International, said that while the jewelry industry has a “manageable” footprint, the problem of climate change is so vast that everyone has to do their part.

“We are facing a life-changing, generation-changing challenge,” he said. “We are starting to fray the very fabric that keeps us alive. In India, there is record-breaking heat, and when it gets too hot, you can’t function. Mexico City is a city of 22 million people, and it’s sinking every day because of the groundwater depletion. This is about something all around you—it’s for you, your family, and your kids.”

Iris Van der Veken, executive director of the Watch & Jewellery Initiative (WJI) 2030, a group that has set ambitious sustainability goals for companies, said the climate crisis is costing the earth $16 million an hour.

“What we ask today is for people to be the change agents, and be the change agents for a topic that we care about,” she said.

Marie-Claire Daveu, chief sustainability and institutional affairs officer at Kering, said her company cofounded WJI 2030 with Cartier because it knew it couldn’t make a difference on its own. “We are not big enough to change the supply chain,” said Daveu. “If we work together, we can make a difference.”

Top: Iris Van der Veken, Marie-Claire Daveu, and Dr. M. Sanjayan were panelists at JCK’s first Sustainability Summit. (Photos by Camilla Sjodin)

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By: Rob Bates

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