For the Earth’s Sake

Back in September, the JCK editorial staff began discussing the concept of a “green” issue; i.e., one devoted to environmental concerns in the jewelry industry.

Getting it right took some debate. JCK has covered environmental issues in the past, but mainly in terms of manufacturing practices, not in the broader scope of mining and preservation of the earth. Both, however, are critically important to the future of our industry and the future of the planet.

Green is the buzzword du jour, creating temptation for marketers to greenwash existing products or introduce new ones that seem environmentally benign but do more harm than good. Meanwhile, consumers may be tempted to replace appliances with energy-efficient models before the old ones are worn out, creating unnecessary landfill without negating the environmental impact from manufacturing their current appliances. Better to let old appliances finish their life before replacing them.

Environmentalism is a timely topic. Apart from documentaries like Al Gore’s award-winning An Inconvenient Truth, many magazines have produced green issues of late, such as Vanity Fair and Metropolitan Home. But for an industry whose first step in the supply chain is extractive mining—and whose end result is a luxury product that isn’t necessary for survival—it’s imperative that we examine ways to minimize environmental impact, and, when necessary, drive change from the mines all the way to the retail counter.

As children, we’re taught that when we borrow something, it’s our responsibility to return it in the same or better condition. And if we damage an item we’ve borrowed, we’re taught to apologize sincerely and replace it immediately. But replacing your neighbor’s drill or your sister’s favorite sweater is easy. Replacing the earth is impossible. We must take care of it.

Some who embrace environmentalism disparage any efforts they perceive as less than complete commitment. That can make ordinary individuals feel as though small efforts don’t matter. That’s wrong. Every effort counts. Do whatever you can, and challenge yourself to continually make small changes for the better.

But let’s be honest: Living in a way that has minimal environmental impact is time consuming and difficult for working people who spend a full day on the job and have plenty to do at home. I’ll be the first to admit I’m an environmental schizophrenic. I’m adamant about recycling, but I drink bottled water. An ardent environmentalist would chastise me for the carbon footprint that leaves, but what about the aftertaste our local tap water leaves? Or, as recent news reports have addressed, the possible pharmaceutical residue it also might leave? Yes, I wish our bottled water came in glass rather than plastic—and I’d spend the extra money if it did—but that’s far more common abroad than here.

We use environmentally friendly spray cleaner on our kitchen counters and table at home, but we use paper towels (recycled, at least) to wipe it up. But what’s more environmentally sound? Using a recycled paper towel to mop down the counter or running additional loads of laundry—with the extra electricity, natural gas, water, and detergent that entails—to clean rags? Neither is ideal, but the best answer—hand washing the rags in a little soap and water and hanging them to dry—is not something many of us are willing to do.

Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are another product receiving lots of publicity these days. They do save electricity, but they’re costly at the outset and many people (myself included) don’t like fluorescent light. And the CFLs I’ve seen in use are not nearly as bright as a 60-watt bulb, so it takes three or four to get the same degree of light in a room. Better, I think, to turn off the lights when you leave the room.

You can make a lot of incremental changes, both at home and in your store. In the macro sense, you can work with suppliers who demonstrate a record of environmentally sound practices and make sure your bench jewelers use proper methods to dispose of hazardous materials. And don’t forget the common-sense habits your parents or grandparents taught you: Turn off lights; adjust thermostats; walk, bike, or take public transit to destinations when you can safely do so; group your errands to make fewer car trips; reuse grocery bags; turn off the TV when you’re not watching it; and repair more and replace less.

None of this is rocket science, and none of it is a great sacrifice. But it is part of what it takes to be a responsible citizen, a caring individual, and a good steward of the planet.

The earth matters.