Since ancient times, more emphasis and importance have been placed on one particular natural resource than any other: gold. Because of this heightened demand (and, let’s face it, obsession) for gold, our methods of obtaining it have not always been particularly considerate on either ethical or environmental levels.
This brings us to the modern era, which is thankfully seeing consumers that are no longer content with jewellery that simply looks good. Today, more is required from jewellery companies to ensure that they can sell truly sustainable gold jewellery.
Today’s consumers are more likely to consider ethical concerns, including the social welfare of distant others, as well as animal and environmental issues.
Buying or investing in pure gold jewellery is made all the more satisfying when you know that the product you're purchasing is without a murky or convoluted background.
What’s more, purchasing ethically sourced and sustainable jewellery allows you to wear your jewellery proudly. There’s no need to be concerned that your purchase was responsible for any societal or environmental damage.
One of the buzz phrase that's doing the rounds recently is “sustainable gold”, but what exactly does that mean? We’re here to talk you through it, which should shed some light on whether there’s any substance behind this concept.
Eco-gold vs ethical gold vs recycled gold jewellery
Since the 1700s, gold mining has had a vibrant and, at times, complex history. This history has, unfortunately, involved large amounts of damage to both the environment and people.
Contamination of ecosystems with toxic waste, child labour, worker exploitation, land rights violation, and displacement of communities are just some examples of the negative impacts of irresponsible gold mining.
Thankfully, recent societal trends have seen heightened demand for accountability regarding environmental damage, and have forced the industry to reinvent itself for the modern age. This has seen different organisations and jewellers combining to address these issues, forming alliances to brainstorm and offer sustainable alternatives for the future.
This new movement has produced some of the more new-age jewellery terms, such as “fairtrade gold jewellery”. Other commonly used terms spawned from this new movement are “green”, “eco”, “eco-friendly”, “ethical” or “recycled” gold jewellery.
Many of these titles are third-party certified (for example, Fairtrade or Fairmined), whereas others simply follow similar guidelines but without certification.
To shed some light on this topic, we at 7879 have made a helpful list which includes indications for what to look out for when buying your next piece of gold jewellery. With these terms under your belt, you’ll be ready to shop confidently, knowing what to look out for to ensure potential purchases are as sustainable as possible.
Ethical gold refers to gold from responsible Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM) companies. In this instance, responsible refers to there being:
- No informal economy
- No illegal operations
- No environmentally unsound practices
- Good labour conditions
- No gender inequality
- No child labour
- No contribution to armed conflicts
- Transparent supply chains
Ethical gold comes from mines which work with different kinds of organisations. These organisations work together through programs, the development of initiatives, training, and other strategies to support the miners and their communities in improving their living conditions and responsible mining practices.
We’re sure this list of initiatives is not what you would typically associate with gold mining. Still, thankfully many parts of the industry have taken positive steps in this direction.
Ethical gold may still be recovered with the use of mercury or cyanide, but the treatment of any residual chemicals is conducted in a safe manner. This means that any chemicals used during the gold mining process are safely stored and disposed of, sparing the local environment of any damage.
Updated practices like this allow for some of the previously harmful methods of recovering gold to be adapted to modern demand.
Large-scale mining is unsurprisingly very destructive to the immediate environment, as well as any nearby aquatic ecosystems. Contrary to what you might believe, this doesn’t mean that small-scale mining is necessarily more eco-friendly, as this sector is, in fact, the largest mercury pollutant in the world.
Cyanide and mercury are used in this gold mining process, which harms human health and the environment. After reading that, it might seem impossible that Eco-Gold can exist, but rest assured, it definitely does!
There are a few key words to look out for for anyone seeking ethically sourced gold: Eco-friendly Gold, Eco-Gold, or Green-Gold. These gold classifications are for metal mined and recovered with minimal ecological disruption and without using mercury, cyanide, or other hazardous chemicals.
This is usually possible by simply using the old-school gravity method (in the same vein as the classic sieve-in-the-river technique).
All these methods are environmentally friendly, healthier methods of gold mining, complete with programs for restoring native ecosystems. This means that in many cases, purchasing Eco-Gold jewellery even assists in the maintenance and longevity of the environment from which it came!
This Eco-Gold is one of the surest ways to ensure that your jewellery is responsible for the least amount of ecological damage possible. While wearing this jewellery, you can rest assured that your item was produced without any harmful chemicals or large-scale environmental disruption.
Recycled gold is defined as gold that has already been previously refined. The term can be associated with many different facets of the gold industry, including post-consumer products, gold-bearing products, scrap and waste metals, and various other sources.
The origin of recycled gold is considered the point in the gold supply chain where the gold is delivered to the refiner or recycler. Not only does recycling gold reduce many of the associated negative environmental impacts, but it can also be more cost-effective for everyone involved along the supply chain.
There are three main subcategories of recycled gold:
- Unprocessed recyclable gold (e.g. bullion bars, pieces of jewellery, or coins)
- Industrial by-product (e.g. furnace flue dust, spent crucibles, or floor sweepings)
- Melted recyclable gold (which has been melted as the first recycling process and cast into rudimentary bars or some other form with undefined dimensions and variable fineness)
Since refineries often collate gold from multiple sources, it has in the past been very difficult to trace the source reliably. “Dirty Gold” from conflict-affected and high-risk areas may enter the supply chain as recycled gold (as part of the subcategory described before) to hide its origin.
This problem, unfortunately, makes it even more difficult to determine ethically sourced gold jewellery.
All of this considered, recycled gold is still a viable option for those wishing to minimise any environmental impact associated with their purchase. With vintage and recycled clothing as trendy as it currently is, there’s no reason why recycled jewellery can’t experience the same surge in popularity!
The bottom line
At the end of the day, the best way to ensure that you are purchasing ethically sourced gold is to put in as much groundwork as possible while shopping around. As you’ve probably gathered from our article, each method of producing sustainable gold is not without its pitfalls, which means the onus is still on you to ensure that you’re buying a product that is as ethical as possible.
When you’re on the lookout for gold jewellery, be sure to inquire about the origin of any gold you may be interested in, including how it was mined. Becoming better versed on environmentally friendly mining methods, as well as particular brands or organisations, can help make this process a little less tedious.
You can also look for certification from organisations – such as Fairtrade or Fairmined – or search for eco-friendly or recycled gold. Also, be aware that recycled gold may still come from conflict-affected areas, so always ask about the source of the gold you're buying.
Thankfully, we here at 7879 strive to use nothing but ethically sourced and sustainable gold in all of our 24-karat gold jewellery. By purchasing our jewellery, you can rest assured knowing that the gold used in our products corresponds to approximately 1% of the environmental damage of newly mined gold.
We purchase our gold exclusively from ethical suppliers, with the aim of making the entire precious-metal industry more sustainable and less problematic. With enough companies like us making positive steps towards sustainable resourcing, we can help the entire industry shift away from its problem-plagued past, better aligning it with the interests of both society and the planet for many years to come.
If you’re ready to invest in exquisite and sustainable gold jewellery, why not start with our illustrious 24-Karat Gold collection?
Our stunning pure-gold pieces have you looking your absolute glamorous best. You can have the peace of mind knowing that the gold you’re wearing has left minimal traces of ethical or environmental damage throughout its journey to your wardrobe.