Christina Miller is an independent consultant, founder of Christina T. Miller Sustainable Jewelry Consulting and member of Ethical Metalsmiths’ advisory council. She supports companies in their path towards sustainable jewellery and has worked closely with the Alliance for Responsible Mining and its Fairmined initiative.
We talked with Christina about responsible sourcing, the need to include metals from artisanal and small-scale mining in ethical supply chains, and the challenges that companies have to take this path.
When it comes to the final consumers, would you say that there is a growing trend to purchase responsible jewelry?
I really think that consumers are seeking out jewelry, they are seeking out food, they are seeking out clothing. They are seeking out a variety of products they rely on and in a way that offers them a solution to their concerns.
We all know that we can’t buy our way to a better future, however, there’s a lot of power in your choice. What are we seeing is definitely an increasing interest from consumers, however, it’s not so easily clear,
Among jewelers there’s been a great interest in attracting the millennial consumer who have been labeled and identified as a group of people. They really want to know, and so jewelers are figuring out how to market to this group by talking about their practices. There is a bit of a problem so we have, you know with social media, and keywords searches and all this tools that we use online to attract consumers.
They’re doing a good job at attracting people so people search sustainable jewelry, that’s the common search term, people search ethical jewelry. However, that is not enough.
But I would say that there is definitely a trend. In surveying and interviewing some jewelers, generally it’s the jeweler that’s driving it on their own because when jewelers are asked, “do your consumers know where the gold comes from?”, the answers are ‘rarely’.
A lot of brands choose to focus on recycled gold because they care about the environment. Is choosing 100% recycled ‘enough’?
There are kind of varying levels of commitment within, so, if it’s possible to assure that the gold you are buying is 100% recycled and that can be verified by a third party, that’s one step more in a positive direction in terms of “is it sustainable?”
Where I get really frustrated, and sometimes a little bit confused, is when claims are made around that impact of that recycled choice, so, for instance, a claim that we often hear is that it reduces new mining,
“I’m using recycled gold because I don’t want to support any new mining” and that is a myth we have to unpack because it is inaccurate.
So a lot of people don’t wanna hear that, because it seems like it feels good, it makes sense, but really the gold that it’s in your recycled, even with third-party certification, could have been mined not long ago, could have been newly mined not long ago unfolded in the system.
There’s also with gold, there’s always room for bad actors, it is the nature of the material, it’s a material where money can easily be made, its easily melted down, converted, recast and so on.
So, how do I actually make the biggest difference?, how do I actually influence the materials that we are using and the people that are impacted by them in the best way? Who benefits when I make this gold purchase?
The only way we can really answer that is when we look at miners, we can really understand who’s benefiting and that’s the place where there’s still a lot of room for improvement and a lot of signalling that the industry needs to do. To show miners that there is support, and willingness to incentivize, what they’re doing.
There is also the systemic change that needs to occur where the entire industry and consumers learn how to accept the concept of continuous improvement where we believe each other when we say we are trying to improve and we show the evidence of that improvement over time, and so investing in artisanal and small-scale mining gold allows the direct influence of better practices.
What can the market do to contribute to that positive transformation? What would you recommend to the market to become more aware?
I want to start in a really small scenario with that, and that is again returning to that question of “What is the world I wanna see?”, “How do I advocate for the creation of that?” That becomes the core message of the market. Like the gold of the future, the silver of the future, the platinum of the future. In this case it’s gold mercury-free, it is mined in a way that protects the environment, it is mined in a way that returns deforested areas into forested areas.
So you can start to build a collective desire to see equity and justice, and care and fairness across the materials, so then everyone asks themselves this question, “What am I doing to support this vision?”, “What am I doing?” and you have to work within your limits.
A little example I wanna give is, I spoke with an independent jeweler who does not manufacture her own jewelry, she relies on an outside manufacture for bespoke engagement rings, and she really wants to do more,
It’s very limited in the way she can produce her work, so the recommendation, because we’ve been doing this work for so long, the recommendation is to find your community, find your peers, and together you can create market solutions that are going to allow you to produce with the materials you want to produce within a manageable, feasible way, and that solves the problem for the five jewelers who were asking for the same thing in the same town, but if you try to solve it on your own you are not going to be able to.
The personal thing is your own choice, and the second thing is finding the community of people that are going to continue to develop it, so becoming more aware means making yourself open to both the issues and the solutions and recognizing yourself as being either a contributor to one or the other, in which side do you want to be on.
Do you want to be a contributor to the issues or do you want to be a contributor to the solutions?