Brides and grooms looking for ethical ways to celebrate their marriage
can find lots of fair trade items for their weddings and receptions,
from flowers and rice to wine and coffee. But when it comes to their
rings - it's harder to be a responsible consumer.
Koenig got married last year, she wanted an environmentally friendly
wedding. One of the ways she did that was to have her bouquet made of
locally available blossoms to avoid pollution from overseas shipping.
were dried flower arrangements that I felt made more sense for November
when we got married because there's nothing fresh growing at that
point," she explains. "So they're this sort of lasting, permanent
reminder of the wedding that's also sustainable."
not the only bride interested in sustainable weddings. Elizabeth
Richman and her groom are also trying to reduce their carbon footprint
when they get married. They're looking for a responsible source for
their most lasting purchase: their wedding rings.
"In the same
way that we're having a vegetarian wedding, because we don't want lots
of animals killed for our celebration, and that involves a lot of
money, and this also involves a lot of money, and I think we want our
purchasing to be in accord with that."
Little rings with big environmental impacts
For a small piece of
jewelry, wedding rings have a huge impact. Scott Cardiff of the group
EARTHWORKS, which monitors the effects
of mineral development, says the production of a single gold ring
generates 20 tons of mine waste. And, he says, mining companies destroy
rainforests and use toxic ingredients to extract the gold.
gold mines move in, dig up a whole lot of land, create these open pits
and cause there to be acid leaking and metals, heavy metals that
contaminate the waterways."
In addition to the pollution, Cardiff says, gold mines are harming communities from Ecuador to Indonesia.
see gold mines around the world that are implicated in human rights
violations and in conflicts, as well as kicking people off their lands
and kicking people away from their livelihoods."
Crafting more earth-friendly jewelry
jewelers have taken steps to keep gold from those sorts of mines out of
their jewelry. Tiffany's and Company, for example, obtains most of its
gold from just one mine in the U.S. state of Utah. Tiffany's CEO Mike
Kowalski says it has a smaller impact than others.
"It did not
use cyanide heap-leaching for the extraction of gold. And most
importantly, it was a legacy mine, a mine that had been there for well
over 100 years, I believe. And so we felt that we weren't looking to
create mines where mines shouldn't be."
But without a
third-party to audit the Utah mine, even Kowalski says his company -
and its customers - just have to trust their word that the gold is
Kowalski points to what he calls the
problem at the heart of the matter: "What constitutes responsible
mining is not well defined, and there's no commonly accepted
definition. There's no consensus."
Setting clear standards
But recently, there has been
progress toward that consensus. Over the past few years, members of the
jewelry industry have come together under the umbrella of the
Responsible Jewelry Council. Its
CEO, Michael Rae, says they wanted to make the entire process of
creating jewelry more sustainable and ethical, so they came up with a
set of standards for everyone from miners to retail stores.
covers] environmental issues at the mining [level], child labor in
jewelry manufacture, through to improper descriptions of goods at the
retail level," he explains.
He gives an example of an angry
customer who's been deceived: "This isn't diamond and gold, this glass
and brass! What are you selling me?"
The certification system
will be up and running later this year. But even then, Rae says
consumers won't find rings with a Responsible Jewelry Council label,
like "Fair Trade" stickers on packages of coffee. They'll have to
locate a certified jeweler.
Still, some brides are skeptical.
Sarah Lenigan, who is getting married this summer, says she would be
interested in buying from a Responsible Jewelry Council member, but not
without reservations. She says consumers like her need more information
about the certification model.
"I mean, you can put a label on
anything," she points out. "You know, there could be a council of
wherever, but if I'm not familiar with that group. I don't know if it's
legit or not."
So, despite rising demand for responsible
jewelry, for now it's still easier for couples to know where the coffee
served at their reception came from, than one of their most important
purchases, their wedding rings.