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Ethical Fashion, Life & Style

Ethical Jewellery: The Greenwashing To Be Wary Of

Greenwashing in the jewellery industry, particularly the ethical jewellery industry, is a huge issue. Here’s how to navigate the greenwashing maze with the key points to look out for when shopping for ethical jewellery, including diamonds and gold.

When it comes to buying ethical jewellery, it turns out there is a myriad of issues. From misleading claims of recycled metals to the misleading labelling of jewellery as vegan. When you include the many issues surrounding the diamond trade, as well as misleading accreditation schemes, there are many ethical pitfalls to be wary of.

Thankfully, Edward Fleming from Ethical Jewellery Blog is on hand in this guest post for Moral Fibres readers. Here Edward tells us about the greenwashing that occurs in the jewellery industry, so you don’t fall foul of misinformation.

Flat lay of gold jewellery or jewelry on a pink background with a blue text box that says what to look out for when buying ethical jewellery

Is Recycled Gold Jewellery Ethical?

The biggest greenwashing issue in the jewellery world today is the misinformation spread about ‘recycled gold’. Claims by some brands, selling platforms, and even well-respected publications about the positive effect that using recycled gold has is simply greenwashing.

It may seem obvious, that using recycled gold instead of mined gold is beneficial as it stops gold from being mined. However, unfortunately, this isn’t true. It is true that gold mining can be incredibly destructive. It is in fact the overall demand for gold, on a global scale, that keeps it going.

In short, while demand for gold outstrips supply, taking gold out of the supply chain means that new metal will be mined to make up for that shortfall. Using gold for jewellery takes it out of the supply chain. This means that other consumers of gold, like central banks and electronics, will consume freshly mined gold. The overall amount of gold mined globally does not decrease.

Demand for gold from the jewellery industry accounts for approximately 45% annually. If this demand disappeared overnight then demand for gold would basically halve. This would have a dramatic effect on the amount of gold that is mined. 

It’s Nothing New

Gold has always been recycled. Unlike plastic, people have never thrown away gold. And unlike plastic, our seas and soils aren’t awash with discarded gold. As a result, any jeweller could say they use recycled gold and it would be true. ‘Recycled gold’ has always been a part of the jewellery supply chain and there is a well-established recycling infrastructure surrounding it, known as refining.

Understanding this is important because if you feel that things need to change, then just doing what has always been done isn’t going to affect that change.

The only way to reduce demand, and therefore reduce mining, is to put that gold back into the supply chain, and not use it for jewellery. Using gold (or silver or platinum) in jewellery means it cannot be used for anything else.

What’s The Best Option When It Comes to Buying Gold Jewellery Ethically?

The best option for using gold that has a reduced human and environmental footprint is by buying Fairtrade and Fairmined gold. Here, organizations work with small-scale miners to help them develop their communities and implement best practices for mining. It also ensures sustainable and ethical sourcing.

What About Vegan Jewellery?

The only animals used in the jewellery supply chain are muscles and clams. This is where all-natural pearls come from. Though horses used to be used in coal mines, gemstone and gold mines tend to be much smaller. This is why people, and often children, end up working in gem and gold mines rather than animals. 

Labelling jewellery as a vegan is basically a way of marketing to vegans without changing anything about the processes that exist in the jewellery industry. A gold ring with a sapphire that is labelled vegan could still have been made in a sweatshop. It could still have been made with materials that have been mined by children or adults in extreme poverty. They could be being working in mines that cause damage to the environment.

In short, labelling jewellery as vegan that was never animal-based in the first is a form of greenwashing.

What About Ethical Diamond Jewellery?

Now we’ve covered recycled gold and vegan jewellery, you might be wondering about diamond jewellery, and if this can be bought ethically. Unfortunately, there are a number of issues when it comes to diamond jewellery that makes it far from ethical.

Aren’t Conflict Free Diamonds Ethical?

You might have seen jewellery retailers selling ethical conflict-free diamonds. However, just because a diamond hasn’t funded conflict, doesn’t mean your jewellery has been ethically sourced. This is because funding conflict isn’t the only issue with diamond production. Environmental damage and exploitation of workers, including children, affect the trade too.

‘Conflict free’ refers to a diamond that has been certified by the Kimberley Process. The Kimberley Process was set up in the early 2000s as the response to the Blood Diamond scandal. Here diamonds were used to fund civil wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, The Democratic Republic of Congo, the Ivory Coast, and Angola. This process was only ever set up to stop diamonds from these areas from entering the global diamond trade. As such, it was never set up to address the environmental and workers’ rights issues in the diamond trade.

Even the Kimberly Process’s ability to prevent diamonds funding conflict has been called into question. Consequently, the Kimberley Process is considered by many to be deeply flawed. As such, it has been abandoned by many of the NGOs who were involved in its creation.

Still today many jewellery companies try and associate the Kimberley Process with ‘ethical sourcing’. This tricks customers into thinking this process means a diamond has been ethically sourced. However, there are many efforts that go beyond the Kimberley Process. Diamonds can be traced to the exact mine they came from, for instance. This traceability offers the most responsible choice for choosing an ethical diamond.

Are Lab-Grown Diamonds A Better Choice?

Given the issues we have discussed with diamond mining, lab-grown diamonds may seem like a default better alternative. However, they need to be treated with the same skepticism and suspicion that regular diamonds do as many of the same issues affect them.

The process of growing diamonds in a lab is very energy-intensive. Although some producers claim to offset this, many of these claims are not independently verified. Furthermore, a mined diamond could have a significantly smaller carbon footprint. This is because alluvial artisanal diamond mining requires no machinery and is entirely human-powered. 

A lot of the content pushed by lab-grown diamond producers tries to portray a simple narrative. This being lab-grown diamonds are good and mined diamonds are bad. This narrative demonises many small-scale diamond miners who rely on income from diamond mining. It also dismisses the fact that often lab-grown diamonds are cut and polished in the same places that natural diamonds are. Here working conditions and pay can be very poor.

It’s also important to remember that all lab-grown diamonds are grown from a sliver of natural diamond. A fact that lab-grown diamond companies seem to forget when promoting the harm the natural diamond industry does.

Our Tips on Buying Ethical Diamond Jewellery

Pre-owned or second-hand diamonds are available but the same issues with gold exist. The diamond industry is demand-driven. By taking a second-hand diamond out of the supply chain, then it may mean that somebody else ends up buying a newly mined diamond.  If the goal was to reduce diamond mining then sadly, shopping secondhand does not have that effect.

Canada Mark diamonds are considered the best ethical option currently. Ocean diamonds, which are picked off the seafloor in South Africa are another more ethical choice. There are also some efforts to bring traceable diamonds from Botswana. All diamonds mined by De Beers, which come from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, or Canada are also considered to be reasonably safe sources. However, there is nothing available in the diamond trade that brings the level of transparency and overall benefit that Fairtrade or Fairmined bring to the gold sector.

What About Organisations Such As the Responsible Jewellery Council?

Instead of looking at their supply chain and becoming involved in improving it, many companies like to hide behind trade organisations that purport to be at the forefront of the change that the industry needs. Chief amongst these is the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC). This is a trade body run by, and for the interests of the largest jewellery companies.

In 2013, an international coalition of unions and environmental NGOs called for a major overhaul of the RJC. In a 124-page report, the group alleged the RJC’s certification system is flawed, saying the RJC fails to consider the source of products, certifying companies as a whole, not individual sites or facilities. The report also branded the organisation a poor imitation of the Forest Stewardship Council and cited various loopholes – including a failure to ban developments in conflict zones, to demand limits on air or water pollution, or to require members to obtain the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples.

Therefore, seeing the Responsible Jewellery Council logo, or seeing a brand talk about it in content is a greenwashing red flag.

To Sum Up

There are many misleading claims when it comes to the ethical jewellery sector. From claims of recycled jewellery being ethical, to conflict-free or lab-grown diamonds being a more ethical solution to mined diamonds. Whilst normal advice would be to shop secondhand, this doesn’t bring about the change the jewellery industry needs. Instead, our advice would be for gold jewellery to seek out external and impartial certification schemes such as fairmined and fairtrade. When it comes to diamonds, there are a number of more ethical options available. However, there is nothing on the scale or impact of the gold certification schemes.

We’d also advise you to be wary of claims such as vegan when it comes to jewellery that you wouldn’t expect to contain any animal-based elements. And finally, be wary of retailers that cite trade bodies that are run by, and for the interests of the jewellery industry.

Ethical Fashion, Life & Style

The Best Vegan Belts Made From Recycled Materials

Buckle up in style with our guide to the best vegan belts for men and women. And there’s no fake plastic leather here. All belts featured are made from recycled materials for a more sustainable and eco-friendly take on this wardrobe staple.

To help support the running costs of Moral Fibres, this post contains affiliate links, denoted by *. Moral Fibres may earn a small commission, at no extra cost to readers, on items that have been purchased through those links.

With more than a third of adults in the UK now interested in trying a vegan or plant-based diet, there is now increasing options when it comes to vegan-friendly food products. And that growth hasn’t just been restricted to food and drink products. More and more vegan clothing and accessories are now available – taking the vegan clothing sector from a niche to a more mainstream audience.

This in turn means that products such as vegan belts are much easier to get hold of. However, this proliferation of vegan products gives rise to an increase in greenwashing.

Belts made from vegan leather, for example, are marketed as a green alternative. However, most vegan leather is made from or with plastic. The problem here is that plastic is a non-renewable fossil fuel that helps contribute to the rise in greenhouse gases responsible for climate change.

The use of vegan leather is a better choice when it comes to parts of your wardrobe where there are few alternatives. Take vegan shoes for example. However, for other areas of your wardrobe, I’d always recommend finding materials with a smaller impact on the environment.

The Best Vegan Belts Made From Recycled Materials

To help you out, I’ve put together my guide to vegan belts made from more sustainable materials, whether you need a new belt to help hold up a pair of ethical jeans or trousers, or to sinch in a dress. Buckle up and read on for my top eco-friendly recommendations.

Elvis & Kresse Belts Made From Decommissioned Fire Hoses

Person wearing a red Elvis and Kresse vegan belt made from recycled fire hoses.

Elvis & Kresse’s range of unisex vegan belts* are intriguingly made from recycled firehoses.

It’s true. For over a decade, Elvis & Kresse have been rescuing all of London’s retired fire-hose. Rather than heading to landfill, the hoses are handcrafted into sustainable luxury bags and accessories.

Elvis & Kresse’s lovely belts don’t just look good. They do good. 50% of the profits from their Fire-hose Collection go to The Fire Fighters Charity. This charity offers specialist, lifelong support for members of the UK fire services community, helping to support serving and retired firefighters with their mental, physical and social wellbeing throughout their lives.

Please note, whilst the overwhelming majority of Elvis & Kresse belts are vegan-friendly, the Fire & Hide range is not. Instead, this range combines decommissioned fire hoses with otherwise unusable offcuts of leather.

Buy directly from Elvis & Kresse*, starting from £41.

Cycle of Good Vegan Belts Made From Innertubes

recycled innertube vegan belt

Love cycling? Love recycling? Then you’re going to love Cycle of Good. Cycle of Good saves the waste associated with cycling from landfill and re-purposes it into useful items that will last a lifetime.

Each high-quality vegan belt* is crafted by skilled Malawian artisans. Four layers of recycled bicycle inner tubes – which would have otherwise ended in landfill – are expertly stitched together. This makes each belt very strong and durable.

Want to change the buckle? A popper allows you to switch up the look and fit of your belt, with one quick and simple pop! 

Profits from the sale of their repurposed goods then help to fund education, family support and non-profit enterprise development in Malawi. 

Buy Cycle of Good’s belt from Traidcraft* or Ethical Superstore* for around £26.

Recycled Climbing Rope Belt

belt made from recycled climbing ropes

DeCoredDesign gives new life to retired climbing ropes, by repurposing them into belts and other accessories.

All of their vegan-friendly belts* are crafted by joining lengths of rope sheath – matching and aligning patterns where necessary – to create the belt webbing.

Some belts are then paired with stainless steel D shackles, to create a secure quick-lock fastening.

Alternatively, some of the belts are paired with retired harness buckles as a fastening system. This creates a truly upcycled climbing product! The buckles vary from brand to brand, and belt to belt, which means no one belt ever looks the same.

Suitable for both men and women, these jazzy vegan belts from DeCored Design are sure to bring a little pop of colour to your outfit.

Buy DeCored Design belts from Etsy* from £18.99.

FJÄLLRÄVEN – Recycled Polyester Belt 

Whilst Fjallraven is primarily known for their range of backpacks, it’s a little-known fact that the Swedish company also makes a range of accessories.

Whilst the majority of Fjallraven’s belts are vegan and vegetarian friendly, this Abisko Midsummer belt* is the only one that is made with recycled materials. And it is a bit of a compromise, as this stylish and unisex vegan belt is made with partly recycled polyester, rather than 100% recycled polyester.

I’d love to see Fjallraven expand its range of products made with recycled materials, and shift from using partly recycled polyester to using 100% recycled polyester. In the meantime, I’d rate their efforts as a start.

Buy the Abisko Midsummer belt from Alpinetrek* for £27.85, where it’s available in 3 different colours.

Patagonia’s Tech Web Vegan Belt

Looking for a real multi-tasker? Patagonia’s vegan-friendly Tech Web belt* is made with 100% recycled nylon webbing. What sets it apart from other belts is that its tough yet lightweight aluminium buckle is notched – making it able to pry off a bottle cap. Handy if you are out and about on an outdoor adventure without a bottle opener!

The belt is Fair Trade Certified™ sewn. This means that Patagonia pays a premium to the factory that makes their clothing and accessories. That extra money goes directly to the workers at the factory, and they decide how to spend it. How that works is that in each factory, a democratically elected committee of Fair Trade workers decides how the funds will be used. Workers have chosen to use the premiums to fund community projects, like health-care programmes or child-care centres, or to purchase products they could not otherwise afford, like a laptop computer or a stove. Some opt to take a cash bonus.

Buy Patagonia’s Tech Web Belt from Alpinetrek* for £29.95.

In need of more ethical clothing inspiration? Then don’t forget to check out my guide to ethical clothing brands, as well as my guide to vegan wallets.

Main image used c/o Cycle Of Good