As a fairly new jeweller, the vast amount of information and opinions on what constitutes becoming an ethical and conscious maker can be somewhat overwhelming. To try and counteract the fear of not doing enough all at once, at the start of this year I committed to making one change a month for the better within my business.
The whole day was full of informative and inspiring talkers but I (Ashley Lovie, current Jeweller in Resident at Vanilla Ink) am going to touch on some of my highlights here:
Emily Auckland talked about the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (which have depressingly taken a back seat with our current government) and explained how we can relate them to our practice. These goals address all aspects of global challenges that we face and offer a blueprint for how we can build a better and more sustainable future for all. The goals interlink- by improving on some, we inadvertently can affect others- in both a positive and negative way. The UK is not on track to meet the agreed targets which makes it even more important to realise that every tiny decision can help.
Ebba Goring from the Incorporation of Goldsmiths introduced their Ethical Making resource which has lots of information on how to make changes within your practice, including supplier links and workshop checklists.
We also heard from Jennifer Gray about an Ethical Elective that is being developed by Edinburgh College of Art in order to introduce ideas and exploration of ethical making to prospective Jewellers while they are still students. All of the Scottish art schools have signed up to highlight and incorporate ethical making within their workshops and will be meeting regularly to discuss ways of doing this including using recycled metals and exploring techniques that have been adapted in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way.
Stuart Pool from Nineteen48 Ethical Gemstones, showed a video which gave an overview of the PACT Tanzania Project developed in association with Gemological Institute of America (GIA). The project developed hardwearing books and trays which were given out to mining communities along with teaching sessions to give them the opportunity to build knowledge about the stones they are mining for. By providing this information, miners are then able to confidently identify stones, sell them for a fair price and pass this knowledge on to others. There is evidence already to show the positive impact this relatively small step can have on communities and hopefully there is scope to extend this project elsewhere.
Hannah Bedford was interviewed by David Crump and she explained how she fits ethical making in with her brand. Customers are able to repurpose metal and stones from their own jewellery for bespoke designs and she offers Fairtrade and recycled metal options. She explained that by opening up this narrative to clients, it encourages them to make informed decisions about the jewellery they are purchasing.
Finally I want to highlight Dr Sandra Wilson’s talk titled Urban Gold Rush which gave an overview of her work exploring precious metal use in electronics and how to recover it. A few surprising facts were that approximately £15 billion worth of gold and silver are used each year in the electronics industry and only 11% of these metals are currently being recovered when the item is disposed of- the rest goes to landfill. By highlighting unconventional methods of reclaiming recycled metals it encourages us to think outside the box when it comes to thinking about sustainability.
One of my main takeaways from the day is that becoming an ethical maker is not a black and white journey, instead there are multiple grey areas and the end goal will look different for each maker and continue to evolve through the years.
If you get the chance to attend any of their future events I would highly recommend it as a way to challenge your perceptions and your practice.
Since committing to making changes within my own business in January I have made adjustments in the following areas:
Postal Packaging- I swapped bubble postage bags for recycled cardboard boxes and acid-free tissue paper once I had run out of my existing stock. These are sealed using Kraft tape which is also able to be recycled in the paper recycling.
Jewellery Boxes- I also upgraded my jewellery boxes to ones that are FSC®-certified. After investigation, I found out that foil embossing in a logo does not affect recyclability so was able to keep that part of my branding. Currently the foam insert is not able to be recycled so I’ll be looking for options to replace that in future. I struggled to find a UK supplier with a quality that I was happy with so I chose to continue using Westpack.
Recycled Metals- I have been working on making the move to using recycled metals as standard within my work and I would estimate I am about 90% there with the changes. It’s taking a lot longer than I expected but I want to be able to implement this properly and would rather do it right. I’ve swapped all casting elements to recycled metals along with all the silver that is bench produced but I’m struggling with finding recycled earring backs and silver chain. As a response to this, I have started exploring new design ideas that don’t require added findings.
Fairtrade Gold- I signed up to become a Fairtrade Registered jeweller and am now able to offer this as an option for all of my gold pieces. I have also managed to source Fairtrade Gold chain so this will be used as standard for my gold pieces moving forward.
Energy Supplier- I changed my home electricity supplier to a green energy company so that all energy used for running my business from home comes from renewable sources. Interestingly, there has been no increase my bills at all.
Gemstones and Diamonds- I’ve started researching into this and exploring my options but understand this might take a while to settle on a stance with. Factors I want to consider going forward are using reclaimed stones, looking into stones that are sourced from reputable mines but also considering the designs of my pieces so that they can be adapted easily to use stones that are available from my preferred suppliers instead of resorting to using suppliers that are not inline with my ethics purely for aesthetic reasons.