A business that has existed since the 1830s and is entrenched in American culture would not necessarily feel compelled to ensure it is a leader in ethical and responsible business. But Tiffany & Co. has long been a sustainability leader within its sector. Twenty years before many luxury goods companies began to pay attention to the sourcing of raw materials and how people working within their supply chains were affected, Tiffany’s developed policies that are increasingly becoming more mainstream throughout the jewelry industry.
In its latest corporate social responsibility report, Tiffany & Co. outlines how it sources its precious metals, diamonds and gemstones, as well as the steps it has taken to ensure transparency while mitigating its environmental and social impacts.
One of the biggest challenges jewelry manufacturers confront is the provenance and traceability of their materials. In its efforts to avoid sourcing “blood diamonds,” Tiffany was one of the first backers of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) over a decade ago. The company only sources rough diamonds from a supplier that only deals with certified mines, and from countries that are participants within KPCS. Tiffany in turn cuts and polishes those diamonds in-house — and mostly in the countries in which it sources those diamonds, as in the case with its cutting and polishing facility in Botswana. By keeping much of that work within those countries, Tiffany keeps good-paying jobs in cities such as Gaborone. Such wages lead to “beneficiation” funds; in 2013, Tiffany says such payments provided over $81 million in funds that could be dedicated to community economic development.
Tiffany’s sourcing of precious metals including gold, silver and platinum puts more emphasis on environmental sustainability. According to the company, it sources the vast majority of these metals from mines in the United States, a policy which helps reduce the company’s overall carbon footprint. Over half of the metals sourced are from recycled content, while 46 percent is traceable to an exact known mine. Only 2 percent of all precious metals are traceable back only to the supplier.
The focus on environmental stewardship has long set Tiffany apart from its competitors. To date the company is still strongly opposed to the proposed Pebble gold and copper mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, a projects critics say puts one of the world’s largest salmon fisheries at risk. Such a focus on the environment, in fact, is a large part of Tiffany’s corporate giving campaigns. Even the iconic Tiffany’s blue bags — quite possibly the most coveted packaging on earth — are Forest Stewardship Council certified and coated with film that allows them to be 100 percent recyclable (no word yet on the blue boxes, though).
It is easy to be dismissive towards Tiffany’s sustainability work — after all, we are talking about jewelry, not more essential goods such as food and clothing. But the work the company has done, often while swimming upstream in an industry tone-deaf to its social and environmental impacts, will help nudge more iconic companies in more industries to start doing the same. If a brand such as that of Tiffany’s is taking a stand, then in the mind of many consumers, there are compelling reasons why everyone should be more conscious about the products we buy.
Image credit: Wikipedia (Macakhanshumk)