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Why We’re Saying No to Dirty Gold


By Beth Gerstein, Co-Founder of Brilliant Earth

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and this year, thousands of Americans are planning on buying something beyond just flowers and chocolates. Feb. 14 is one of the biggest days of the year to give jewelry, not to mention one of the most popular days for marriage proposals. This Valentine’s Day, Americans are expected to spend more than $4 billion on baubles for their loved ones.

As the co-CEO of a jewelry company, I find it meaningful to take part in a holiday that celebrates love and commitment. But I know that behind the sparkle of Valentine’s Day lies the reality of gold mining, one of the most polluting industries on Earth.

Mining enough gold for just one engagement ring generates 20 tons of mine waste. The average large gold mine uses 1,900 tons of cyanide per year. Mining companies are also notorious for destroying pristine forest, displacing people from their homes and upending local economies. Here are just a few examples of gold mining’s destructive impacts around the world:

  • Bristol Bay, Alaska: If developed, the proposed Pebble Mine would destroy miles of streams that are home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon population. This gold mine would devastate a great piece of American wilderness.

  • Cajamarca, Peru: Newmont’s Conga mine has provoked immense social unrest and protests. Residents oppose the enormous threat the mine poses to their limited water supply.

  • Papua New Guinea: The Ok Tedi gold and copper mine dumps, on average, 20 million metric tons of waste each year. The resulting water contamination has reduced the local fish population by 60 to 80 percent.

Apart from examples like this, there’s also the harm done by artisanal gold mining, which is gold mining done by individuals working independently from the large mining companies. Artisanal gold mining is the leading cause of global mercury pollution. It is also riddled with abuses like child labor and a factor behind a civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo that has claimed more than 5 million lives.

What could possibly justify the harm that irresponsible gold mining does to people and the planet? Nothing could justify it—not even jewelry, the most common use for gold.

Which is why, when my business partner and I founded our jewelry company, Brilliant Earth, we decided to offer fine jewelry handcrafted from recycled precious metals. Gold and other metals can be recycled repeatedly without any degradation in quality. This decision was key to achieving our goal of becoming a leading provider of eco-friendly, ethically sourced jewelry.

But even as we support alternatives like recycled gold and vintage jewelry, which reduce the need for gold mining, we also recognize that it’s vital for mining companies to change how they operate. Jewelers need to speak out and demand an end to practices that exploit people and the environment. And one of the best ways for jewelers to do that is to support Earthworks’ No Dirty Gold campaign and its Golden Rules.

The Golden Rules are 11 basic rules for more responsible gold mining. They include respecting the human rights of local communities, avoiding mining in protected natural areas and improving the management of waste, among others. I’m proud that Brilliant Earth was an early signatory of the Golden Rules. And I’m encouraged that more than 100 jewelers representing 13 percent of the U.S. jewelry market have signed on too. Together, these jewelers are calling on the gold mining industry to clean up its practices and pledging to avoid gold from irresponsible mining companies.

But a more responsible gold mining industry also depends on jewelry consumers. So this Valentine’s Day, choose recycled gold or vintage jewelry. Choose a jeweler that has signed the Golden Rules, or encourage your jeweler to become a signatory. Join us in saying no to dirty gold – and yes to clean water, safe jobs, and healthy communities.

Image credit: Flickr/State Farm

Beth Gerstein is the co-founder and co-CEO of Brilliant Earth, a leading provider of eco-friendly and ethically sourced fine jewelry.

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