What Does Ethical Gold Mean?
To understand the good, first we need to understand the bad.
To understand the good, first we need to understand the bad. Traditional hard rock mining is a nasty business. Imagine a giant pit in the earth 10 stories deep with huge earth-movers dust and a landscape that is altered forever. Crushed rock is mixed with a slurry of cyanide or mercury to extract the gold. To get enough gold for 1 wedding ring 10-20 tonnes of mining waste can be created.
These mines are often located on land taken from indigenous communities who are then forced to work in the mines in dangerous conditions. The toxic slurry left behind is held in great reservoirs that pollute groundwater and hold the potential for extreme environmental disasters. This is all bad news! But, it doesn’t have to be this way.
OPTIONS FOR MAKING AN ETHICAL GOLD WEDDING RING
From what we’ve found, there are three options jewellers have to make an ethical wedding ring. None of them are 100% perfect, but all of them are better than traditionally mined metal.
Because gold has such a high intrinsic value, it rarely just gets thrown away. Many precious metal suppliers buy old gold jewellery from people that they refine and turn into the stock metal that jewellers use to make new jewellery.
Why it’s good: it puts a dent in the demand for newly-mined gold.
Why it’s bad: unfortunately, the original gold was most likely mined in a traditional way. Because so many jewellers rely on this as an ethical option, it takes momentum and motivation away from making bigger changes to the whole mining industry. It’s kind of an easy out that doesn’t address the bigger issue.
Many, many jewellers and advocates have worked really, really hard to develop a process to certify gold mines under the fairtrade umbrella.
Why It’s Good: These mines adhere to environmental controls and support small-scale artisanal mines so that communities are looked-after and workers are paid in a fair way. They support gender equality and are audited by a 3rd party organisation.
Why it’s Bad: It’s not really. In many cases these are still traditional hard-rock mines that use mercury and cyanide, however, there are strict rules around how these can be used, workers are protected, environmental damage is mitigated and ecosystems are restored. Overall Fairtrade Gold is a fantastic choice, it really is. We just decided we were more comfortable using local gold from mines we could visit.
Alluvial gold mining is the most simple form of mining. Basically, it’s separating the gold from the sand and stones it mixes with as it washes out of the hills. Water and time does the hard work of getting the gold out of the rock - people just need to do the last bit. This can take many different forms, from a single person panning in a river to black sand beach collecting to bigger operations using diggers and diesel.
Why It’s Good: what makes it different from traditional hard rock mining is that the gold is already separated from the rock so giant pits aren’t created and chemicals like cyanide aren’t used. A lot of alluvial gold is collected from areas that have been mined in the past and can have a beneficial impact on these environments.
The gold we use is (almost*) all from New Zealand alluvial sources and processed in this country so we know that all the workers are protected by New Zealand’s very strong labour laws and work in safe conditions. *We do reuse a little (about 2%) recycled gold from old jewellery and workshop scraps but we think this is OK - no one’s 100% pure.
b) Why it’s Bad: like all mining, it has an impact on the environment. In bigger alluvial operations, there is large machinery involved and some types of alluvial mining use mercury as part of the process. However, in New Zealand there are very strict environmental management controls, resource consent processes and provisions to provide environmental restoration. As well as no mining in National Parks.
Your gold ring isn’t just made from gold. It takes a little copper and silver to make an alloy strong enough to last a lifetime. Hopefully longer. Our only option for these is to use recycled sources. Unfortunately, we’re still working on this one...
BEYOND ETHICAL GOLD
We want to make the world’s most ethical wedding ring and that involves a lot more than just the materials we use. Sustainable, ethical, eco-friendly, these buzzwords can be somewhat hard to define and easily co-opted, so we put a lot of thought and effort into what they really mean to us as a business. We decided that we want to our business to be sustainable in an environmental sense, but also on a personal level-for both us and the people who work for us.
So, our sustainability criteria are threefold - our physical and environmental management, the well-being and happiness of everyone we work with (along the whole supply chain) and running our business in a way that makes us feel challenged, excited and like we’re doing some good in the world.
GOOD GOLD'S ETHICAL PRACTICES
We put thought into processes both big and small to help reduce our environmental footprint in our office and workshop. We’re by no means perfect, but we really do try our hardest.
We drive an electric car from our home office to our workshop in town. All of our packaging is made from recycled material that can be reused or recycled and printed with eco-friendly inks. We’ve invested a lot of time into making sure we never send people bits of paper that ultimately just get thrown away.
We try to be as paperless as possible internally (for instance, we don’t automatically include a printed invoice inside each package), but when we do have to print something, we print it reduced by 50% and use both sides of the paper. We’ve never bought bubble wrap, we always save and reuse other people’s packaging.
We use citric acid as our pickling solution (the solution we use for removing oxidised surfaces and flux from our jewellery after soldering) so we don’t have to dump nasty chemicals down the drain. Our jewellers make their own sanding sticks instead of buying readymade throw away ones. Every bit of dust and filings gets swept up and sent back to our metal supplier to be reused. We reuse tape if it’s still sticky.
We pay everyone that works for us above the living wage (we are a certified living wage employer). We work hard to make our physical surroundings comfortable and inspiring. We live in New Zealand, so all workers get at least four weeks of paid holidays every year, sick leave and 26 weeks parental leave. We work really hard to listen to everyone that works for us so that they know they are part of the shaping of our decisions. We throw kick ass holiday parties.
If we can’t feel really good about doing this business, we have no business doing it. It's important to the Good Gold team that we’re not taking advantage of anyone, aren't hurting anybody, and are providing a really lasting reminder of people’s happiest day. That’s awesome! But, our work is not done. We want to give other people this opportunity too and use our platform to raise awareness (and money) for causes that we think can make real change. We’re in the process of becoming a B-Corp which has given us so much inspiration for ways we can improve.