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The Sustainability Discussion Needs to Change

Updated: Mar 12

I’ll start this blog post by admitting that it’s only tenuously connected to jewellery, but it’s a topic that’s incredibly important from a business point of view.  Not a day goes by when I don’t hear a business saying that they are sustainable or promoting sustainability.  While this is commendable, the discussion around sustainability needs to change.  Sustainability can no longer be a selling point; it needs to be a given.  Every business, however big or small, needs to take action to become sustainable.   

I barely mention sustainability on my website.  Why?  Because, it needs to be a cause dear to everyone’s heart, and shouldn’t be seen as a differentiating factor. Here are three things we could all be doing to change the sustainability discussion.

1.   Try to understand the nuances

I put this first because it’s a complicated topic.  Electric cars are great for the UK, as long as the batteries are made elsewhere.  But what’s happening where the batteries are made?  What resources do they use?  What happens to the waste generated? How do the batteries get to the UK?  How does this affect climate globally? After all, climate doesn’t understand national jurisdictions.  These questions need to be answered before we all run off to get electric cars and pat ourselves on the back. 

From my business’s point of view, I need to understand not just the harm that the obvious culprits such as gemstone and precious metal mining cause.  I’ve mentioned in the past that I also need to learn enough about the methods used to create alternatives such as lab-created gemstones and recycled silver to see what impact they have on the environment. 

Whatever I’ve learned neither makes comfortable reading, nor does it really make things clearer.  For example, one carat of traditionally mined diamond disturbs 250 tons of earth, and pollutes the water and soil in the surrounding areas.  It also releases about 160 Kg of greenhouse gases.  Hold that thought.

Lab created diamonds don’t require disruptive mining techniques.  That sounds really promising, but they do need heat and pressure as they’re being made.  One carat of lab created diamond  produces an average of 511Kg of greenhouse gases. That’s over three times as much as a traditionally mined diamond.  Can you see why I’m wary of the marketing around lab created gemstones and keen on understanding what’s behind it?  So let’s not fall for the hype.  Let’s ask some difficult questions instead.

Most diamonds are mined througn open pit mining.

2.  Take Action

It’s not enough to have intent without taking action.  Imagine if I’d said “I intend to be a good parent”, and did nothing about it. All the while, time is ticking by, my child is growing up doing things she shouldn’t do, absorbing values she shouldn’t be and becoming a person I don’t want her to become. 

I read a marketing book recently, and it started off by saying that knowing everything in the book wasn’t going to help my business.  But working on even 10% of what’s in the book, would make a big difference.  And I think that says it all.  It doesn’t matter how many books I read or seminars I attend. All the learning in the world isn’t going to help if I don’t do anything different based on what I’ve learned.  So this perhaps is the most important of the three.  We need to understand the nuances and then take decisive action.

3. Change our behaviours

I once met a health coach who said that most people hate exercise, but our bodies don't actually need huge amounts of exercise. What they do need is small, regular, consistent movement and activity. Although the context is different, I think the words small, regular and consistent are the key to sustainability too.

We can’t all suddenly become saints, never buying another piece of clothing or never travelling anywhere. But what we can do is make small changes in our day to day lives that are themselves sustainable. Because these changes are sustainable, they become our behaviours. Our behaviours define us. So here are some things that we can all consider doing if they fit into our lifestyle.

  • Make the journey part of the holiday.  When we fly to our destination, our holiday starts when we get there.  Travel by train, and your holiday can start when you board the train.  You get to see the countryside rolling by, take any amount of luggage, have a dining car for the most part, and the kids can move more freely.  As long as your destination isn’t halfway round the world, trust me it can work.  I’ve done it.  And that slower pace will work wonders for your mental health too.

  • Sleep over it. I’ve said goodbye to most impulse buys, and you can too.  Did I actually set out to buy that jumper? No? Then I go home without it. But I’m not a saint; if a week later, I’m still hankering after it, I go and get it.  If it’s gone, perhaps the universe is telling me something.

This applies to buying things for my business too.  It’s funny how I don’t need three different types of wire cutters to cut my silver.  One is quite enough.  And reducing these costs makes business sense too.

  • Don’t dump that food.  About 6%-8% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced if we stop wasting food. In the US alone, the production of lost or wasted food generates the equivalent of 32.6 million cars' worth of greenhouse gas emissions*. 

Whenever we have enough leftovers for an entire meal, we have a leftovers day.  Each one picks one thing that they want to finish, and that’s their meal.  Not only does it give whoever usually cooks a day off, you feel pretty virtuous too.

Having said my piece, I’m going to end with a rather belligerent thought.  All this talk about sustainability is selfish.  It isn’t about saving the planet; it’s about saving ourselves. The planet will survive and exist, as it did before human beings came along.  And perhaps that’s the real question.  Could it be that just like dinosaurs and dodo birds came and went, our time is coming too? 

That’s a debate for another day.  And call me selfish if you like, but I’m certainly not ready to give up on the human species yet.

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*Research from the World Wildlife Foundation.

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