I am incredibly passionate about the environment, sustainability and ethics, and I am always seeking to make changes in my small business and my personal life that align with these values. I love creating beautiful contemporary jewellery from just an idea in my head, but I believe making something from scratch comes with a responsibility to ensure every part of the process is as eco-friendly as possible and does not harm the planet. I regularly evaluate every aspect of my business for ways to improve my environmental impact, and I believe being transparent about the changes I am making and hope to make in the future is an important practice. These are the 5 ways in which I have improved the sustainability of my business so far, identifying the elements that I could continue to work on as being environmentally friendly is a constant work in progress!
1. Sourcing the most ethical, environmentally friendly materials
I strive to make sure most of the materials that go into creating my wearable art are recycled and recyclable and obtained ethically with as little harm on the planet and its people as possible. I have always used recycled card as a raw material for my laser cut paper strips, which I transform into unique sculptural pendants, brooches and earrings. When choosing spray paint to colour my card jewellery with, I selected a water-based option which means the spray-painting process does not produce harmful gases and pollute the air.
Mining for precious metals such as gold and silver is an incredibly damaging process to the environment, the people involved and to the community. It has a negative impact on air quality, creates water and noise pollution, disfigures the landscape and can cause erosion and flooding. It poses a great risk and can have a detrimental health impact on the miners, as well as communities where mining is taking place. Thankfully, recycled metals are an excellent alternative, and can immediately minimise the effect a jewellery making practice has on the planet. Recycled metal, particularly silver, is widely available, and looks and works the same as brand new sterling silver. While it is generally a more expensive option, eco metals are definitely worth investing in. With the market for sustainable products rising each year as consumers become more aware of our impact on the planet, this was a no-brainer of a change when evaluating my use of precious metals.
2. Collecting all of my scrap metal for recycling
Using recycled silver is a fantastic swap to make as a jeweller, but where does the environmentally friendlier alternative come from? It is 100% recycled, traceable and audited, and tends to be made from discard metal from the jewellery, medical, giftware and electronic industries. While most of the metal will come from large companies, scrap collection is also available for small businesses and individuals! It is best practice to collect as much scrap metal as possible, from small unusable offcuts to the dust that settles on the bench, equipment, and even the floor. There are many companies who will take this unusable precious metal and recycle it for no fee – not only that, but they also pay the value of the scrap back to the jeweller. There are also workshops that have the equipment for a jeweller to melt small amounts of their scrap and form their own recycled metal, provided they have the skills. Participating in both the recycling and the use of eco silver and gold is a fantastic way to close the loop of precious metal production!
3. Evaluating my making processes and techniques
While it was relatively simple to identify room for improvement when it comes to the raw materials used to create my unique jewellery, the making processes were a little tougher. Sometimes there is no great alternative and a technique must be discarded altogether. Due to the use of harmful chemicals, I stopped oxidising and gold plating my silver jewellery, choosing to only use the polished finish. There is certainly still room for improvement when it comes to my processes. While I use water-based spray paints, I do believe there might be even more environmentally friendly ways of colouring my work, that do not produce as much dust and do not result in the waste of spray paints cans and nozzles which are difficult to recycle. Sustainability is a constant work in progress!
4. Switching to recycled and recyclable packaging
Once my contemporary jewellery is finished and ready to be sent off to lovely new owners, it needs to be safely and securely packaged. While it certainly matters to me that the packaging is consistent with my brand and looks beautiful, sustainability is also a high priority. I try to use as little packaging as possible, reducing the number of materials that end up in waste. The boxes I use to store and send my jewellery in are made from recycled materials and are fully recyclable. The next step in making my packaging more eco friendly is to make sure the inserts for the boxes are also made from a recyclable or compostable material, and I am researching this element right now.
I use snug cardboard envelopes to post my work in. Their perfect fit around the jewellery boxes means I do not need to use any extra filling or material such as tissue paper to line the packaging with. The envelopes themselves are easily recyclable at home. For larger packages, I re-use cardboard boxes I receive. I use scrunched up paper or tissue paper to fill the boxes and I always use paper tape to secure them, making all the packaging super easy to recycle!
5. Reducing my marketing print materials
Every small business needs gorgeous and informative business cards and print marketing, but it is undeniable that these elements can and often do create unnecessary waste. I always try to keep my physical marketing elements to a minimum, focussing on simple business cards made from recycled board. As I use a stunning image of my jewellery on the front, I hope people who take or receive my business card choose to keep it around, but should they choose to dispose of it they can simply recycle it in the paper bin. The only other physical component that I always add to my packages is a handwritten note, as this is a lovely, personalised touch that connects my incredible customers with the maker behind the product – me! While I have been using simple notecards to write the note onto, I would love to invest in a postcard with another high-quality image on the back, in the hopes that people might display it in their home, giving it a longer life.
I hope you enjoyed this insight into my journey of making my business more sustainable, and some of the ideas I have for future improvements. While a lot of the changes that need to happen to minimise the impact of climate change and waste on our planet are systemic, I do believe that as businesses and individual, we also have a responsibility to leave the world a better place. I am always open to advice or suggestions on how to better my environmental credentials, please feel free to leave me a comment or message at any time with ideas or recommendations!