Pandora, known for its affordable sterling silver charm bracelets, is the world’s largest jewelry company by volume: the Danish chain sells more than 100 million pieces a year. This week, it announced that it is now sourcing only 100% recycled silver and gold for its collections.
The move was touted as an important step by a major company to reduce its environmental footprint. “We wanted to lead by example,” Pandora CEO Alexander Lacik said in an interview. “If we can make a positive contribution to society through our use of recycled gold and silver, that means anyone can do it. »
By working with already mined metals, Pandora will not dig deeper in search of new materials, allowing the company to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Mining requires more energy and resources than recycling and is one of the main sources of mercury pollution. In a 2020 Press release Announcing its move to recycled metals, Pandora cited statistics from the World Gold Council and other entities showing that the process of recycling gold reduces emissions by about 99 percent compared to its extraction, while recycling silver reduces carbon emissions by about 66 percent compared to its extraction. .
Other brands, like Prada and Monica Vinader, have also started using recycled metals. But some industry observers warn that these materials may appear more virtuous than they actually are.
Just like “sustainability,” the word “recycled” can mean different things to different people. This gap in interpretation can prove problematic, said Tiffany Stevens, executive director of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, a New York organization that focuses on ethics and policy advocacy in the industry.
“Recycling is a positive modifier in most contexts, but that’s not necessarily the case when it comes to gold or silver,” she said. The term “recycled,” she added, gives jewelry made with such materials a “green halo,” or an aura of eco-friendliness.
But the term doesn’t “give people clear answers about where their metals come from,” Stevens said, which is why her organization and others have request the Federal Trade Commission to ban the use of the term “recycled” to describe jewelry products sold in the United States. The FTC is expected to respond this year by issuing updates to its environmental marketing guidelines.
These guidelines currently says that “it is misleading to claim, directly or implicitly, that an item contains recycled content unless it is made of materials that have been recovered or otherwise diverted from the waste stream.” However, precious metals are generally not considered waste because they have been melted down and reused for centuries and generally retain their value.
The term “recycled” can also obscure the origin of some metals, such as those from so-called cowboy miners or outlaw refiners known for using child labor or running operations that finance the activities of criminal networks. Patrick Schein, a refiner and board member of the Alliance For Responsible Mining, said the word can create the illusion that the recycling process always produces “newborn gold that is ethically acceptable.”
The Alliance For Responsible Mining, an advocacy group, has encouraged other ways to improve the jewelry industry’s supply chains, including asking companies to support programs led by groups like Better Gold Association, which works with small-scale miners to refine metals more responsibly.
“Buying exclusively recycled gold excludes this sector, which employs many people already facing vulnerable situations,” read a 2020 press release. statement published by the alliance and other organizations.
Mr Lacik said Pandora’s choice to source only recycled metals was based more on environmental factors than how it might affect small-scale miners, a group that produces almost two-fifths of the world’s population. of mercury. according to a 2018 United Nations report.
“You have to decide: is the climate topic more or less important than particular communities,” he said. “In our case, we believe that tackling the climate problem and making progress is a more important issue for humanity in the long term. »
Although the use of recycled metals could reduce Pandora’s environmental footprint, mining new gold And money has not slowed down over the past decade, suggesting that growing corporate interest in these materials has not helped offset mining’s overall climate footprint.
A team of 100 employees were involved in the switch to recycled metals at Pandora, which moved from mined to synthetic diamonds in 2021. The change in metals supply required adapting processes and equipment to the set measures speak Responsible Jewelry Councila London group recognized for setting global standards.
Among Pandora’s recycled metal suppliers is MKS PAMP, a Swiss refinery and trader. “We know every source in our supply chain and can tell you down to the gram what goes to whom,” said Xavier Miserez, the refinery’s sales manager. “There is no such thing as zero risk but we try to mitigate it as much as possible.”
Pandora plans to pay about $10 million a year for recycled metals. That’s more than it was paying for newly mined mines, Mr. Lacik said, “but it’s a cost we’re willing to absorb.”
“I’m also realistic about how important this is to jewelry buyers,” he added, noting that most of them are motivated by two main factors: design and price. “Some might then question sustainable production, but not many.”