State of the Art Jewelry Summit: What Can You Do?
Gary Roskin –
Roskin Gem News Report –
A personal note: Most conferences are inspiring, and the State of the Art Jewelry Summit (the Jewelry Summit) was just that. But it was also overwhelming. It was overwhelming because it not only covered topics related to the jewelry industry, but also topics that covered global challenges.
One takeaway from this was a haunting question, “What can I do?” Presented with so many options in multiple panels and academic presentations, one can be overwhelmed to the point of inaction, not knowing what to do or where to start. Caused by an industry-wide lack of coordination (as so noted by professor Langmuir in his concluding remarks – shown above), we are not, as an industry, doing enough.
Over the next few months, the Roskin Report will be revisiting the presentations given at the State of the Art Jewelry Summit in hopes that this will keep inspiring you, and help spark industry action. One could say that there has been enough talk, enough with the conferences already… but the fact of the matter is, we are still not industry focused on solutions. We can only conclude that less talking will result in even less coordinated action. We will do our part here in the Roskin Report to give you more, in hopes that coordinated industry action will be sparked, and that you can answer that question, “what can I do?”
State of the Art Jewelry Summit
The 2023 Harvard Sessions
#1 The Fundamental Inequality of Climate Issues, and the Future of Civilization as we know it.
On Friday June 23rd, at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the first annual Jewelry Summit took place, co-hosted by the Responsible Jewelry Council (RJC), the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), and Harvard’s Mineralogical & Geological Museum (MGMH).
Better sourcing and social responsibility were just two of the many important topics that passionate members of the jewelry industry and academia addressed.
The summit examined how climate change is affecting everything we do. Discussions revolved around improving economic growth for all, ending poverty and hunger, and converting to affordable clean energy, reducing global inequalities, and more.
For one day, this was quite a lot to take in… and even more so to consider where one should begin.
The Fundamental Inequality of Climate Issues – A Global Reckoning
Dr. Daniel P. Schrag, Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology, Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering, Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, and Director of the Harvard University Center for the Environment, was the keynote speaker. Professor Schrag spoke to “Climate change and the implications on the jewelry supply chain.” To say it was serious is an understatement. And, after all, we were at Harvard University. There’s something about going back to university and being lectured by a renowned professor that makes every subject matter more serious.
Professor Schrag briefed us on where the world’s energy comes from, how it is affecting our world, and what it will take to move away from fossil fuels, moving from fossil fuels to critical metals like copper, lithium, nickel, and cobalt.
He points to carbon emissions as a key measure of danger in order to point fingers at who is more responsible for creating the problem, and even more importantly, who is least responsible.
Presenting us with data of how much CO2, Carbon Dioxide – the most dangerous and prevalent greenhouse gas, each country produces – Schrag notes that the northern globe countries are the main culprits. Our industrial development has led us to becoming not only wealthy nations, but the biggest climate polluters.
The Call to Stop Gem & Metal Mining CO2 Emissions
Gemstones and metals mining generally takes place in the global south, where CO2 emissions are almost non-existent. And yet, in most jewelry industry sustainability conversations, whether they take place at a conference such as this at Harvard, or in New York, or at a trade show in Hong Kong, Las Vegas, Geneva, Dubai, or in India, we hear talk about how the jewelry industry needs to reduce its carbon footprint in the mining sector.
“Ultimately, we are asking how mining will evolve, and what affects will this have on industry standards,” says professor Schrag. “This is the fundamental inequality of climate issues.” Schrag points to the graphics above, the two large boxes representing the largest producers of CO2, the US and the EU (47% combined). “That is, a small number of countries contribute a vast amount of global emissions.” Then pointing to the tiny box in the lower right hand corner, he notes, “All of sub-Saharan Africa produces less than 1% of global [CO2] emissions, and yet we are asking African countries to reduce their emissions. HOW ABSURD!”
And so began the Summit.
Conversations throughout the day moved through topics relating to consumer demands, renewable energy sources, navigating supply chains (including sanctions and conflicts), human rights, artificial intelligence, culture, and the future of our industry.
As interesting and as important all of these topics were for our industry, the wrap-up of the summit ends with academia pulling us back into the climate and social responsibility conversation.
Living on Earth
In the Summit’s closing remarks, Dr. Charles Langmuir, Higgins Professor of Geochemistry and Director of Mineralogical and Geological Museum, looked back at professor Schrag’s earlier remarks regarding the importance of cumulative CO2 measurements and climate change.
Consider this: If we want to increase the standard of living for all, can the earth afford the CO2 emissions that our standard of living will create? No.
Professor Langmuir sees that earth and civilization both need our help. “Clearly, if we are going to solve the crisis of our time, the relation between human needs and our planet, the primary thing we need to deal with is global population. How can we take people who emit 72 times LESS CO2 than we do, and lift their standard of living in such a way that the planet can still be preserved? That is a HUGE challenge!”
“There are today 8 billion 38 million people on earth. Every year, there’s a population the size of Germany added to the planet. Since June 1st [approx. 21 days] a new city the population of Boston was added… This is an ongoing problem.
“To give you another perspective as to how fast we are growing, if we were to face a more dangerous pandemic today that eliminated 97% of our current population, leaving only 3%, we would be looking at a population that was present here on earth in the year 1600.”
We are growing fast!
“This is serious. We can no longer go to some new continent and find what we need. We are facing a global circumstance that we need to deal with very seriously,” says a somber Langmuir.
The Big Picture & the Jewelry Industry
Can the gem & jewelry industry do something that can affect 8 billion people?
Climate change affects everything we do, from food production to the use of energy. A growing population puts a strain on food production, and energy consumption. If we lift up the southern globe, we quite possibly increase CO2 emissions which destroys the climate and civilization.
Why should we in the industrial nations tell those in non-industrial nations that they cannot develop energy from CO2 emitting processes in order to advance? We did. What gives us that right? Why can’t we reduce our own CO2 emissions, develop clean and affordable energy for everyone, including the developing nations of the southern globe, helping to lift everyone up, and at the same time, not destroy the planet?
A Legacy that is Lasting
“I see the effort to have jewelry production become more sustainable,” says Langmuir. “But we need to see more. The question isn’t how to break even. The question is, ‘How would it be possible for the jewelry industry to actually make a positive contribution to the planet?’
“You want to make sure that what you leave behind is far better than what was there previously. Not just that people are sustained while the companies are there, while the mining is happening,” notes Langmuir, “but there’s a positive contribution that’s left behind, a legacy that is lasting.”
When you choose a path that makes a difference, you have a story to tell. One of the major topics of the day was about sharing your efforts. When you sell a piece of jewelry, tell your client the story behind it. Basically, you do what you can to help civilization in the industry, in whatever way you can, you do it right, and then you tell your client about it. It’s human. It’s direct.
“I was really touched with the story of a piece of jewelry that ‘this came from this woman in Tanzania who is an artisanal miner and by buying this jewelry, you are helping to support her.’ That touches the heart. That is the story that I think about, and I wonder how it can be transferred from very special jewelry objects to the more commodity jewelry in the trade, and how that feeling about the jewelry industry might be able to be conveyed more broadly.”
Back to the Planet Earth
Being that the earth is his specialty, professor Langmuir pulls us back into the big picture. “There’s also the earth’s story. We know that Diamonds come from somewhere billions of years ago … but can, in fact, be part of the jewelry story. ‘There’s this circulation of the plates over the surface of the earth, and there’s ancient life in the bottom of the ocean, and this ancient life in the ocean drops down to the bottom of the sea and gets carried down into the earth’s interior [plate subduction], and the ancient life conveys carbon into the interior of the earth. The carbon is then converted by the energy of the earth’s interior into diamond, and then comes up to the surface [in violent volcanic action]. So when we see a diamond coming up to the surface, we are seeing an example of the terrestrial cycle operating for billions of years. For when you have that diamond on your finger, you can thank organisms 3 billion years ago that were photosynthesizing that carbon and converting it to materials that would then be carried down into the earth.’”
Langmuir’s appreciation for the earth is becoming infectious in the room. And he brings it into the story of jewelry.
“Jewelry – it’s beautiful. It touches everyone’s life. So is there a way that this information about jewelry, the message of jewelry, could be conveyed in such a way that it was not just a human story, but it also conveys the story of an appreciation of the planet, which would help to foster an attitude towards the planet? This is what we need for the future… to be a positive, rather than a negative.”
What Can I Do?
So this is the question. It is the elephant in the room. The Summit participants are asking the panelists.
There were a few panelists who spoke about a road map, the paperwork to certification, while others argued that these are roadblocks to those who cannot afford the time or the process.
Some participants spoke about what they are already doing, doing what they can, large and small, some following a certification program, others are not.
And many others feel insignificant or confused as to where to even begin. So instead, they look to others.
“The government needs to do something,” retorts Langmuir, “or business needs to do something, or the mining company needs to do something.” But no. Professor Langmuir points out that, “all of those decisions that are taken by governments, companies, etc.… come from the influence of individuals.” We imagine that he’s pointing his finger at all of us.
“What can I do?” you ask? You do what you can!
Let’s Do the Math
“If you take one person, and through their attitude they convey an appreciation for the world, and it’s conveyed in their actions, and somebody else sees it,” then the magic of math happens. “If through our individual actions we were able to influence 5 people a year, and those 5 people were able to influence 5 more people, and those 25 people were able to influence 125 more people, and you did that for a decade, a million people would be influenced by your action.”
It would take just 1,000 people to convert a billion people into constructive action in just one decade.
“The actions of the individual are extremely powerful,” notes Langmuir. “And I would make the argument that it’s not ‘what can I do to help?’ It’s that ‘without my helping, the situation is not going to change.’”
“With the jewelry industry, you have this unique opportunity to have something that actually touches the whole world… that touches every individual in the world… and would be able to convey an appreciation for the jewelry… and through the jewelry, for the planet, that could lead to and help this change of attitude that is needed for us, for human civilization to survive.”
The challenge Langmuir and others notice is that the gem & jewelry industry is splintered. Lots of large and small players doing their own thing to get something done. That’s all well and good, but if we are going to save the jewelry industry civilization, then we also need to have a plan, and that means that as an industry, we need to be coordinated. Is there someone or some organization who will pick up the torch and organize the industry?
While we are all waiting, it’s best that you do something. Start small and work your way up to big. And the way to get there is to pick something and just get started.
“What to pick?” you ask? We will talk about that in our next segment – gr
… to be continued.