Carbon Footprint of Jewelry

I was incredibly lucky to attend Harvard’s first ever symposium on Sustainability in the Jewelry Industry, called “State of the Art Jewelry Conference”. Professors from Harvard and MIT shared important findings and work in the fields of climate science, mining, and supply chain as it relates to the jewelry industry.

Wendy at Harvard

Not surprisingly, the carbon footprint of a person in the Global North is as much as 72x higher than that of a person in the Global South. But, the vast majority of mining and mineral extraction happens in the Global South (Global North is the new First World, and Global South is the new Third World).


12,000 pounds of mercury are used and dumped every single day in the mining of gold. It’s a deadly, permanent neurotoxin.

Hand holding an amalgam of gold and mercury

Indonesian Gold miner holding an amalgam of gold and mercury.
Courtesy of non-profit organization Pure Earth.

The Carbon Footprint of Jewelry:

  • For every piece of jewelry, 95% of the carbon emissions is in the mining and production of the metals. 5% comprises the rest: design, production, transportation.
  • Seriously, read that last sentence again...

Carbon Footprint of Mining:

Mining is damaging to the environment and exploitative of humans. But, we use mined minerals in our phones, computers, cars, bikes, pans, forks, hairdryers, watches, and almost everything else.

Globally, we mine:

  • 3000 tons of gold
  • 90 tons of platinum
  • 30,000 tons of silver

 For each ton mined, we produce this much carbon dioxide:

  • 1 ton of Gold creates 38,000 tons of carbon dioxide.
  • 1 ton of Platinum creates 77,000 tons carbon dioxide.
  • 1 ton of Aluminum creates 17,000 tons of carbon dioxide.

Why is the carbon footprint of mining metals so high?

 Because precious metals are incredibly rare. A simplified ratio is 1 atom of gold for a billion atoms of silica (sand).

Platinum mine

How do we reduce these carbon dioxide emissions?

  1. Policy Advances, like carbon tax and other incentives to use less or more efficient energy.
  2. Renewable energy, like solar and wind are significantly cheaper than traditional energy sources like coal.
  3. Re-think mining and the way we mine.
  4. Once technologies are created to increase efficiency, we must not own the technologies, we must share them openly and freely.
  5. Use the resources we already have.

At WEND, we acquire our metal in one of three ways, in order to lessen our carbon emissions.

  1. We directly recycle your heirlooms into your new jewelry. We call these Heirloom Makeovers, and we re-use both your gold and your gemstones.
  2. We use SCS certified recycled gold to use in our collections and custom pieces.
  3. We use Fairmined Metals, a class of precious metals which come from vetted mines that treat workers fairly and mitigate the damage to the land.

We view each piece of jewelry through the lens of Sustainability, and if we cannot make jewelry in a way that respect the earth and her inhabitants, we won’t do it.