Saving the planet is a big business these days.
Concern over the ozone layer and anxiety over CFCs found in aerosols and HFCs found in old fridges have been prevalent for the last 30 years at least – but the global move to save the planet has been breathtakingly fast in just the last few years.
Last week I went out for lunch with my kids. It’s a regular family thing and one of the highlights of the week for me. But my youngest, Amelie, has this thing - every-time we go to a restaurant she has to ask for a straw. And it’s not just any old straw, but a paper straw.
The most vocal protests about the damage we’re doing to our global home, comes from the youngest members of our society. And that’s as it should be – since time immemorial, youth has always been the agent for change. Today is no different.
Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish environmental rights activist and campaigner has become the poster girl for environmental change with her regular marches, vocal social media and, of course, Trump-vanquishing United Nations performance.
She and others like her have made the argument for environmental change to their peers and my Amelie, like many young people of her age, have become willing foot soldiers in a fight that, as far as I can see, we as a global society simply have to win.
We all want our children, grandchildren and the generations to come to grow up in a healthy, vibrant and flourishing world. We are, as the old saying has it, only caretakers of the planet and we haven’t done much of a job in that regard thus far.
My kids always inspire me. But Amelie’s habitual requests for paper straws got me to thinking about me and my industry and the things we can do to play our part in environmental change.
Now, we don’t all have to go out and join Extinction Rebellion or campaign about Earth Day to do our bit. Sometimes, taking positive action involves changing your mindset rather than your actions.
Not long ago, I was on social media talking about the code of conduct the jewellery industry was evolving to ensure it was contributing positively to sustainability – after all, the diamond industry, more than most, has a tangible impact on our physical geography: diamonds come out of mines and so my sector needs to be ethical and responsible in the way it sources our raw materials.
But the way consumerism and jewellery conspire against the planet is even more telling.
Stay with me here.
As a society, we preoccupy ourselves with ornaments and baubles to complete the way we look. For women, this can be expensive. Buying diamonds for every occasion might be the stuff of my professional dreams, but its financially prohibitive.
So, what option does that leave?
Quite simply, relatively cheap substitutes like cubic zirconia. Cubic zirconia are synthetic diamonds. As costume jewellery goes, I won’t deny they can look quite impressive. But here’s the thing: like most costume jewellery, they’re made of plastic, and that brings us back to Amelie’s straws.
Let’s try for a moment to gloss over the fact that their ‘paper’ straws aren’t actually biodegradable and try to be generous about McDonalds actually making an effort to do something about reducing its carbon footprint.
Even if you were a cynic and believed the fast food chain’s management didn’t give a stuff about the planet – which I think is unlikely – the company realises its commercial future now depends on its ability to be in step with the wider priorities of its core consumer group: the Amelies of the world.
And so, it led the march to paper straws and its competitors have quickly followed.
Translate that to my industry and its consumers. What would happen if we simply stopped buying and selling cubic zirconia and started buying real diamonds instead?
With a sustainable approach to mining, we can improve our impact on the physical landscape. We can help to increase local employment because demand would be greater. We would remove significant volumes of plastics from the manufacturing process. We would reduce our carbon footprint. Consumers would make more ethical buying choices.
Think about it for a moment, and it makes all sorts of sense. Everyone in every industry and every sector needs to do more to ensure Amelie and her army of friends don’t fight in vain. You can make small choices that are inherently better choices.
So, the next time you decide to buy some jewellery and you’re wondering about diamonds versus cubic zirconia, choose the former. Diamonds don’t have to cost thousands. But they don’t need to cost the earth, either.