Independent Businesses Could Influence Consumers Toward Sustainable and Socially Responsible Gemstones
Crystals are big business. They have the ability to sweep us up in fantasy and luxury, and they have captured the imagination of Western alternative healing and spirituality, placing them in high demand as retailers market them toward a modern consciousness that is searching for ways to relieve its discontent, and we often forget to question how these crystals and minerals are obtained in the first place. This is a broad-spectrum and far-reaching problem with complexities that potentially affect not only the environment but the economy (local, domestic U.S., and global) and questions of social justice.
In an article that appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Gems & Gemology, Jennifer-Lynn Archuleta stresses the fact that the multibillion dollar colored gemstone industry, like the diamond industry, has not resolved dangers and inequalities to protect the environment, the laborers (child and forced labor is frequently used in gemstone mining) nor cut off the funding of terrorism. Global Witness listed Lapis Lazuli as a conflict mineral in 2016 (Archuleta 144). These issues do not yet receive enough attention, but consumers are becoming increasingly savvy, questioning the origins of what they buy. “‘Green Marketing’: An Analysis of Definitions, Strategy Steps, and Tools Through a Systematic Review of Literature,” an article in Journal of Cleaner Production states, “The growing international concerns about environmental sustainability and climate change are leading all companies to face the challenge of integrating environmental issues into business strategies and activities" (Dangelico & Vocalelli 1264). Independently owned stores could make significant strides toward a more sustainable gemstone industry, steering consumers toward ethical and responsibly sourced gemstones — in other words: post-consumer, repurposed stones & crystals.
“The growing international concerns about environmental sustainability and climate change are leading all companies to face the challenge of integrating environmental issues into business strategies and activities." Rosa Marie Dangelico and Daniele Vocalelli, Green Marketing
Searching for Solutions
At a corporate level, efforts toward sustainable and ethical mining cooperation is evidenced through projects such as “The Madison Dialogue,” a conversation among activists and jewelry retail and wholesalers, including companies such as Tiffany’s. Independently owned stores, such as bookstores, gem stores, herbalists, thrift stores, and online retailers could thoughtfully market recycled/reclaimed/rehomed gems. They have an advantage they could utilize and apply to the problem of sustainable gemstone and are in a position to potentially make significant strides toward a more sustainable consumerism in that regard, guiding customers toward ethical and responsibly sourced gemstones — in other words: post-consumer, repurposed stones & crystals. Some aspects of this suggestion are established practice for thrift stores or eBay/Etsy and designers using up-cycled materials, for example, but otherwise a market for reclaimed gems, unless they are considered vintage or antique, is fairly unheard of.
Independently owned stores—especially book/gift stores—
How? Consider two factors:
1) Gemstones are frequently sold in these stores — either as jewelry or as novelty pieces associated with gemstone healing (e.g. small tumbled stones accompanied by a card listing their 'healing properties') or as collection pieces purchased by gemstone aficionados.
2) Bookstores have already figured out an advantageous and lucrative business model for used book sales.
Now, this system need only be extended — with little modification — to the trend of gemstone sales. In other words, a method of trade for cash or store credit could be implemented, benefiting the customer and the store and promoting education of sustainability and ethical concerns regarding gemstone consumerism — which is likely to carryover to the customer's purchasing decisions elsewhere also.
Objection (possibly from thrift stores):
My store is already over-crowded. I could not find the space for a section only for recycled gems, and we don’t receive that many of them anyway. If a gemstone (other than jewelry) arrives, we price it and place on any shelf where it fits.
Establish connections with local jewelry artisans who work with reclaimed materials or resellers who specialize in gems. You will likely make a sale faster and clear the area for other inventory.
Objection (from eclectic gift shops):
I’ve never been in the “used” business, and this is a store where people buy gifts. How would I sell used gems?
The above-mentioned resolution could be applicable here also, but you could sell new jewelry made from re-claimed materials.
Objection (from crystal collectors working with energy healing):
I don't want to use previously-owned crystals. I don't want the energy fields disrupted from previous use.
Consider this: how many hands have "new" crystals on store shelves passed through before being purchased? From mining to trade shows to the store to customers examining them and maybe trying out their energetic qualities. If a previously-owned crystal belonged to someone knowledgable of crystal clearing, it might even be carrying less of an energetic imprint than a new crystal. Instructions for clearing crystals can be found in most books on crystal healing, and many crystals are not thought to be energetically absorptive—some are thought to be energetically deflective.
Objection (from established crystal and gem sellers):
I like the idea in theory, but my customers are knowledgeable aficionados and are usually looking for very specific gems. If I don’t have them in stock, I lose the sale. Besides, where would I find enough recycled gems to fill several shelves?
Start slow. The above-mentioned article in Journal of Cleaner Production emphasizes, “Green marketing must satisfy two objectives: improved environmental quality and customer satisfaction. Misjudging either or overemphasizing the former at the expense of the latter can be termed ‘Green Marketing Myopia” (Ottman et al. quoted in Dangelico & Vocalelli 1270).
1) Establish connections with thrift and antique stores who may acquire gems that they don’t have room for/don’t know how to market.
2) Advertise to customers that you are purchasing used gemstones for store credit (or a similar arrangement to used book purchases). Also, educate your sales reps about the importance of eco-friendly and sustainable mining and processing practices. If they are looking for a particular stone that is not eco-friendly because of particular properties, suggest alternative stones. The time, energy, and effort you put into such specialization earn you a loyal clientele.
3) Let customers know that you are proudly transitioning to a more sustainable and socially responsible company. They will likely be supportive and want to join you!
If crystals are instruments of healing, there is all the more reason to think locally and globally when considering the provenance of the objects that we, as consumers, buy into, and retailers, wholesalers, and consumers share responsibility. As Archuleta says, “In addition to cut, color, and mounting, jewelry consumers have long been seduced by the ‘story’ that accompanies their most treasured pieces. The history of a piece can provide romance and character to a purchase or gift” (144).
So be sure the provenance behind your gems reflects the values of your company.
Archuleta, Jennifer-Lynn. “The Color of Responsibility: Ethical Issues and Solutions in
Colored Gemstones.” Gems & Gemology, 52:2, pp.144-60.
Dangelico, Rosa Marie, and Vocalelli, Daniele. “‘Green Marketing’: An Analysis
of Definitions, Strategy Steps, and Tools Through a Systematic Review of Literature” Journal of Cleaner Production, 165, pp.1263-1279.
Points of Healing, Points of Mine is a series of articles discussing the interweavings of conversations of crystal therapy, ethical gemstone jewelry, alternative healing, science & conservation, and eco-consumerism. Initially published as its own site in 2018 as the final project of ENGL 513, Science, Environmental, and Medical Writing at the University of New Mexico, it has now been integrated into a section of Re-Sourced (https://www.projectresourced.org/).