The ethics of the diamond industry
The diamond industry has a checkered past. (To say the least.)
You’re probably familiar with the story behind ‘blood diamonds’. Conflict-funding is much less of an issue these days, but there are still plenty of problems.
Because it’s such a big subject, here we’re just going to give you a quick run down.
The problems with mined diamonds
First up, the big environmental issues with diamond mining are habitat destruction, water usage and greenhouse gas emissions.
There are major social concerns with worker exploitation, especially in the Artisanal Small-scale Mining sector and diamond cutting industries. Likewise there are big problems with with criminal corruption, violence and with fraud (often in the form of incorrect grading).
You can easily find a litany of case studies on-line highlighting these problems. But steps are being taken to improve the situation.
The Kimberley Process, and more recently Blockchain initiatives are being installed to legitimize and provide traceability within the industry. But there’s still a long way to go.
The fact remains that a great many diamonds on the market today cannot be traced back to their point of origin.
Greenhouse Gas emissions and mined diamonds
According to the International Grown Diamond Association, diamond mining generates around 57kgs of CO2 equivalents for every carat of diamonds produced.
Annual production of rough diamonds through mining sits at about 130 million carats per year. That equates to approximately 7.4 million tonnes of greenhouse gases being emitted each year. (Which, by the way, is significantly less than both gold and the platinum group metals.)
To give you some context
From the figures above, a one carat diamond has a ‘carbon cost’ of around 57kgs.
By comparison, an iPhone X has a carbon cost of around 79kgs over its lifetime. So when you consider a diamond will last many lifetimes, its carbon cost isn’t out of this world.
The problems with Lab-grown Diamonds
Lab-grown diamonds don’t suffer the same social and environmental issues that mined diamonds do. However, they do cause issues within the industry.
When they first appeared on the market (in the early 90’s) there were a lot of problems with cheap, lab-grown diamonds contaminating the natural diamond supply chain. In particular among small accent-sized stones.
These issues have largely been eliminated now with the process of laser inscribing – part of self-regulation by the lab-grown diamond industry.
Similarly, the natural diamond industry has developed sophisticated detection equipment to help stamp out the problem.
Lab-grown diamonds and the environment
It’s quite possible that some lab-grown diamonds can have a zero carbon footprint. (For example, diamonds from the Diamond Factory are certified as such.)
With the availability of renewable energy and the potential to off-set carbon emissions, lab-grown diamonds can be carbon neutral. However, because most lab-grown diamonds are produced in places like China and India where coal-fired power stations are the main source of electricity, the eco-friendliness of lab-grown diamonds is not as clear cut as it at first seems.
Indeed, the latest available information suggests that lab-grown diamonds probably have a carbon footprint similar to that of mine-origin, possibly even worse – but that’s not the only consideration.
Because producing diamonds in a laboratory (or factory) uses very little water and does not result in habitat destruction or environmental pollution, they remain an environmentally sound alternative to mine-origin diamonds.
For an update on diamond ethics, take a look at our most recent blog article on the subject.