EcoMeme: The New ‘Niners & Gold Rush

eco bling

First Kanye West and Jamie Foxx, now gold diggers have upset environmentalists and economists. It’s been like 1849 online with blogs abuzz over gold prices, prospectors and water use in California.

The precious metal is priced at a record dollar high now, thanks in part to China and India snapping up gold reserves. Panic and pricing like that drives laid-off Californians to go panning and miners to “explore,” sometimes damaging the farthest corners of the Earth to get gold.

Eco- and business-bloggers alike want to know: Is the “value” of the ore real, especially since jewelry demand declined in the recession, and industrial demand for gold can often be met with other materials?

A fashion and custom jewelry designer, Lisa Linhardt, of Linhardt Design in New York City, says lots of bling seekers have no idea what environmental impact their fashion choices have until they find her. Focused on making “beautiful, sculptural pieces” first, she is also a green gold jeweler, in a good way.

Linhardt buys 100% recycled gold from casting houses and refineries that extract it from post consumer material, not newly-mined. She can also melt the jewelry you never wear to form something new in her studio (constructed with reclaimed barn wood). Gold’s value is real, she believes, but the industry needs a makeover.

Other designers should demand “Strict gold certification so we know what we’re buying is 100% recycled, and that the labor involved is fair trade,” she suggests. For now, she’s willing to do the original research and footwork herself.

Basic Reading:

“Jewelers are increasingly concerned about young shoppers who are becoming more educated about the impact of their purchasing decisions”¦” – GreenBiz.com feature on Cartier’s buying more responsibly-mined gold

“Gold is unlike any other commodity. It is costly to extract from the earth and to refine to a reasonable degree of purity. It is costly to store. It has no remaining uses as a producer good – equivalent or superior alternatives exist for all its industrial uses”¦Surprisingly people like to attach it to their earlobes or nostrils or to hang it around their necks.”Financial Times blog entry discussing the true value of gold

“Many want to hide the unsavory aspects of how business is conducted in the jewelry industry. But a Blue Sky approach would have us differentiate ourselves by eliminating anything that disguises, hides or obfuscates practices within our industry. We want to differentiate ourselves by being upfront and having full disclosure. Then we want to advertise where we are supporting fair and ethical practices.” – An open letter to jewelers on how to deal with the “dirty” gold issue in FairJewelry.org

“Driven by record-high gold prices – [recently] $1,056 an ounce, double that of just three years ago – prospectors are flocking to the state”¦ Gold mining permits, or claims, on file with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for California have shot from 15,606 in 2005 to 23,974 this year”¦”San Francisco Chronicle story on the New California Gold Rush

“California’s second gold rush has also created one recession-proof business. Keene Engineering of Chatsworth, Calif., makes the equipment you need to find gold – from plastic pans to large commercial rigs. The owners say their business has doubled”¦”-
MotherJones feature
on the history of land use in California

The official homepage of the No Dirty Gold campaign lead by Oxfam and Earthworks

A Geology.com guide to the many uses of gold

A Wall Street Journal story on a predicted rise in demand for gold jewelry

This is the third installment of EcoMeme, a column featuring eco news, tech and business highlights by new EcoSalon writer and columnist Lora Kolodny.

Image: courtesy Linhardt Design Studio