The FTC will start revising its “Green Guides,” which lay out rules for environmental marketing claims. Jewelers Vigilance Committee is asking the industry for suggestions for how the Green Guides should handle jewelry. Pandora is one the few companies that mentions them in its lab-grown diamond sustainability report.
The Jewelers Vigilance Committee (JVC) is seeking input from the industry on how the Green Guides should treat jewellery. (JVC’s suggestion form can be found here.)
Here’s one minor, but vexing, issue that I hope will be addressed.
The FTC should prohibit, or at the very least limit, the use of words like “mining-free,” “made without mining,” and “no mining.” These terms are widely used to describe lab-grown diamonds. Here are few examples: here, here, here, here, and here.
According to my understanding, the FTC evaluates claims and descriptions based on two key factors. First and foremost, they must be true. (Obviously.) Second, they must clearly describe the product’s nature.
So, while the term “aboveground diamonds” is legally correct, FTC lawyers argue that it fails to explain the diamond’s lab-grown origin. (After all, natural diamonds are discovered above ground.)
The second criterion is met by a descriptor such as “mining-free”: It plainly reveals the lab-grown nature of the diamonds. The issue is that lab-grown diamonds are not free of mining.
Are Lab-Grown Diamonds Are Not Mining-Free?
The term “mine-free” denotes that no mining was involved in the manufacture of the diamonds. However, very few things in the world are completely mining-free. Certainly not the iMac I’m typing on. Green technology will also necessitate the use of mined minerals. Whatever your feelings about mining—and it’s a mixed bag of good and bad—its products are all around us. We couldn’t get much done without it.
Graphite is required for the production of high-pressure, high-temperature (HPHT) diamonds. The chemical vapour deposition (CVD) method of producing lab-grown diamonds necessitates the use of high-purity methane and hydrogen. Methane is typically derived from the mining of oil, gas, and coal.
“Methane primarily comes from the ground,” explains David Hardy, creator of diamond grower Bringdiamonds.com. “Graphite, too…. Metals are present in the equipment as well, and they do not come from the air.”
“There’s no meaningful way to acquire methane responsibly,” says Ryan Shearman, cofounder and chief alchemist of Aether Diamonds, which converts carbon dioxide taken from the air into methane to make lab-grown jewels. It’s either coming from crude oil production or from fracking.”
He claims that new methods of producing methane are emerging, notably from biogenic sources (such as farm animals), but that no supply chains are currently in place.
These concerns are rarely addressed in the countless pages of information regarding lab-grown diamonds available online. Pandora is one of the few firms that includes them in its lab-grown diamond sustainability report (available only in PDF format):
The possible social and environmental implications [of lab-grown diamonds] are related with the extraction of raw materials such as natural gas and/or coal for the creation of high purity methane and hydrogen in raw materials acquisition. The mining of natural gas and coal can have substantial social and environmental consequences.
Because high purity methane gas is anticipated to be created from liquefied natural gas (LNG), raw material acquisition begins with natural gas extraction.
In Europe, hydrogen is normally created from natural gas using steam methane reforming, however in China, the world’s largest producer of hydrogen, it is mostly produced through coal gasification utilising hard coal.
Are large quantities of these materials used? Farmers say no.
“They are utilised in very modest quantities, and they are significantly less important than the electric source,” Hardy explains.
According to Pandora’s analysis, which was funded by the firm, the emissions required to obtain these materials “cannot be totally eradicated but can be offset through investments in quality carbon off-setting schemes.” It also claims that “the risks’attributable’ to lab-grown diamonds from the CVD process are potentially modest, because the industry’s share of total produced natural gas (to high purity methane and hydrogen) is negligible.”
I’m not interested in the boring lab-versus-natural eco-debate. It’s unclear how much of these materials are used because most manufacturers keep their technology confidential and practically never provide hard data. This is a matter of terminology.
Mined materials are used in the formation of nearly all lab-grown diamonds, regardless of the particular amount. It is simply not correct to assert that certain stones are “mine-free” or that “no mining” was involved in their formation. While there may be a few exceptions, lab-grown diamonds would be extinct if mining ceased tomorrow. Even renowned publications like Popular Science repeat claims that lab-grown diamonds require “no mining at all.”
Alternative language that is just as obvious but significantly more accurate, such as calling lab-grown diamonds “non-mined” or specifying there is “no diamond mining,” rather than “no mining” in general, is easily conjured. But this is more than just a language change.
Diamond growers understand how their products are made. Even if most of their consumers don’t, they know they utilise methane and where it comes from. Nonetheless, some say that their product is “mining-free,” meaning that it was manufactured without the use of mining.
This is about more than just a poor choice of words. This is about potentially misleading wording. That is why it should be prohibited.
“I doubt many things can be called mine-free,” Hardy says. “There is no such thing as a silver bullet.”
Even silver is derived from the ground.
Except for the fact that they are developed in a lab, lab grown diamonds are identical to earth mined diamonds in every way. They share the same chemical, physical, and visual qualities as mined diamonds, as well as their fire, scintillation, and glitter.
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