Saving the planet by proxy — one sale at a time

The jewellery industry, like many others, is under a lot of pressure to reform and become much more responsible in the way it functions. This offers a market opportunity for those ready to jump on board, but the biggest opportunity awaits those willing to go the extra mile.

Imagine for a moment I asked you to put your hand up if you’re a bit exhausted by the whole climate change/climate crisis debate.

Maybe you wouldn’t because the debate really energises you, but I’m guessing a lot of people would like to put their hands up, even if they feel like they shouldn’t.

And frankly, would you blame them?

The whole subject is depressing. If it’s not the barrage of doom and gloom we see in the media that drains you, you’re probably worn out by the hot-under-the-collar climate change deniers who angrily demand we’re all being duped and that it’s all a big conspiracy.

Personally, I have confidence in the science and the broad scientific community, much more than I do in the special interest groups who seek to maintain the status quo. But whatever your position, I wouldn’t be surprised if you wanted to switch off, even for a little while.

And given it’s highly likely you’re not the only one, it begs the question: Do we need to change the topic?

In other words, perhaps we business people and concerned citizens should be addressing the issue in a different way.

Rather than centre the jewellery industry discussion around climate change, maybe we should look for ways to make the conversation more uplifting, yet still achieve the goal of changing behaviour?

Can we risk not hammering home the message?

I’m speculating, but two things have happened lately that make me think we need to talk about something else.

In a recent survey we conducted we discovered that climate change did not rate very highly as an area of concern. It turns out our customers are much more concerned about things like fair trade, traceability and products being locally manufactured.

But even those things weren’t their number one priority. What they did pick however, offers a way around the climate change/emotional exhaustion problem.

Offering an ethical product is not enough

What rated most highly with our kind of customer was that their preferred supplier should do more than just sell responsibly sourced and produced jewellery.

In other words, just selling an ethical product isn’t enough. That only gets you to first base.

To get the full vote of confidence it seems you need to do more than just deliver on the core promise of your business.

Orangutans and recycling

One of our favourite suppliers is a local company called Precious Metal Technologies (PMT), based not too far from us near Queensland’s Gold Coast.

Their core business is recycling precious metals. But that doesn’t make them unique. After all, there are other precious metal recyclers here in Australia that, as far as we know, meet all the standards and do just as good a job.

But something I learned about PMT during a recent visit to check out their operation earns them a big tick of approval.

Lynn and Jez, the owners, are hugely dedicated supporters of an orangutan rehabilitation and fostering foundation that works with orphaned and displaced orangutans in Indonesia. (You can check out the Foundation at www.orangutanfoundation.org.au )

Of course, the animal welfare benefits are obvious, but what’s not quite so obvious is that part of the Foundation’s charter includes purchasing tracts of indigenous forest habitat to save it from being developed into palm oil plantations.

Right there you have a very real contribution to slowing the rate of climate change in addition to protecting an endangered species.

The thing is, the recycling operation Lynn and Jez run almost certainly does far more good for the planet than preserving a few areas of rainforest and looking after orangutans, but it’s unlikely consumers will see it the same way.

After all, PMT’s core business is only doing what it’s supposed to. We need to do more than that, and customers love it when we do.

Therein lies the opportunity to do the greatest good

Maybe it’s time to stop banging on about climate change. Maybe it’s time to talk about things consumers can relate to and, in effect, save the planet by ‘stealth’.

Let me give you an example of what I mean by this.

The Fair Trade industry, and especially the fair-mined gold people are doing a great job of making an intangible benefit more real.

By relating case studies of benefits to communities, showing pictures of people and places, they offer evidence of something their customers can really feel good about.

And it just so happens that by making these small mining communities safer, more efficient and less polluting, they’re also helping to reduce carbon emissions and reverse habitat destruction.

Isn’t the solution just an extension of being a good corporate citizen?

Yes and no.

As I see it there are two kinds of ‘good’ corporate citizenship. One is like offering orange juice to take away the nasty aftertaste of a bitter pill. The other is like icing on an already tasty cake.

For a lot of businesses it’s far easier (and cheaper) to throw some dollars at a popular charity and loudly claim good corporate citizenship than it is to invest in cleaning up their own act. Plus, they get far more PR mileage out of sponsoring such a charity than they would from, say, greening their own operations.

It’s a distraction technique, and it works. Consumers like it and so do shareholders — but it’s not necessarily all that helpful socially or environmentally. (At least not compared with what might be achieved by taking corrective actions internally.)

The icing-on-the-cake people, however, do all they can to minimise harm regardless of whether or not they get recognition for it — and they do more above and beyond that.

That’s what I call good corporate citizenship.

Change the conversation

As a way forward, instead of headlining climate change, greenhouse gas emissions and other such esoteric concepts, perhaps it’s time to get up close and personal with the very real things we could be doing to slow down climate change?

I can almost guarantee you that no matter how green and clean your business, most customers will simply judge that as the least you should be doing. It’s not fair, but that’s human nature.

Above and beyond your core business, what they’ll really value is what more you’re doing to contribute. This represents an opportunity to do some serious good and, incidentally, win more business as a result.

Pick your climate change battleground

You could support a gem mining community somewhere in Africa or sponsor a plastics recycling facility in Bangladesh. Maybe work with an organisation that delivers micro loans to women in developing countries so they can make an even greater economic contribution or otherwise get involved in some kind of sustainability program.

Whatever you choose, make it ‘up close and personal’ and your customers will support you in your efforts to help save the planet — even if it’s not immediately obvious that’s your goal.

The good news is you won’t have to use the words climate change and risk turning people off. Instead you can deliver good news stories about the programs you’re supporting and, in effect, slow down climate change by proxy.

Jewellery industry consumer advocate and Blogger + Co-founder of bespoke jewellery company, Ethical Jewellery Australia

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