The diamond industry promises sustainable diamonds & improved transparency, but does it deliver?
There’s a certain mystique to Earth-mined diamonds. Sure, these rare pieces of atomic perfection contain a billion years of history and the romance of faraway places. But, they’re also the target of massive machinery and endless human ingenuity to find and extract them. If you’ve only considered diamonds intriguing because of their role in our emotional lives, brace yourself — their origins are just as dramatic. And origins are the topic of interest for a lot of marketing efforts.
If you go outside today, stop and take a look around. Notice the environment surrounding you, or down the street at your local park. Think about all the different lives that depend on our ecosystem and others all around our globe. Now picture a giant gaping hole where that park used to be. Or a distressed and destroyed seabed that was once home to exotic wildlife.
Do sustainable diamonds exist? A deeper look into diamond mining
Since natural diamonds are formed deep within the Earth’s surface, companies must employ miners to go deep within the Earth’s surface. We see a lot of claims about sustainable diamonds, ethically sourced diamonds, and eco-friendly diamonds, but, what does any of it mean? Do sustainable diamonds even exist? To answer that, we look closer the origins of diamonds, and diamond mining.
Gone are the days of handheld pitchforks and shovels, there are three main kinds of diamond mining techniques popular nowadays — ranging from small scale to massive, and even underwater operations.
What is Open-Pit Mining?
The most common kind of diamond mining is pit mining. Pit mining is precisely what it sounds like. Mining companies use heavy-duty explosives to blow large pits in the ground. Heavy machinery then extracts diamonds.
“Once the ore is broken, excavators load the ore into haul trucks and transport it to a primary ore crusher where the diamond extracting process begins. A single blast can break approximately three thousand tonnes of ore.”
It’s dirty work that results in irreversible ecological damage to the landscape, burns hundreds of millions of gallons of fuel, and leaves pits up to 600 metres deep and as long as there is more resource to find, the hole just continues to enlarge. Often, after a diamond company has pillaged the Earth for every stone they can, they are asked to rehab the land…although that doesn’t always happen.
“In this context, the term [rehab] includes designing and constructing landforms and establishing sustainable ecosystems, depending on the use aimed for. This includes reconstructing a soil ‘profile’, choosing species, establishing plants and introducing animals,” says a WA Today article.
Yet, in Western Australia alone, there are ten thousand abandoned mines that have no rehab plans in sight. Some of these open pits are so large, they can be seen from outer space. And at other sites, such as The Diavik Diamond Mine in Canada, companies are doing their best to amend the original plans for rehab — hoping to use the land that they’ve already destroyed as a holding ground for its own waste.
“Open-pit mining is to be considered one of the most dangerous sectors in the industrial world. It causes significant effects to miners health, as well as damage to the ecological land. Open-pit mining causes changes to vegetation, soil, and bedrock, which ultimately contributes to changes in surface hydrology, groundwater levels, and flow paths,” explains a study from ScienceDirect.
What is Underground Diamond Mining?
Underground diamond mining is a form of pit mining that exploits depleted pit mines. Miners drill large shafts parallel to the kimberlite pipes which makes it easier to dig enclosed tunnels and transport hard-to-reach diamonds to the surface. However, it is much more complex and, as a result, much more expensive. Essentially, two shafts are drilled along the sides of kimberlite — a rock that could potentially contain diamonds. Once the shafts are in, two parallel tunnels can be dug. Rock blasts are used in the top tunnel, in hopes that any diamonds inside of the kimberlite will fall to the second level.
What is Offshore Marine Diamond Mining?
Marine diamond mining is like something out of science fiction. Imagine giant flexible tubes sucking gravel from the Earth floor. That’s one kind. The other method uses massive drills to pull up diamond-bearing gravel. Marine diamond mining started in the 1960’s off the coast of Namibia. To date, more than 1.4 million carats have been extracted from the seafloor.
DeBeers runs this margin mining operation in collaboration with the government of Namibia under the name — Debmarine Namibia.
This kind of hands-off mining comes at a high environmental cost. Marine mining equipment dredges thousands of tons of sediment from the sea. The damage can take decades to recover. Marine mining not only impacts the seafloor, but disturbs migratory species, such as sharks, whales, dolphins, and seals, already under stress from climate change.
Marine mining is anticipated to gain speed as land-based diamond mines are depleted.
To help find diamonds that were washed into the Atlantic Ocean millions of years ago, companies have constructed huge parcels that suck up the seabed in search of these stones. So what happens to all of the extra sediment? It’s simply dumped back into the ocean. In a CNN article about the effects of offshore mining, Kirsten Thompson, a marine scientist from the University of Exeter, gives her input.
“Marine mining removes parts of the seabed with heavy machinery and habitat recovery from this type of disturbance can take decades,” says Thompson.
But the disturbance to the seabed isn’t all that this type of mining can do. These huge ships are also causing increased noise and light pollution.
In the next few years, Debmarine plans to launch the largest ever custom-built mining vessel measuring 577 feet long and capable of dredging diamonds with a mechanical arm from a depth of 400 feet.
A submarine used to examine the seabed COPYRIGHT CNN
Are sustainable diamonds a pipe dream?
Looking at the two origins — labs vs mines — it’s clear that both use technology and equipment to extract or create a diamond. But, let’s look at some statistics to see how exactly each method impacts our environment.
None of these mining methods produce sustainable diamonds. In fact, mining finite natural resources is inherently unsustainable. All types of mining have long-lasting environmental impact. Even the most eco-friendly mines aren’t renewable resources for obvious reasons. The Ekati mines in Canada are often referred to as an example for sustainable mining. But, even here the annual carbon footprint is equivalent to more than 600 million car miles.
Diamond mining most notably contributes to erosion and land degradation, which leads to flooding and the inability to grow crops. Once a mine is depleted, a large pit is left. Over time this pit fills with water. The stagnant water becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes and malaria.
Which Uses More Water?
One of the biggest areas where mined and Ethica diamonds differ is in their water usage. A mined diamond consumes more than 126 gallons of water per carat. Our diamonds, on the other hand, consume just 18 gallons. Mined diamonds also result in “constant discharge of wastewater and pollutants in surface water bodies,” according to a recent research study from Frost & Sullivan.
How Does Energy Use Compare?
When it comes to energy, mined diamonds use 538.5 million joules per carat, while grown ones use 250 million. Although this may seem like a lot, the Frost & Sullivan study claims that much of the energy used in creating lab-grown gemstones is renewable.
Do They Release Carbon?
The difference in carbon emissions on Ethica diamonds and mined diamonds is staggering. According to Frost & Sullivan, while a traditionally mined diamond produces more than 125 pounds of carbon for every single carat, man-made diamonds emit just 6 pounds of carbon – a mere 4.8% of what mined diamonds produce.
Mined diamonds also produce more than 30 pounds of Sulphur oxide, while man-made diamonds produce none. “In terms of overall gaseous emissions, the growth process involves little or no emissions of significance,” Frost & Sullivan’s study reported.
In total, air emissions on a single carat of mined diamond are 1.5 billion times higher than those of a lab-grown one.
How Much Land Is Disrupted & Waste Created?
For every carat of diamond that is mined via traditional methods, Frost & Sullivan reports that nearly 100 square feet of land is disturbed and more than 5,798 pounds of mineral waste is created. The mining also offsets delicate biodiversity balances and renders the land unusable – even once mining activities have ceased.
By comparison, our diamonds disrupt just 0.07 square feet of land per carat and only 1 pound of mineral waste. According to Frost & Sullivan’s study, diamond-creating facilities “are often located in areas that have a negligible impact on the environment and have almost no impact on biodiversity in the area of operation.”
So, we’ll let you decide. Which of the two is the more eco-friendly diamond?
How can I buy a sustainable diamond?
We make choices every day that can either help or hurt our environment. And there’s been a huge push recently to do more to reduce the hurt. Thankfully, technology is giving us the tools to move towards a greener lifestyle every day. And, although it’s difficult to create products that result in 0% harm, strides are being taken to find alternatives to some of the more detrimental practices that our society takes part in.
Lab-grown or created diamonds are an eco-friendly sustainable alternative to their mined counterparts.
What Are The Origins?
Our lab grown diamonds are grown by Diamond Foundry, the first diamond growers in the world to use 100% renewable energy to grow their diamonds, which we think is pretty cool and worth shouting about. They use hydropower; green energy created by the Columbian River, and every stone is certified by the Carbon Neutral Company, since there is no carbon footprint associated with the growing process of these diamonds. These diamonds are the most eco-friendly option for an engagement ring: your significant other will enjoy their beautiful diamond engagement ring, which looks identical to the equivalent mined diamond (they are, after all, pure diamond), and you’ll be helping preserve the environment at the same time. And what’s more, they are less costly than mined diamonds, meaning you can get a bigger and better diamond for your budget. It really is a win-win.