Sustainable and Socially Responsible Gemstones? A Proposal for Independent Businesses

Melanie Demmer
Jan 13 · 7 min read

Points of Healing, Points of Mine is a series of posts discussing the interweavings of conversations of crystal therapy, alternative healing, science & conservation, and eco-consumerism.


Crystals are big business. They have the ability to sweep us up in fantasy and luxury, and they have captured the imagination of Western alternative healing and spirituality, placing them in high demand as retailers market them toward a modern consciousness that is searching for ways to relieve its discontent, and we often forget to question how these crystals and minerals are obtained in the first place. This is a broad-spectrum and far-reaching problem with complexities that potentially affect not only the environment but the economy (local, domestic U.S., and global) and questions of social justice. In an article that appeared in the summer 2016 issue of Gems & Gemology Jennifer-Lynn Archuleta stresses the fact that the multibillion dollar colored gemstone industry, like the diamond industry, has not resolved dangers and inequalities to protect the environment, the laborers (child and forced labor is frequently used in gemstone mining), nor cut off the funding of terrorism. Global Witness listed Lapis Lazuli as a conflict mineral in 2016 (Archuleta 144). These issues do not yet receive enough attention, but consumers are becoming increasingly savvy, questioning the origins of what they buy. “‘Green Marketing’: An Analysis of Definitions, Strategy Steps, and Tools Through a Systematic Review of Literature,” an article in Journal of Cleaner Production states, “The growing international concerns about environmental sustainability and climate change are leading all companies to face the challenge of integrating environmental issues into business strategies and activities (Dangelico & Vocalelli 1264).

Independently owned stores could make significant strides toward a more sustainable gemstone industry, steering consumers toward ethical and responsibly sourced gemstones — in other words: post-consumer, repurposed stones & crystals.

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is a growing movement of “collaborative and strength based change” (applied conflict resolution or self-initiated development). Given the complexities of this topic and the global complications that would need to be addressed to resolve the problems from a particular angle, I believe that AI is an appropriate approach to begin a discussion of what methods could best be implemented toward improved security within gemstone retail and wholesale culture. Rather than beginning with critical analysis — identifying problems and assigning blame, AI looks for the best of what is and then considers what adaptations could be made toward even better methods. Integral to AI is the 4D Cycle, which is ordered from inquiry to results. The cyclical pattern assists to avoid hierarchical thinking. There’s no particular hierarchy, excepting the focusing topic:

“Discovery: mobilize the system of inquiry for positive change (Appreciating). Dream: results-oriented vision in relation to discovered potential and in relation to questions of higher purpose — ‘What is called for?’ (Envisioning Results). Destiny: empowerment, learn, adjust, improvise (Sustaining). Design: what is the ideal? (Co-constructing). Core: affirmative topic choice” (Cooperrider 6–7).

The 4D Cycle Applied to Gemstone Sales in the U.S.

People are not going to just stop buying jewelry, and stores are not just going to just stop selling jewelry & healing stones. The 4D cycle can assist us to visualize a strategy that highlights the best of gem consumerism and how we could work to improve it. The 4D cycle begins with an affirmative topic choice. In the case, helping consumers make sustainable gemstone purchases. From there, we turn to the categories described above (see also Appendix II):

  • Discovery: Think holistically about how the spiritual and health-conscious aspect of gemstones can be extended to their sourcing.
  • Dream: Sustainable and socially responsible attainment of gems without damaging retail economy (especially many independently-owned businesses).
  • Destiny: Consumer knowledge about these issues should be readily available through retailers as well as independent channels.
  • Design: Promoting and specializing vintage/recycled/reused/rehomed gems through bookstores, thrift stores, and online sellers.

Many people buying gemstones are seeking them for their use in alternative medical healing. Why not let this concept of healing guide their purchases also? Whether gemstones contain intrinsic spiritual healing properties or not (many people believe they do), gemstones at least evoke a sense of enchantment that propels our desires to adorn ourselves with them; however, this same sense of enchantment often obstructs our ability to see the negative repercussions of the demands that we place on ourselves and the planet through the politics and economics of mining.


At a corporate level, efforts toward sustainable and ethical mining cooperation is evidenced through projects such as “The Madison Dialogue,” a conversation among activists and jewelry retail and wholesalers, including companies such as Tiffany’s. Independently owned stores, such as bookstores, gem stores, herbalists, thrift stores, and online retailers could thoughtfully market recycled/reclaimed/rehomed gems. This is likely an established practice for some stores now, but while used bookstores and used book sections are common practice, it is uncommon to find a stored for reclaimed gems, which tend to be shuffled toward antiques or thrift stores where they may or may not find buyers.

David Suzuki retells the research of Karl-Henrik Robèrt who drew on his knowledge of pediatric oncology to write The Natural Step, delineating how society can achieve a “healthy and sustainable society” (320). After receiving comments from 50 scientists on 20 drafts, he highlights “four system conditions” necessary for sustainability which detail the activities that nature cannot repeatedly endure (mining, human-made compounds, excessive demand on resources). Corporations and countries that adapt the Natural Step into their business model, and use the guidelines to determine “purchase of materials, manufacturing, transportation, construction of facilities, maintenance and waste management. . .reduce waste, become more efficient in the process” (322).


Objection (possibly from thrift stores): My store is already over-crowded. I could not find the space for a section only for recycled gems, and we don’t receive that many of them anyway. If a gemstone (other than jewelry) arrives, we price it and place on any shelf where it fits.

Resolution: Establish connections with local jewelry artisans who work with reclaimed materials or resellers who specialize in gems. You will likely make a sale faster and clear the area for other inventory.

Objection (from eclectic gift shops): I’ve never been in the “used” business, and this is a store where people buy gifts. How would I sell used gems?

Resolution: The above-mentioned resolution could be applicable here also, but you could sell new jewelry made from re-claimed materials.

Objection (from established crystal and gem sellers): I like the idea in theory, but my customers are knowledgeable aficionados and are usually looking for very specific gems. If I don’t have them in stock, I lose the sale. Besides, where would I find enough recycled gems to fill several shelves?

Resolution: Start slow. An article in Journal of Cleaner Production emphasizes, “Green marketing must satisfy two objectives: improved environmental quality and customer satisfaction. Misjudging either or overemphasizing the former at the expense of the latter can be termed ‘Green Marketing Myopia” (Ottman et al. quoted in Dangelico & Vocalelli 1270). Establish connections with thrift and antique stores who may acquire gems that they don’t have room for/don’t know how to market. Advertise to customers that you are purchasing used gemstones for store credit (or a similar arrangement to used book purchases). Also, educate your sales reps about the importance of eco-friendly and sustainable mining and processing practices. If they are looking for a particular stone that is not eco-friendly because of particular properties, suggest alternative stones. The time, energy, and effort you put into such specialization earn you a loyal clientele. Let customers know that you are proudly transitioning to a sustainable and socially responsible company. They will likely want to join you!

If crystals are instruments of healing, there is all the more reason to think locally and globally when considering the provenance of the objects that we, as consumers, buy into, and retailers, wholesalers, and consumers share responsibility. As Archuleta says, “In addition to cut, color, and mounting, jewelry consumers have long been seduced by the ‘story’ that accompanies their most treasured pieces. The history of a piece can provide romance and character to a purchase or gift” (144).

So be sure the provenance behind your gems reflects the values of your company.

Melanie Demmer

Written by

I write about alternative health (for people & pets), contemporary spirituality, and eco-consumerism & sustainability/conservation.

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