Pandora, known for its affordable sterling silver charm bracelets, is the world’s largest jewelry company by volume: the Danish chain sells more than 100 million pieces a year. This week, it announced that it now only sources 100 percent recycled silver and gold for its collections.

The move was touted as an important step by a large company to reduce its environmental footprint. “We wanted to lead by example,” Pandora CEO Alexander Lacik said in an interview. “If we can make positive contributions to society by using recycled gold and silver, it means anyone can do it.”

By working with metals that have already been mined, Pandora will not dig deeper for new materials, allowing the company to substantially reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Mining requires more energy and resources than recycling and is an important source of mercury pollution. in 2020 Press release In announcing its switch to recycled metals, Pandora cited statistics from the World Gold Council and others showing that the gold recycling process reduces emissions by about 99 percent compared to its extraction, while silver recycling reduces emissions. carbon emissions by approximately 66 percent compared to its extraction. .

Other brands, such as Prada and Monica Vinader, have also started using recycled metals. But some industry observers warn that such materials can appear more virtuous than they really are.

Like “sustainability,” the word “recycling” can mean different things to different people. That gap in interpretation can be problematic, said Tiffany Stevens, executive director of the Jewelers Oversight Committee, a New York City organization that focuses on ethics and policy advocacy in the industry.

“Recycling is a positive modifier in most contexts, but it is not necessarily the case when it comes to gold or silver,” he said. The term “recycled,” she added, gives jewelry made from such materials a “green halo,” or an aura of being environmentally friendly.

But the term doesn’t “give people clear answers about where their metals come from,” Stevens said, which is one reason his organization and others have asked The Federal Trade Commission banned the use of “recycled” to describe jewelry products sold in the United States. The FTC is expected to respond this year when it releases updates to its environmental marketing guidelines.

those guidelines currently say that “it is misleading to represent, directly or implicitly, that an item contains recycled content unless it is composed of materials that have been recovered or otherwise diverted from the waste stream.” However, precious metals are generally not considered waste because they have been melted down and reused for centuries and typically retain their value.

The term “recycled” can also obscure the origins of some metals, such as those obtained by so-called cowboy miners or illegal refineries known to use child labor or conduct operations that finance the activities of criminal networks. Patrick Schein, a refiner and board member of the Alliance for Responsible Mining, said the word can create the illusion that the recycling process always produces “newborn gold that is ethically acceptable.”

The Alliance for Responsible Mining, an advocacy group, has promoted other ways to improve the jewelry industry’s supply chains, including for companies to support programs by groups like the Better Gold Association, which works with small-scale miners. that refine metals more responsibly.

“Purchasing exclusively recycled gold excludes this sector, which employs many people who already face vulnerable situations,” reads a 2020 report. statement published by the alliance and other organizations.

Lacik said the shift toward exclusively sourcing recycled metals at Pandora was based more on environmental factors than how it might affect small-scale miners, a group that produces nearly two-fifths of the world’s mercury population. according to a 2018 United Nations report.

“We have to decide: is the climate issue more or less important than certain communities?” he stated. “In our case, we believe that addressing the climate issue and advancing progress is a more important issue for humanity in the long term.”

While using recycled metals could reduce Pandora’s environmental footprint, mining new gold and silver has not slowed over the past decade, suggesting that companies’ growing interest in such materials has done little to offset mining’s overall climate footprint.

A team of 100 employees has participated in the switch to recycled metals at Pandora, which moved from mined diamonds to lab-grown diamonds in 2021. The change in metal sourcing required adapting processes and equipment to the measures established by the Responsible Jewelry Councila London group recognized for setting global standards.

Among Pandora’s recycled metal suppliers is MKS PAMP, a Swiss refiner and trader. “We know every source in our supply chain and can tell down to the gram what goes to whom,” said Xavier Miserez, the refinery’s head of sales. “Zero risk does not exist but we try to mitigate it as much as possible.”

Pandora plans to pay about $10 million a year for recycled metals. That’s more than it was paying for the new mines, Lacik said, “but that’s a cost we’re willing to absorb.”

“I’m also realistic about how important this is to jewelry buyers,” he added, noting that most are guided by two main factors: design and price. “Some might then ask about sustainable production, but not many.”