Pledge enhancement: jewellery makers for whom sustainability is one aspect of being a ‘force for good’
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What, you may wonder, unites the Harrogate Spring bottled water company, The Guardian newspaper, and a handful of small-scale British jewellers, including Ellie Air and Shakti Ellenwood? All are B Corp certified — credited with having made a commitment to put social and environmental concerns on an equal footing with financial returns, and to go beyond unverifiable pledges.
At the last count, there were 42 certified B Corp jewellery companies internationally, 10 of which are in the UK.
Pyrrha, headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, where it employs 35 people, was certified in December 2014, making it a relatively early adopter. The company is best known for its handcrafted sterling silver and 14-carat gold talismans, which it sells via its Vancouver and LA flagship stores and stockists including Nordstrom and Liberty.
“As a company, we’d always tried to minimise our impact by casting in reclaimed metals, using alternatives to chemicals, and minimising waste, so we thought that qualifying [as a B Corp] would be a cakewalk,” says co-founder Wade Papin. “We were wrong.”
Pyrrha had to up its game and even created its own code of conduct, which it required suppliers to sign.
“We monitor our social and environmental footprint on an ongoing basis and are subject to random audits,” he says. “Accountability is a big part of being a B Corp, and we need to requalify every two years.”
Papin still finds himself having to explain what a B Corp is — which is further complicated in the US, where there can be confusion between the similar sounding Benefit Corporation, a legal business structure, and B Corp, which refers to third-party certification.
B Corp certification is designed to be applicable to all companies, from multinationals to sole traders. A free B Impact Assessment can be carried out via the organisation’s website, by answering questions under five headings: governance, workers, community, the environment and customers.
Eighty points is the threshold for assessment approval and B Corp certification requires a company to be transparent about its performance, by publishing results on its website. Companies also pledge a legal commitment to all stakeholders — including the planet.
To become a B Corp, jeweller EC One implemented many changes, including how it sourced gold and treated employees — as well as changing its toilet paper to a type made from recycled bamboo.
“It would have been much easier to use a few choice words on our website — such as ‘ethical’, ‘sourced responsibly’, ‘environmentally friendly’ — and maybe shown some pictures of a beautiful landscape where our stones and metals might have been sourced,” notes managing director, Jos Skeates. “We imagine if we had done that, most people would have felt we were responsible enough for them to consider buying our jewellery or using our services. But we would know we hadn’t done enough.”
EC One’s work towards becoming a B Corp culminated in certification in January 2019 — and galvanised Skeates in a very personal way: “I realised I didn’t know enough, so decided to undertake a masters in corporate social responsibility and sustainability, which I have nearly finished.”
B Lab UK is a charity that was founded in 2015 to advance the B Corp movement in the UK. And it is a movement that is growing fast — second in size only to those in the US and Canada, where there are more than 1,900 B Corps. During March 2022, the charity welcomed 3,000 consumers to its Good News pop-up held in London’s Rathbone Place, where goods from over 100 brands including Divine Chocolate and Sipsmith were displayed. However, there was not any jewellery.
“Here, the focus has mainly been on FMCG [fast moving consumer goods] products,” says Victoria Waugh, co-founder of V&V Sustainability Consultancy. “It is a relatively new concept for the jewellery industry, where it’s led by the small guys: independents and sole traders.” Waugh’s experience is in supply chain development, including bringing Fairtrade gold to market, making her well placed to weigh up one ethical mark against another.
“B Corp has an overarching framework that helps businesses to improve across all their operations,” she says. “Most other certification schemes are linked to very specific things, whether it’s materials or manufacturing, human rights, or climate change. So, if you’re working with Fairtrade, for example, then you’re going to earn more points as part of B Corp certification.”
In 2019, Waugh trained to become a B Leader, one of the first in the UK to specialise in jewellery. This officially qualified her to guide companies through the rigorous application process. “For the smaller guys, it can be overwhelming because there’s a lot of information about HR processes or the way that you run your office. Trying to answer questions that may appear inapplicable can be difficult, which is why people work with B Leaders,” she says.
Past clients include Shakti Ellenwood, an artisanal jewellery designer and goldsmith known for wedding and engagement rings, amulets and animal-inspired pieces, who is shifting her business from Devon to London. Ellenwood first encountered Waugh in a Zoom meeting organised by Fair Luxury, a group dedicated to a responsible and sustainable future, to which she and Waugh belong. They met in a breakout room focused on B Corp certification.
In January 2022, Ellenwood became the first sole-trader goldsmith in the UK to achieve certification with a high B impact score of 113.7. She attributes this, in part, to working only with Fairtrade gold and her commitment to giving two per cent of her sales to charities, such as 1% for the Planet, Survival International and Orangutan Foundation.
A month later, another of Waugh’s clients — Cheshire-based Anuka Jewellery, specialising in capsule collections in recycled silver and 18-carat Fairmined gold vermeil plate — became B Corp certified with a score of 108.3. Transparency has always been one of founder Francesca Kippax’s guiding principles and, to this end, she works with Provenance, another British B Corp business.
Waugh is currently working with Maya Selway, another independent London-based jeweller. But she says: “I’d like to see high-street jewellers and luxury brands also taking an interest.”