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Are Pandora’s lab grown diamonds the “future of luxury”?

© Shutterstock / AlesiaKanan assortment of diamond jewellery from Pandora who will start to make lab grown diamonds

The world’s largest jewellery brand, Pandora, has launched a new line in North America with lab-created diamonds and recycled silver and gold claiming to reduce the climate impact of their products compared to traditional mining.

Pandora (CSE:PNDORA.CO) has launched a line of jewellery in the US and Canada that uses exclusively lab-grown diamonds and recycled silver and gold.

Traditional mining of diamonds has significant environmental and social impacts, and lab-grown diamonds could offer a more climate-friendly alternative.

Lab-grown diamonds are becoming increasingly popular, especially among younger consumers due to their reduced environmental and social impacts.

Lab grown diamonds ‘future of luxury’

Pandora claims that the “future of luxury” is here as they roll out their latest line of jewellery made with lab-created diamonds and recycled silver and gold in the US and Canada.

The company’s CEO Alexander Lacik said that Pandora is “proud to broaden the diamond market and offer innovative jewellery that sets a new standard for how the industry can reduce its impact on the planet”.

Pandora has some of the most ambitious climate targets in the jewellery industry, aiming to reduce the company’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 50% by 2030 from a 2019 baseline across Scope 1,2, and 3 emissions, and achieving net zero emissions by 2040.

In 2021, the company’s net zero goals were approved by the Science Based Targets initiative.

However, the climate impact of the diamond and jewellery industry goes beyond carbon emissions, as the traditional mining of these precious gems has significant environmental and social ramifications, especially in vulnerable developing countries.

Interest in lab-grown diamonds has been growing over the past few years, as jewellery companies look to reduce the environmental impact of an industry that has historically been riddled with scandals due to exploitative mining practices.

But questions have been raised over the climate-friendly claims of lab-grown diamonds – so just how sustainable are Pandora’s new climate crown jewels?

How does Pandora make a lab grown diamond?

Currently, there are two main methods used to create diamonds in a lab: Chemical Vapour Deposition (CVD)  and High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT).

HPHT was the original method for growing diamonds synthetically, whereby diamonds are produced by mimicking the high pressure and high temperature conditions on carbon materials that naturally cause diamond formation in the earth.

This method requires mass amounts of energy to create these conditions, requiring temperatures up to 1600 C and pressures above 870,000 pounds per square inch.

The newer CVD method is the process that Pandora uses to create its new line of lab grown diamonds. This method involves placing a synthetic diamond seed in a vacuum chamber with carbon-rich gas and high heat that breaks apart the gas molecules so that the carbon crystallises on the seed, adding layers to the seed and “growing” the diamond.

The CVD process is less energy intensive compared to HPHT, requiring around half the temperatures to produce a diamond.

GHG emissions of lab grown vs mined diamonds

It is difficult to compare the carbon footprint of lab created and mined diamonds, as there is a worrying lack of detailed environmental data for most diamond mines, which has led to large disparities in GHG emissions calculations.

One study published by Imperial College London found that the total greenhouse gas emissions per polished carat can range anywhere between 57 kg CO2e and 160 kg CO2e. The majority of carbon emissions from mining come from the burning of fossil fuels of transport, equipment and machinery as well as the use of electricity to power operations.

Due to the remote locations of many diamond mining activities, operations rely heavily on diesel generators and transitioning to renewable energy sources is difficult in these locations.

On the other hand, factories creating synthetic diamonds can be located in areas that can take advantage of low-carbon and cost competitive renewable energy sources.

Pandora’s emissions 5% of traditional mining

Pandora claims to already use 100% renewable energy at their crafting facilities in Thailand. However, the majority of this renewable energy capacity can be attributed to Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), with only 2% of their total energy consumption covered by on-site solar panels.

The end result of Pandora’s lab grown diamond is a carbon footprint of 8.17 kg CO2e per carat – 5% the emissions of the highest estimations of the carbon footprint of traditional diamond mining.

The company claims that if all diamonds globally were mined using Pandora’s method, this would help the world avoid more than 6 million tonnes of carbon annually, equivalent to replacing all cars in New York City with electric vehicles.

While the process of creating a diamond in a lab is still energy intensive, it still requires only a small fraction of energy compared to traditional mining practices and the overall carbon footprint is significantly reduced.

Beyond the carbon footprint

While GHG emissions are an important part of the climate change puzzle, the carbon footprint of the diamond industry is only a small part of the story when taking into account the wider environmental impacts of the industry.

The Imperial College study explained that “the most significant impact of mined diamonds in environmental terms is likely to be land disturbance”.

Traditional mining causes irreversible damage to land, impacting water resources, air quality, biodiversity, and soil quality which can have significant run-off effects on the climate.

These factors must also be considered when assessing the climate impacts of mined versus lab grown diamonds, and are arguably more significant than GHG comparisons as they account for the wider environmental impacts.

African countries suffering due to diamond mining

A study found that in the Boteti district of Botswana, one of the country’s diamond hotspots, diamond mining was found to directly accelerate land degradation and has increased land pressures by encroaching on agricultural land. The mining activities have thus significantly impacted the country’s food security and climate resilience.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, communities and ecosystems in the Kasai River Basin were threatened due to significant water pollution from diamond mining activities in Angola. The mining upstream was reported to poison aquatic flora and fauna, cause waterborne diseases from people living in the area, reduce access to clean water, and disrupt other economic activities such as fishing and agriculture.

It is clear that traditional mining has significant impacts on the environment and communities, and a transition to lab grown diamonds removes these wider climate risks.

A business case for sustainable diamonds

The severe environmental and social impacts of traditional diamond mining have been widely reported, and have influenced consumers.

This might be the answer to the now infamous tweet from The Economist asking “why aren’t millennials buying diamonds?”.

A report published by consultancy firm Bains finds that there is a growing desire for the diamond industry to increase transparency in various aspects of environmental and social issues among younger consumers.

The report finds that the diamond industry should be prepared for short and midterm market readjustments by implementing traceability programs to meet sustainability demands, increase ESG efforts and build a more “ethical image” to attract younger buyers.

This pressure of next generation consumers, along with other factors such as affordability, has led the consultancy to forecast that demand for lab grown diamonds, such as the new Pandora line, could outpace mined diamonds in the coming years.

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