Our customers may not be aware that the Village Goldsmith, Inc., uses only "environmentally friendly" gold. Hoover and Strong has been our metals supplier for over thirty years and is a leader in the responsible sourcing and refining of materials. The following article is a fascinating look at the process of metals refining.
Refiner and Recycler
When the social activist group Earthworks published "Dirty Metals," its scathing report on gold mining, in February 2004, most in the jewelry industry greeted its scandalous findings with shock. Suddenly, refiners all over America were flooded with inquiries about "environmentally friendly" gold. "Responsible sourcing" became a catch phrase among jewelers and manufacturers.
Torry Hoover was ready for the overnight surge of concern about "dirty gold." In fact, his Richmond, Virginia, company, Hoover & Strong, had been ready for 20 years—ever since a complete overhaul in operations in the 1980s to be in full compliance with tough federal, state, and local anti-pollution regulations. "Our facility is located in an industrial park where there is no industry other than us," says Ron Kelly, the company's refining supervisor. "The city wanted our discharges and emissions to be absolutely clean."
To pass muster with finicky officials and inspectors, the company invested a million dollars in technology that would reduce chemical wastes by 70 percent, making sure they met all current and any future regulations. That meant, among other things, installing giant new scrubbers to remove toxic chemicals from waste that had been converted into vapors. It also meant installing a chlorine gas precious metals leaching vat and making sure the chlorine was kept contained and harmless.
This brings me to one of the great ironies of the "No Dirty Gold" campaign: Without seeing it coming, American refiners had long ago addressed the concerns of groups like Earthworks and taken steps to provide clean gold. What's more, most had made reforms in ignorance of what gold mining companies were doing. "The lousy job of earth stewardship by gold miners was as much a jolt to the jewelry industry as the public," says Hoover. "Thankfully, refiners were prepared to meet any demand for responsibly refined gold that would come."
How come? Simple. Jewelry, says Earthworks, accounts for 80 percent of all gold use. One-third of this gold, the group estimates, comes from refiners who buy scrap and sweepings from jewelers and manufacturers or process it for them. Refiners like Hoover & Strong are best seen as recyclers because they buy very little gold that isn't secondhand. Understandably, "Dirty Metals" directs most of its ire at miners. True, refiners are also accused of being polluters. But the kind of refiners the report refers to are those who perform the final smelting of gold ore at mines and not those who smelt jewelers' scrap. Yet it's easy to see why all refiners are grouped together and take the same flak. Heavily toxic chemicals are used in the extraction of gold from both ore and scrap. Unless these materials are kept from being discharged into the air, soil, or water, a jewelry gold refiner can, and should, be considered as much a polluter as a miner.
Nevertheless, in the three years since the bombshell report was issued, groups like Earthworks and Oxfam have concentrated on formulating codes of responsible conduct for mining operations. "We have yet to draft criteria for refiners," says Payal Sampat, a researcher and writer at Earthworks.
Earthworks may never have to draft criteria. Given the safety net of environmental regulations that already exist, it may only have to affirm the present body of laws and rules that bind jewelry refiners.
Nevertheless, Hoover isn't about to wait for such codes to be drafted. "We have to be proactive," he says. "A storm is brewing and we have to be ready for it."
Thus was born "Ecogold"—a brand which stands for, in Hoover's words, "gold refined in the most environmentally friendly fashion possible." Hoover & Strong now sells only Ecogold. You can't call them and request any other kind of gold. But, then again, who would want to?
Ecogold is more a part of outreach than any in-house operations reform. "It's not enough to make sure no dirty gold goes out of our plant," Hoover says. "It's also important to make sure no dirty gold comes into it."
And that's what has changed for Hoover since Earthworks shook the world just before Valentine's Day three years ago. No matter how prepared Hoover & Strong was in-house to meet demand for clean gold, the "Dirty Metals" report forced them to make their new earth-minded brand more than a symbol for conscientious metals refining. "The brand also stands for our commitment to responsible mining and sourcing," says Hoover. "We are pledged to buy only from people who have signed on to best practices codes of conduct in the human rights and environmental areas. The brand is about ethics."—David Federman, Contributing Editor, Modern Jeweler, January 2007
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