Shine like a diamondDecember 2015
Renowned jewellery retailer Tiffany is looking to drive meaningful change and lead in sustainable luxury. Anisa Kamadoli Costa, chief sustainability officer, tells Laura Klepacki how it’s going about it
In April when Frédéric Cumenal took over as ceo of Tiffany & Co, one of the world’s premier diamond jewellery and luxury retailers, he set an immediate imperative to accelerate Tiffany’s progress on key social and environmental issues.
Tiffany had already created its Laurelton Diamonds division in 2002 to oversee its global supply chain and give it more control over sourcing and processing of the diamonds its sells. For several years it has remained steadfast in its resolve not to procure diamonds from Zimbabwe because of human rights violations despite that the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, a global organization convened to address the issue of ‘blood’ or ‘conflict’ diamonds, deemed those exports acceptable again in June 2011. And on an environmental front, Tiffany has not used coral in its jewellery pieces for more than 10 years because the harvesting negatively impacts the marine ecosystem.
But to ensure responsible sourcing permeates its culture, just a few days into his tenure, Cumenal named Anisa Kamadoli Costa, formerly the company’s vice president, global sustainability and corporate responsibility, as its first chief sustainability officer. (She also retained her role as chairman and president of the Tiffany & Co. Foundation.) During her previous 12 years with the company Costa had been credited with nurturing a collaborative and stakeholder-driven approach to sustainability intended to forge best practices for the mining industry and jewelers.
In the first few months in the newly created post, Costa said she has been meeting with Cumenal and other senior leaders to set priorities, with support of responsible mining practices quickly placed uppermost on the agenda. “It is a fantastic new role. We want to drive meaningful change and lead in sustainable luxury. It is so critical to work with our team internally and that means in New York and globally,” said Costa. “But also just to be out there first hand and work on what is happening (across the industry.)”
Regarding its stance on Zimbabwe diamonds, Costa said, “What we would love is for the Kimberley Process to have its mandate expanded to a stronger standard on human rights.” Tiffany has also been calling on the Responsible Jewellery Council, which evaluates the diamond, gold and platinum sectors, to raise its minimum certification standards.
As a $4.2 billion company with 12,000 employees and 295 stores across 25 countries, Tiffany feels compelled to use the power of its brand to encourage ethical behavior. “We believe we must speak out and use our voice to raise awareness and impact society and our planet,” said Costa. “The long-term view is we want to integrate sustainability into all aspects of the business. It is rapidly evolving.”
Costa is particularly excited about a developing standard from the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) that will bring all mining sectors under one umbrella. “When up and running IRMA will be the largest mining standard to-date and the first to certify all mined materials – not just gold or aluminum,” she pointed out. IRMA talks engage five diverse stakeholder groups including indigenous miners. Tiffany is also a member of IRMA, which expects to launch standards in 2016.
“The conversations have been very open and eye opening. They are deep and raw conversations and difficult for different parties to hear,” said Costa. “When we have the `buy in’ from each of these sectors that is what helps us raise the bar.”
In choosing its partners, added Costa, “I want to know that the mining company we purchase from is the most informed mine possible.” Tiffany has created its own vendor requirements under its Conflict Minerals Policy, Vendor Code of Conduct and a Social Accountability Program.
Through direct supply agreements and maintaining in-house diamond cutting and crafting operations, Tiffany has gained more transparency and quality control. “We have traceability and we want to make sure we have best-in-class,” said Costa.
The Tiffany Foundation also furthers the corporate mission. “We really view our philanthropy as a key pillar of our sustainability efforts,” said Costa. A point of pride has been its funding of the Diamond Development Initiative which focuses on improvements for artisanal diamond miners. “DDI is trying to unify them (miners) and make sure their voices are heard.”
Ultimately, the prestigious image of Tiffany must remain intact and Tiffany provides sustainability training to its sales associates so to assure customers its products have been ethically created.
“It is really critical we execute our sustainability work without in the least compromising luxury,” said Costa. The quality of the diamonds and other gems sourced must still meet company specifications.
And while the iconic Tiffany blue bag now contains 50% recycled content, its quality has been retained, according to Costa. “The average customer would not even notice that we made that change.”
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