Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sustainability and the Gold Jewellery Industry in South Africa

The importance of education towards more sustainable practices

Currently, Jewellery Design and Manufacture education in South Africa has no or very little focus on matters of sustainability. This raises questions of ethical practices in this field, as sustainability deals with moral obligations towards society, the environment and the economy (Shearman, 1990). Product design has been in the limelight for a while and therefore rigorous changes have been made in both industry and education. However, the same cannot be said about Jewellery making education. It remains unaffected by this pertinent issue.

Even though gold is very easily recycled, according to statistics, the South African gold jewellery industry relies mostly on freshly mined gold. This seems rather disturbing in the sense that mining is such an environmentally hazardous industry; using large amounts of energy and yielding enormous mountains of toxic waste to produce a tiny amount of product. Each year hundreds of Jewellery Design and Manufacture students graduate, without any knowledge of the environmental impact of their decisions as jewellers.

Sustainable Education can breed awareness amongst future jewellers by teaching the ethical implications of the materials used i.e. the impact of mining and an awareness sources used. It is essential that this knowledge is followed by an understanding that there are other options and that there is a moral choice to be made.

As educators we were taught specific methodologies and we often follow these religiously without question or further study. Are we as design educators fully conscious of these processes, tools and materials? Have we taken an objective look at the processes we use? Do we adapt them to changing times and needs? Is it worth holding on to them if they are no longer relevant to the present times and situation?

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