Diamond mining takes a terrible toll on both human life and the environment, but lab-grown gems, which are now just as pure as natural ones and produce one-fifth the carbon dioxide emissions, could provide a viable alternative. Not only is the carbon footprint of the gems much smaller, but laboratories don’t require forced child labor to make their diamonds. So far, the artificial variety only account for 2 percent of the world’s jewelry market, but they have the potential to make mining obsolete.

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There is already a wave of ethically, and environmentally conscious companies such as Deluxe Diamonds and Gemesis leading the charge. Their jewels start out as a tiny diamond “seed,” which is placed in a carbon-rich environment the gemstone grows atom-by-atom until it is a fully-formed diamond. Some of these lab specimens qualify for “type IIa” status, which is the purest form produced in nature.

Related: Why Should You Care Where Your Diamond Comes From?

As for the environmental impact, one Stanford University graduate carried out research that compared the energy intensity of mined diamonds from BHP Billiton‘s Ekati mine in Canada, with those created in the Gemesis lab. The lab variety produced less than one-fifth of the carbon dioxide emissions compared to those from the mine. For that one mine alone, that could save the equivalent of roughly 483 million miles’ worth of auto emissions each year.

Others advocate more responsible mining, supported by campaigns such as No Dirty Gold. The problem is that with so much money involved in the mining industries, and the fact that some communities have no other source of income but precious minerals, it’s often profit that wins out over human rights and ecological balance. Even so, lab-grown diamonds could offer a bright, sparkly, and sustainable alternative which protects not only people, but our future environment as well.

Via The Guardian

Images by Kim Alaniz, ENOUGH Project