A major percentage of the world's gems and precious metals are mined and processed in ways that damage the Earth and cause human-rights tragedies.

Workers, including children, are often forced to labor in unsafe environments of mines and sweatshops, with a high rate of serious injuries and deaths.

Metal mining also emits arsenic and lead, pollutes water resources, contaminates soil, deforests large areas, and causes other environmental devastation.

"Ethical jewelry" (also called "conflict-free jewelry" or "fair trade jewelry") refers to jewelry that's made with components that come from socially- and environmentally-friendly sources.

The market for ethical jewelry is growing fast. It's fueled by the current "green" trend, by celebrities who've taken up the cause, and by media publicity of the atrocities that occur in the gem and metal industries.

Before buying jewelry, a growing number of people are starting to look for information on where it comes from.

They're aware that some jewelry is linked to human tragedies, environmental damage, funding for terrorist and military atrocities, or unethical trade practices.

"Ethical jewelry" customers are seeking pieces made with the "reduce - reuse - recycle" philosophy. That means jewelry components that are salvaged and repurposed, or that come from green, conflict-free sources.

The ethical jewelry niche is one I feel good about serving - knowing that my choices are making a positive difference in the jewelry industry and in the world.

Here are some ways you can align your jewelry business with the ethical jewelry market:

1) Ask your suppliers about the sources of your components before you buy. Let them know you're seeking metals and gems that are responsibly mined or recycled. Let your customers know you're taking this step.

2) When you find ethically-responsible jewelry suppliers, spread the word about them to other jewelry artists.

3) Be able to discuss ethical jewelry issues with your interested customers who have questions or aren't really sure what it's all about - and let them know how you're making your jewelry business ethically-responsible.

4) Use less packaging when you sell your products.

5) Use recycled paper or other recycled products for your jewelry packaging - and print a small "recycled" statement right on your packaging.

6) Instead of using new components for each piece of jewelry you create, offer a service of remaking your customers' jewelry that they don't wear. For example, you can restyle lone earrings into pendants, give unwearable inherited jewelry a makeover, or remake out-of-style jewelry into something new and exciting.

7) Take apart your unsellable pieces of jewelry and reuse the components.

8) Put up a page on your website describing your efforts and how they make a difference.

9) Create found-object jewelry or "trash into treasure" pieces, by repurposing and recycling unusual items into jewelry.

10) Learn more about ethical jewelry issues:

Fair Trade Jewelry

Ethical Metalsmiths

Sweatshop Free

Originally published in my Jewelry Business Blog.