Lessons in Sustainability: Q&A with Anisa Kamadoli Costa of Tiffany & Co.
With rising concern over climate change and a desire for a more conscious luxury industry, sustainability has become something of an expectation. For several decades, Tiffany & Co. has been a leader in sustainability within the fine jewelry industry, with core Sustainability Pillars that include protecting the planet and managing its workforce responsibly, both of which contribute to a high-quality, ethical, and transparent product.
Anisa Kamadoli Costa, Chief Sustainability Officer of Tiffany & Co. took the time to explain to us the brand’s history with sustainability, its efforts to provide safe workspaces and livable wages across its workforce, and why sustainability is so vital a principle for the luxury industry and beyond.
In this extended version of our interview with Costa, originally featured in Luxury Portfolio magazine, we discuss the three pillars of Tiffany & Co.’s Sustainability Approach – Planet, Product, and People, as well as the importance of sustainability in the luxury industry.
1. Why is sustainability so essential for luxury brands to incorporate?
There is growing recognition that sustainability is an integral part of business strategy, and that it is a business imperative to align sustainability goals with long-term growth objectives. We believe that luxury in particular has an opportunity to be leader in sustainability because this industry sets the trends that the rest of the world follows. At Tiffany, luxury and sustainability are deeply linked. Both are about heritage, quality, and preserving beauty for generations to come.
2. Why has Tiffany & Co. participated in the promotion of “Planet” for so long?
For more than 180 years, Tiffany & Co. has found inspiration in the beauty of nature. At the same time, the materials we use to bring our jewelry to life, come from the earth—diamonds are a primary example. Because of this, we have long believed that we have both a moral and a business imperative to not only minimize our impacts as a business but also to use our voice and actions to positively affect communities and the planet.
3. Which environmental efforts of Tiffany & Co. have had the most lasting or significant impact?
For over two decades, our strategic philanthropy through The Tiffany & Co. Foundation has been a key pillar of our sustainability efforts, allowing us to use the reach of both our company and our Foundation to make an even bigger impact on critical issues like responsible mining and ocean conservation. We made one of our first grants in 2000 to support coral conservation. Since that time, we have given $25 million for coral and marine conservation in over 30 countries worldwide. To me, it is particularly poignant that as we celebrate two decades of support for marine conservation, the world’s oceans are more at risk than ever from climate change and human activities. We have long recognized that coral reefs are the cornerstone of healthy oceans and a buffer against climate change, which is why we have focused our dollars on supporting collaborative initiatives to expand of the world’s marine protected areas and funding educational outreach, awareness and research. As a company, Tiffany & Co. was also one of the first jewelers to stop using coral in its products over a decade ago, and has since advocated for others in the jewelry and home décor industries to do the same.
In 2020 we celebrated the twentieth anniversary of The Tiffany & Co. Foundation, marking a decades-long commitment to preserving the world’s most treasured landscapes and seascapes—and over $85 million in grants globally. With a focus on environmental conservation, the Foundation can amplify Tiffany’s reach and create positive change beyond the luxury industry and our supply chain.
4. In addition to Tiffany's rigorous standard for conflict-free diamonds, are there any other long-term considerations for a more sustainable product? (ex: man-made diamonds, recycled metal or gemstones)
Exceedingly rare and an incredible miracle of nature, diamonds are a romantic symbol billions of years in the making with an intrinsic value far beyond their chemical makeup. Natural diamonds provide a critical economic opportunity for people whose livelihood often depends on mining. Many countries where diamonds are a natural resource – like Botswana – rely upon their extraction for jobs and economic activity. We believe we have an opportunity to make, and are making, a positive impact for local communities by purchasing responsibly mined rough diamonds and cutting them in our own workshops around the world.
While Tiffany & Co. doesn’t own or operate any mines, we work globally to improve the practices of both large- and small-scale mining operations. In addition to, of course, building traceability within our supply chain, we strive to create change in the mining sector through our standards-setting efforts, philanthropy and advocacy. We envision a mining sector that operates with sound governance, protects the environment, minimizes its environmental impact, promotes responsible labor practices and a healthy work environment, engages with local communities, and respects the rights and freedoms of all people affected by the business.
5. How does Tiffany & Co.’s standard of conflict-free diamonds differ from those legally required?
In terms of how a company operates, compliance with laws is not enough. In the absence of meaningful regulations, leading businesses are taking action and setting standards for themselves, as we have done. For example, where we feel that international standards such as the Kimberley Process do not go far enough, we have raised the bar, layering in our own expectations, values and priorities. Due to concerns over human rights abuses in the diamond mines of Zimbabwe and Angola, we refuse to purchase diamonds from those countries, despite the fact that they comply with the Kimberley Process. This is just one example of the way we seek to go above and beyond existing standards.
In 2019, we became the first global luxury jeweler to share the region or countries of origin of our newly sourced, individually registered diamonds. Last year, we became the first to share the full craftsmanship journey of those diamonds, including the cutting, polishing and setting location. All of this information can be shared with Tiffany customers for each newly sourced, individually registered diamond. By taking transparency to a new level, we reinforce our commitment to ensuring that every step in the journey of our diamonds can contribute to the well-being of people and the protection of the planet.
6. Has ensuring a livable wage led to a more effective workforce?
We’re proud to cut and polish the majority of our diamonds in our own workshops which helps us maintain safe, healthy and welcoming work environment and contribute to local economies. For example, Tiffany & Co. is a global pioneer in developing ways to properly compensate our workforce at workshops in developing countries. For more than 10 years, we have worked with independent researchers to develop and implement a methodology for determining a location-specific living wage. This includes food, housing, transportation, education and health care and other essential needs—and then adds a reasonable margin for discretionary activities and emergencies.
In addition to compensation, we foster safe and healthy working environments in our diamond polishing and jewelry manufacturing workshops. These artisans are hired primarily from local communities and provided with important training in a trade, contributing positively to the local economy.
Discover more ethical luxury brands in the latest issue of Luxury Portfolio magazine, available online and on newsstands.