Carbon footprint of a diamond

When working in the diamond industry, and being at the same time conscious about the environmental impact of what we do and how we live, we should be aware of what is the carbon footprint of diamonds. This question has three aspects:

a)What is the carbon footprint of creating a diamond, in comparison to the creation of other luxury goods?

b)What is the carbon footprint of a diamond after it is sold, in comparison to other luxury goods?

c)What is the overall effect of the diamond industry on the global environmental situation?

To understand what is meant by the term “Carbon footprint” here is a definition of the term:

A carbon footprint has historically been defined as "the total set of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by an organization, event, product or person."

However, as calculating the total carbon footprint is impossible due to the large amount of data required, Wright, Kemp and Williams, writing in the journal Carbon Management, suggested a more practicable definition:

"A measure of the total amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) emissions of a defined population, system or activity, considering all relevant sources, sinks and storage within the spatial and temporal boundary of the population, system or activity of interest. Calculated as carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) using the relevant 100-year global warming potential (GWP100)."

To get a feeling for the relative differences between carbon footprints, here are a few examples and explanations.

Most of the carbon footprint emissions for the average  U.S. household come from "indirect" sources i.e. fuel burned to produce goods far away from the final consumer. These are distinguished from emissions which come from burning fuel directly in one's car or stove, commonly referred to as "direct" sources of the consumer's carbon footprint.

Average CO2 emission per annum per head in metric tons of CO2

Showing latest available data.

Rank   Countries  Amount 
1      United States: 19.1  
2      Australia: 18.8  
3      Canada: 17.4  
4      Czech Republic: 11.8  
5      Russia: 11.2  
6      Netherlands: 11.1  
7      Korea, South: 10.1  
8      Belgium: 10  
= 9      Germany: 9.7  
= 9      Japan: 9.7  
11      Poland: 8  
12      Spain: 7.7  
13      Italy: 7.4  
14      South Africa: 7.3  
15      France: 5.8  
16      China: 4.6  
17      Mexico: 4.1  
18      Turkey: 3.6  
19      Brazil: 1.8  
20      India: 1.2  
Weighted average: 9.0  

Some scientists state that with the present global population everybody should remain with his/her carbon footprint below 2.5 tons of CO2 emission per year, otherwise climate collapse is inevitable.

Emission of CO2 per country and year in 1000 metric tons

Showing latest available data.

Rank   Countries  Amount 
1      United States: 5,762,050 
2      China: 3,473,600 
3      Russia: 1,540,360 
4      Japan: 1,224,740 
5      India: 1,007,980 
6      Germany: 837,425 
7      United Kingdom: 558,225 
8      Canada: 521,404 
9      Italy: 446,596 
10      Mexico: 385,075 
11      France: 363,484 
12      Ukraine: 348,357 
13      South Africa: 344,590 
14      Australia: 332,377 
15      Brazil: 327,858 
16      Spain: 304,882 
17      Poland: 303,778 
18      Indonesia: 286,027 
19      Saudi Arabia: 266,083 
20      Turkey: 223,862 
21      Netherlands: 174,809 
22      Thailand: 171,696 
23      Korea, North: 168,320 
24      Argentina: 138,983 
25      Venezuela: 136,686 
26      Egypt: 127,130 
27      Belgium: 125,023 
28      Czech Republic: 124,069 
29      Kazakhstan: 123,686 
30      Malaysia: 123,603 
31      Uzbekistan: 121,045 

Emission of CO2 per country in relation to its GDP. This indicates the carbon emission which relates to each Dollar earned in the respective country.

(Please note that while  USA is the polluter Nr. 1 in regards to its total carbon emission and also to its per capita carbon consumption, it only ranks 39th in regards to the emission of carbon relating to the money earned in the country. This is mainly because the  US economy is not producing much, in comparison to  China or  Germany. The  US economy is mainly living off services, financial transactions, etc.) 

Rank Country Percentage of global GDP Percentage of Global CO2 emissions Ratio of percentage of global GDP to percentage of global CO2 emissions
1 Switzerland 0.870 0.169 5.142
2 Sweden 0.868 0.215 4.039
3 Iceland 0.034 0.009 3.794
4 France 5.017 1.567 3.200
5 Denmark 0.602 0.197 3.050
6 Belgium 0.878 0.292 3.001
7 Norway 0.646 0.229 2.812
8 Austria 0.720 0.264 2.729
9 Hong Kong S.A.R. of the People's Republic of China 0.391 0.146 2.665
10 Republic of Ireland 0.467 0.179 2.611
11 Cameroon 0.035 0.014 2.482
12 Italy 4.157 1.794 2.316
13 United Kingdom 5.196 2.253 2.306
14 Japan 10.865 4.988 2.178
15 Netherlands 1.424 0.674 2.112
European Union 31.531 15.264 2.065
16 Luxembourg 0.080 0.039 2.060
17 Spain 2.536 1.262 2.009
18 Germany 6.580 3.335 1.973
19 Tanzania 0.027 0.014 1.848
20 Costa Rica 0.044 0.024 1.831
21 Finland 0.462 0.259 1.781
22 Uruguay 0.029 0.016 1.755
23 New Zealand 0.243 0.140 1.730
24 Angola 0.054 0.031 1.692
25 Portugal 0.419 0.258 1.623
26 Sudan 0.057 0.036 1.582
27 Peru 0.165 0.105 1.561
28 El Salvador 0.037 0.025 1.455
29 Guatemala 0.061 0.042 1.430
30 Cyprus 0.038 0.027 1.403
31 Greece 0.522 0.390 1.338
32 Latvia 0.034 0.026 1.332
33 Kenya 0.038 0.029 1.280
34 Brazil 1.657 1.300 1.274
35 Panama 0.032 0.025 1.253
36 Slovenia 0.079 0.063 1.252
37 Sri Lanka 0.050 0.042 1.178
38 Canada 2.486 2.143 1.160
39 United States 28.162 24.339 1.157
40 Singapore 0.263 0.238 1.105
41 Australia 1.567 1.476 1.061
42 Colombia 0.246 0.237 1.035
43 Hungary 0.242 0.234 1.033
44 Lithuania 0.053 0.052 1.030
45 Mexico 1.617 1.590 1.017
46 Israel 0.278 0.274 1.013
World 100 100 1
47 Bangladesh 0.140 0.143 0.979
48 Chile 0.229 0.237 0.967
49 Nigeria 0.207 0.215 0.961
50 Croatia 0.079 0.087 0.907
51 Turkey 0.770 0.862 0.893
52 South Korea 1.631 1.849 0.882
53 Tunisia 0.072 0.091 0.791
54 Ghana 0.023 0.031 0.751
55 Argentina 0.389 0.552 0.705
56 Ecuador 0.072 0.102 0.702
57 Lebanon 0.046 0.067 0.689
58 Slovakia 0.113 0.166 0.686
59 Philippines 0.209 0.305 0.685
60 Morocco 0.123 0.181 0.679
61 Yemen 0.034 0.053 0.639
62 Venezuela 0.276 0.448 0.617
63 Czech Republic 0.284 0.474 0.599
64 United Arab Emirates 0.233 0.390 0.597
65 Algeria 0.220 0.381 0.578
66 Poland 0.706 1.228 0.575
67 Kuwait 0.139 0.248 0.560
68 Dominican Republic 0.048 0.089 0.544
69 Zimbabwe 0.027 0.051 0.537
70 Indonesia 0.643 1.270 0.506
71 Romania 0.180 0.359 0.502
72 Qatar 0.071 0.151 0.472
73 Malaysia 0.289 0.624 0.463
74 Saudi Arabia 0.645 1.411 0.456
75 Oman 0.056 0.124 0.454
76 Pakistan 0.204 0.450 0.453
77 Estonia 0.027 0.066 0.421
78 Thailand 0.395 0.961 0.411
79 Jordan 0.027 0.069 0.388
80 Vietnam 0.106 0.274 0.388
81 South Africa 0.512 1.431 0.358
82 Libya 0.074 0.208 0.357
83 Egypt 0.207 0.595 0.348
84 Bulgaria 0.058 0.173 0.338
85 India 1.696 5.060 0.335
86 Serbia and Montenegro 0.059 0.192 0.308
87 Bahrain 0.026 0.088 0.301
88 Iran 0.441 1.493 0.296
89 Russia 1.710 5.937 0.288
90 People's Republic of China (mainland only) 4.172 14.561 0.286
91 Syria 0.058 0.203 0.285
92 Belarus 0.061 0.248 0.246
93 Turkmenistan 0.031 0.143 0.218
94 Azerbaijan 0.024 0.116 0.209
95 Kazakhstan 0.117 0.613 0.191
96 Trinidad and Tobago 0.030 0.170 0.179
97 Ukraine 0.187 1.271 0.147
98 Uzbekistan 0.024 0.507 0.049

a)What is the carbon footprint of creating a diamond, in comparison to the creation of other luxury goods?

Comparing the carbon footprints of diamonds with other luxury goods or consumer goods we first need to look at the carbon footprints of the manufacturing process. How much CO2 is emitted to create diamonds?

The carbon footprint of a new car:
6 tonnes CO2e: Citroen C1, basic spec 
17 tonnes CO2e: Ford Mondeo, medium spec 
35 tonnes CO2e: Land Rover Discovery, top of the range

What is the carbon footprint of building a house?
80 tonnes CO2e: a newly-built two-bed cottage

The carbon footprint of building a house depends on all kinds of things – including, of course, the size of the house and the type of materials chosen.

The estimate of 80 tonnes given above is for the construction of a brand-new cottage with two bedrooms upstairs and two reception rooms and a kitchen downstairs.

What is the carbon footprint of a diamond?

One or more diamonds of the value of a medium-class car (40,000 Euro) takes about 1 ton of CO2e to mine the rough diamond and polish it.

After a diamond is polished, it doesn’t produce any further carbon emission. However, during its processing, especially during the process of digging it out of the earth, it is also causing emission of CO2.  In many cases (not all), the diamond has to be mined in a deep hole (up to 650 metres deep), and has to be transported to the surface by huge trucks. 0.5 ct to 1 ct of diamond is usually found in one ton of kimberlite, the mother-rock in which diamonds are found. So in one truckload of the 20-ton trucks which wind their way up the spiral roads of a diamond pit, you may find 10 to 20 ct of raw diamonds, which will finally give you 3 to 8 ct of polished diamonds. After transporting the diamond mother-rock to the factory, it has to be crushed, and the diamonds have to be washed out and separated from the kimberlite. For diamonds of a retail value of 40,000 Euro, we estimate that in total about 1 ton of CO2 emission is created.

In its creation:

Compared to cars the carbon footprint of diamonds is 1: 17

Compared to houses the carbon footprint of diamonds is 1: 8

b) What is the carbon footprint of a diamond after it is sold, in comparison to other luxury goods?

Once a diamond is mined, cut and polished, it does not cause any further carbon emission. Many of the prestigious luxury items which we are purchasing are not only having a carbon footprint in their generation, but also during their life-time.  A car usually produces during its life-span as much CO2 (or more) as is emitted to manufacture the car. Similarly for residential properties: the bigger and more luxurious a house is, the more energy is needed to maintain, heat, light or air-condition it. So many classical luxury goods like cars, private airplanes, yachts, property, etc, cause a high carbon emission not only during their generation, but also over their whole life-span.

Many luxury goods cause heavy CO2 emissions during their entire lifespan, while diamonds have a zero carbon footprint after they have been manufactured.

c) What is the overall effect of the diamond industry on the global environmental situation?

There are two aspects which we have to highlight when looking at the environmental role which diamonds play in today’s global carbon footprint and environment:

a) Man seems to need prestigious objects via which he defines his position in society. While it was muscle-power in the time of the stone-age, today it is wealth with which man defines where he is placed in society. To make his position visible to others, he resorts to luxury items or prestigious objects. Typical objects of this nature are cars, properties, private planes, yachts,But also jewellery, especially diamonds. Nearly all luxury items have a much, much higher carbon footprint than diamonds (one exception is art), also in their manufacturing process, and even more so during their time of use. So the bigger the part of the luxury market which the diamond could conquer, the better for the environment.

b) 100 years ago mankind was 1.5 billion people. Today there are more than 7 billion people. In another 100 years at the present rate of growth we could theoretically have 50 billion! How would our planet look if such a scenario came to be?  The overall economic activity of mankind 100 years ago must have been less than 2% of what it is today. How would our planet look if in 100 years time our global economic activity were to be 50 times greater than it is today? It scarcely bears thinking about!

So one of our biggest problems, which may finally kill our civilisation, is economic growth. And economic growth seems to be a systematic feature of our money-driven economy. 

The basic law of our economy is that commercial activity is creating money and money is creating commercial activity. Wherever you place your money today, whether in shares, in deposits with banks, or simply in consumer objects, your money will trigger off new commercial activities. And the new commercial activities will create new money. Since our civilisation is productive, each cycle creates a new cycle which is slightly bigger than the earlier one, and thus our global economy is constantly growing. So we are locked in a vicious circle, where money is creating economic activity and economic activity is creating money. Money is the engine of the economy and the economy is the cradle of money. 

There are, however, a few exceptions where this is not working the usual way: Money invested into diamonds, for example, is taken out of this circle, because once money is invested in a diamond it remains there. It stops rotating. If an Investment Fund would invest in diamonds, it would make a difference in comparison to the Fund investing in shares, which would again finance the commercial activities of companies, which again would cause CO2 emissions.

If somebody invests his money in a fixed deposit with a bank, or invests it in a life-insurance or a pension-fund, in all cases the money would finally be used to drive some kind of commercial activity. While if somebody would invest his money in diamonds, and put them into a bank locker, then his money would not continue working in driving and heating up the global economy. It would just sit there in the form of diamonds and hold or increase its value.

Therefore not only from the point of view of luxury goods, but especially from the point of view of the investment option, diamonds would slow down the global economy rather then contribute to its overheating. Thus diamonds, if they could conquer a certain portion of the investment market, would have a positive effect on the environment and not a negative effect.  

During the manufacturing process, the carbon footprint of diamonds is only a fraction compared to other luxury goods.

Diamonds, once they are there, cause zero carbon emission.

Unlike with other forms of investment, investment in diamonds is a blind alley for the invested money. It stops being the driving engine for new commercial activity.

Therefore diamonds have a soothing effect on the global carbon economy.