Chairman and president of the Tiffany & Co. Foundation as well as the chief sustainability officer at Tiffany & Co., Costa believes the jewellery industry can be a force for positive change
Tiffany & Co.’s journey of sustainability started before the term had become such a prevalent mega-trend. Can you explain why this decision was taken?
We have long considered how our business affects society and the environment.
As a leader in the luxury industry, Tiffany has recognized the opportunity we have to influence culture and set the standards for excellence—not only in fine jewellery and craftsmanship but also in what it means to be a responsible corporate citizen.
For quite some time, the focus of Tiffany’s sustainability work has been on responsible mining and the responsible sourcing of our raw materials, ranging from diamonds and gold to the paper in our iconic Blue Boxes and bags.
Our work began back in 1995, when we opposed the development of a gold mine that threatened Yellowstone National Park in the United States.
We believe excellence isn’t just about quality raw materials and craftsmanship; it’s about operating with social and environmental integrity every step of the way, from sourcing to processing to crafting our jewellery.
And, for nearly 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 impact on critical issues like responsible mining and ocean conservation.
You have two roles at the company of which CSO is one – in your opinion is sustainability generally still seen as something to do ‘alongside’ a business-focused role? How is it perceived at Tiffany?
I serve as both Chief Sustainability Officer of Tiffany & Co., and Chairman and President of The Tiffany & Co. Foundation.
By leading both corporate sustainability and strategic philanthropy at Tiffany, I have different strategies to draw from when it comes to identifying solutions and finding partners for progress.
Having a seat at both the company and Foundation tables allows my teams to drive more holistic, collaborative, and complementary solutions.
My dual role here has enabled me to bring my multidisciplinary background to a company that values longevity, heritage and beauty.
Do you see sustainability as an opportunity for the business?
Absolutely. We are seeing a new generation of buyers in the luxury market – one that cares about the environment and society more than ever, and that translates those beliefs into brand loyalty.
By increasing transparency about our practices, we hope to empower consumers to make more informed, responsible purchasing decisions.
One recent example is our Diamond Source Initiative launched earlier this year, which offers our customers transparency on the origin of our individually registered Tiffany diamond.
What effects have your sustainable initiatives had on the bottom line?
Sustainability is a driver of Tiffany’s successful long-term growth. Customers, investors and employees today expect us to be operating responsibly, and that expectation has only grown over time.
What is the biggest issue that needs addressing in the jewellery industry in terms of ethical practices?
Broadly speaking, a challenge for leading companies is that complex global supply chains have not yet caught up with consumer or company demands for transparency and traceability.
This is why, long ago, Tiffany & Co. realised that our best means of ensuring a socially and environmentally responsible supply chain was to go above and beyond industry standards and control as much of our supply chain as possible.
Today, we’re more vertically integrated than any other jeweller.
The watch and jewellery industry is responsible for over 50 percent of annual gold production and in most cases cannot show a transparent supply chain, and yet will suffer when climate change and scarcity affect supply. What can be done to effect change faster?
Two key elements that are essential are transparency and collaboration. With greater transparency we can better maintain sourcing practices that respect human rights and the communities we work in.
Tiffany has long been transparent about how we source our silver, gold and platinum, 99 percent of which are traceable to mines in the United States or recycled sources.
We are able to monitor the sourcing of precious metals—with an emphasis on sustainability—in part because we manufacture the majority of our jewellery in our own facilities.
We also push for increased transparency and responsible mining beyond our direct supply chain: Tiffany & Co. was the first jeweller to embrace No Dirty Gold over a decade ago; invests in abandoned mine reclamation through our philanthropy; and has spoken out against gold mines in the United States that threaten critical ecosystems.
The second element—collaboration—gives us a platform to improve global standards and practices.
Just this year, the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) launched a Standard for Responsible Mining that provides the world’s first shared definition of leading practices for large-scale mining operations.
Tiffany & Co. helped launch IRMA in 2006 because we felt there was a need for a high-bar, shared definition of what it means to mine responsibly. Ultimately, we need to work together to galvanize meaningful change.
Is it possible for the company to practice 100 percent sustainable jewellery production?
We believe that ultimately the jewellery industry can be a force for positive change.
We believe it is our responsibility as a consumer of mined materials to improve the jewellery sourcing and production landscape. Our sourcing strategy, including vertical integration, gives us a strong chain-of-custody and direct oversight of our manufacturing operations.
We believe that through our responsible sourcing practices we can help promote the protection of the environment and human rights, and the creation of economic opportunity in the diamond industry.
I am very proud to say that our model of responsible sourcing has been recognised by others: We’re the only jeweller to have earned a “Strong” ranking (the highest ranking received) from Human Rights Watch for our responsible sourcing of diamonds and gold.
Do you think the industry needs to work more collaboratively to achieve a more transparent supply chain?
In short, yes. It’s important to understand that change is much harder if we work alone.
It takes partnership between business, government, civil society, and individuals so we are able to accelerate the positive impact that we can have on consumerism on a global scale.
More attention on our inter-dependencies – not just to each other but also to local communities and to the environment – could make a meaningful difference.
In the recent WWF report on Watches and Jewellery, it is clear that even brands that position themselves as sustainable, need to do more. What are the main obstacles to doing so?
In terms of how a company operates, compliance with laws is not enough.
We are increasingly seeing leading businesses addressing challenges in society that were traditionally the role of government to address.
In the absence of meaningful regulations, leading businesses are taking action and setting standards for themselves, as we have done in several key areas.
For example, where we feel that international standards such as the Kimberley Process do not go far enough, we have raised the bar. Due to concerns over human rights abuses in the diamond mines of Zimbabwe and Angola, we refuse to purchase from those countries, despite the fact that they comply with the Kimberley Process.
We go above minimum wage requirements to pay a living wage to employees at our manufacturing facilities in developing countries.
Do you think choosing a sustainable supply chain has had an impact on your business model? How?
We use our approach to sustainability to inform the way that we do business. What this means is that we look for ways to make a positive impact throughout our operations and supply chain.
We look at sustainability issues holistically, which is important because we live in an interconnected and interdependent world. For example, environmental issues can affect our business as well as people and communities, and an issue like climate change also has an impact on other environmental issues such as the health of the ocean.
As we explore new opportunities in our business, we know we can make a lasting, positive impact on people and the planet when we take a holistic approach—from sourcing our precious raw materials from responsible mines, to paying workers in our diamond workshops a living wage, to using sustainable paper in our iconic blue boxes and bags, to making smart investments in renewable energy and carbon-saving projects, to supporting abandoned mine reclamation and marine conservation through our Foundation.
Why has Tiffany & Co. chosen to align its goals with those of external environmental agencies or industry watchdogs? Was this a challenging process?
While we know that it can at times be challenging to meet these high standards, reporting is an important way to demonstrate commitment and drive improvement.
We have long been transparent about our efforts, including difficult topics like supply chain issues, whether in direct communication with NGOs, in disclosures to investors, or through our Sustainability Reporting.
We have been reporting on our sustainability efforts for almost a decade, and we recently announced the launch of our enhanced sustainability website, which is designed to increase transparency and be accessible to all of Tiffany’s stakeholders, including Tiffany customers and employees.
On climate action, you are committed to achieving net zero by 2050 – do you think this is soon enough?
We set our long-term net-zero emissions goal because we believe it is critical not just for our company but for business at large—and, indeed, for the world - to meet the commitment of the Paris Agreement and limit global warming to less than 2°C.
We joined with The B Team and other companies to make this commitment in the lead-up to Paris, but given the recent report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, taking immediate action is more important than ever.