De Beers Sets Punchy Goals Around Carbon, Community, Women’s Business

Samantha Conti
·7 min read

LONDON — De Beers is shifting away from the famous four C’s toward the three R’s — reduce, replace and recover — as part of an ambitious environmental, diversity- and community-focused drive for the coming decade.

The diamond miner and jeweler today has revealed 12 sustainability goals for 2030, which include carbon neutrality, gender parity, skills and support for 10,000 women entrepreneurs as part of a new Building Forever framework that will look to engage every De Beers employee, business division and end consumer — should the latter wish to be part of the journey.

The new strategy is a key moment for De Beers, which this year has accelerated its efforts to become a more positive, and proactive, force for the environment in particular, researching the carbon-zapping powers of kimberlite rock; working with its sightholder partners to work toward creating a sustainable and ethical supply chain, and consolidating two of its London-based teams into one in a bid to accent company values and social purpose.

The group has even created new roles, including a head of carbon neutrality and a senior vice president, sustainable impact.

Achieving the 12 goals will be challenging, given the 10-year timeframe, but De Beers, the world’s largest diamond producer by value, claimed it’s ready.

“We are committed to supporting a lasting positive impact that will endure well beyond the discovery of our last diamond,” said Bruce Cleaver, chief executive officer of De Beers Group. “It is only by pushing ourselves to do more that we can maximize long-term benefits.”

David Prager, De Beers’ executive vice president and chief brand officer, said in an interview the strategy had been in the works for years, and looks to address “the impact our business makes in the communities in which we operate, and on the environment.

“We want to ensure that we are part of a solution. We asked ourselves, ‘Where do we have the most responsibility?’ and ‘How can we make the biggest impact?’ We wanted to set our business on a mission and make it time-bound and urgent. That’s where the 12 goals for the next decade came from,” he said.

De Beers’ 2030 goals are arranged around four themes: ethical practice; community; the natural world, and equal opportunity. Some of the punchiest ones include carbon neutrality across all operations, reducing its water footprint by 50 percent and achieving a net-positive impact on biodiversity in nine years’ time.

Being a primary industry, mining has a whole different set of environmental challenges than, say, fashion, retail or luxury goods. “Our problem is not waste,” argued Prager, but rather the use of fossil fuels on the mining sites. “Large, industrial-scale mining involves fleets of trucks and intensive energy use, and so we have to transition away from fossil fuels.”

He said the company will tackle the problem with a three R’s strategy of reducing, replacing and recovering. De Beers will set about lowering its “energy intensity” where possible, shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, swap those gas-guzzling fleets with hydrogen-powered trucks, and build solar and wind farms around its mining sites in southern Africa.

After all that reducing and replacing, De Beers plans to zap any remaining emissions via its Carbon Vault program. The program sees kimberlite, the rock that encases rough diamonds, absorb, and lock up, carbon emissions forever. De Beers believes the rock could eventually soak up 30 percent of the company’s carbon emissions.

“To do those three things — reduce, replace and recover — within this decade-long timescale is very ambitious. We don’t know of any other business at this scale that is working on that timeframe.”

Prager said that De Beers’ environmental goals will also help the luxury brands that are using its diamonds. As the brands within Richemont, Kering and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton look to polish their own sustainability credentials, it will ultimately help them to be working with a low-carbon supplier such as De Beers.

“We think it’s a really powerful proposition to let these brands know that we are on this pathway to reduce our emissions as they reduce theirs. They’ll be looking for suppliers that have made a commitment around their own carbon neutrality,” Prager said.

Over the summer, Richemont detailed its efforts in improving the sustainability and transparency of its sourcing and supply chains, while in March Chanel published its first sustainability report, which showed that raw materials and transport of goods accounted for 50 percent of its overall emissions.

The report, called Chanel Mission 1.5, looks at how the luxury giant has been tackling climate change in line with the targets of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

As part of its 12-point plan, De Beers also wants to provide the “origin and impact” of every diamond it discovers and sells and to deliver “scalable solutions” to improve the livelihoods of artisanal miners.

De Beers is already working with many of its partners on cleaning up waste and energy use in the diamond supply chain.

As reported last July, nine De Beers sightholders, or preferred wholesale buyers who have first “sight” of the rocks the miner hauls out of the ground, committed to becoming carbon neutral in the medium term, and to work toward creating “a completely sustainable and ethical supply chain.”

The group, which represents about 10 percent of the De Beers sightholders worldwide, promised to develop “concrete roadmaps” to reduce carbon emissions, and their progress will be reviewed and assessed every six months.

Changes will focus on improving transport and distribution, shifting to renewable energy sources, cutting down on air travel, and reducing plastic, paper and water waste on the factory floor. This is likely to happen within the next five to seven years.

“We believe that we’ve got this unique opportunity because of our relationship with our sightholder partners. Over time, we can build carbon-neutral pathways throughout the diamond value chain,” Prager said.

Building skills, empowering entrepreneurs and creating jobs in its partner communities are also part of the new plan. One of the goals is to create four jobs in the community for every one job at its operations in everything from diamond skills, to IT to security.

De Beers employs more than 20,000 people across the diamond pipeline and has mining operations in Botswana, Canada, Namibia and South Africa.

Prager pointed out that in Botswana and Namibia, in particular, the De Beers businesses are 50 percent owned by the citizens of those countries.

“Our shareholders are the citizens of the countries and we want to be creating shareholder value for them,” he said, adding that De Beers’ decision to move its sorting, sales, tech and training offices to Botswana from London in 2013 was an earlier iteration of that community-focused strategy.

In doing so — and in compelling their sightholders to travel to Botswana every five weeks — Prager said that De Beers was able to create a flourishing economy in the region.

Women will be central to the new strategy, too, with De Beers looking to achieve equal opportunity and gender parity for employees across the workforce; support 10,000 women entrepreneurs, and engage 10,000 girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. It also wants to increase the diversity of creative talent in the diamond jewelry sector.

Asked whether De Beers felt under pressure to compete with the narrative of the non-mined diamond lobby — which offers gems at a fraction of the price, promises of a fully transparent supply chain, and little impact on the environment — Prager said no.

He added that “what we have found in the past several years is that consumers — particularly in luxury — are far more interested in the role the products play in creating a better world, in protecting the planet and in improving people’s lives.

“We are really clear. It is not consumers’ responsibility to find out where their diamonds come from. It is our responsibility to tell them,” said Prager, adding that De Beers wants to appeal to consumers “who are interested in being part of a meaningful, purposeful brand, one that is making demonstrable progress on the ground.”

He said that “until now, we really weren’t making consumers a part of our mission. Now we’re proud to do it — we’ll be sharing our goals and continually updating on our progress. The more they are interested in that story, the more they want to participate — that will be good for the De Beers brands.”

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