Some businesses refuse to sell salmon from fish farms or "conflict diamonds" from war-torn countries.
Now, gold from Alaska's massive Pebble mineral deposit is apparently off the menu for some jewelers.
On Tuesday, two days before Valentine's Day, five major jewelers, including Tiffany & Co., announced they are against using "dirty gold" from Pebble, a large and controversial copper and gold prospect in Southwest Alaska, because of possible risks to the region's salmon fisheries.
Pebble is controversial due to its massive size and its location at the headwaters of two of the five major river drainages that feed Bristol Bay's world-class salmon fisheries. If developed, it could be the largest gold-copper mine in the world, providing hundreds of jobs in a region where jobs are scarce, according to the mining companies involved. However, the companies have not yet finished exploring the deposit, north of Iliamna, and they haven't submitted any plans to state officials to develop a mine.
"This is the first time that we've seen jewelers take a stance ... against a particular mine," said Steve D'Esposito, president of Earthworks, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that endorses environmental and social criteria for global mining companies. His group unveiled the anti-Pebble pledge on Tuesday.
In the pledge, the jewelers requested permanent protection of five major river drainages in Bristol Bay from "large-scale" metal mining.
Opposition to Pebble has been brewing in Alaska over the past few years, bringing together unlikely allies such as some nearby Native villages and Native corporations, commercial fishermen, sport fishermen and hunters, subsistence users, Bristol Bay lodge owners and national environmental groups.
The groups have been trying to spark national opposition to Pebble, using ad campaigns, blogs, and sponsoring new films that highlight Bristol Bay's world-class salmon and trout fisheries.
The companies exploring Pebble -- London-based mining giant Anglo American and British Columbia-based Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. -- said they are disappointed that none of the jewelers or Earthworks spoke to them before Tuesday's announcement, said Sean Magee, a spokesman for the Pebble Partnership.
"We agree with a lot of (Earthworks') principles and how they are trying to encourage a higher environmental and social standard for mining," Magee said.
"We are going to communicate with all of these companies," he said.
A Seattle-based Ben Bridge Jeweler executive who joined the pledge Tuesday said he learned about Pebble last year when flying back to the Lower 48 after visiting his company's Anchorage jewelry store.
"Some fly fishermen (coming back from Bristol Bay) handed me some pamphlets," said Jon Bridge, Ben Bridge's co-chief executive officer and general counsel.
He said his company was already working on ethical mining issues, related to diamonds and other metals, and learning more about Pebble "sort of dovetailed" with those projects.
"We can see some real dangers to the environment by starting a mine there," Bridge said, though he added he's open to hearing about how mining might be done safely in the region.
Last winter, an anti-Pebble coalition placed full-page ads in National Jeweler magazine, urging U.S. jewelry retailers to boycott gold from Pebble.
The ad campaign apparently worked. Joining Tiffany and Ben Bridge, four other jewelers pledged their opposition to Pebble and mining in the Bristol Bay region: Missouri-based Helzberg Diamonds, New York-based Fortunoff, Illinois-based Leber Jewelers and Robb Blake, of Blake's Fine Jewelry in Eagle River.
Tiffany's chief executive Michael Kowalski said Tuesday that the company supports Bristol Bay residents who value the region's salmon fisheries over mining, and Tiffany will avoid using gold from Pebble if it is developed into a mine.
"This means we will look to other places to source gold," Kowalski said.
Tiffany's plan would be difficult for retailers who have little control over their supply chain, but D'Esposito said it is possible.
"You'd have to have willing mining companies, willing smelters and refiners, and willing jewelers," he said.
Pebble's developers point out that less than 5 percent of Pebble's potential output would be gold. "About 95 percent of the metal that Pebble would produce is copper," Magee said.
The gold would be a byproduct of Pebble's copper concentrate, he explained.
Still, Pebble's gold resource is potentially huge. Northern Dynasty estimates that Pebble contains up to 81.7 million ounces of gold, worth $73.5 billion at recent prices.
The world's largest producers of gold last year were Australia, South Africa and China. The United States is the world's fourth-largest producer, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Most of the gold produced in the United States comes from Nevada mines, according to the agency.
About 84 percent of the gold manufactured in the United States is used for jewelry and the arts. The rest is used in electronics, dental hardware or other uses, according to the agency.
Find Elizabeth Bluemink online at adn.com/contact/ebluemink or call 257-4317.