Mining has a reputation as being detrimental to the environment. This reputation is historically merited, as numerous mining projects throughout history have indeed had disastrous impacts on the local environment. In the modern era, however, huge progress has been in developing and enforcing international standards for the protection of the environment such that today environmental degradation from mining has been largely (but not completely) mitigated.
The environmental footprint for emerald mining in general is by definition lower than other types of mining. This is because it is a manual process and no polluting substances such as mercury or cyanide are required.
When it comes to the exploitation of emeralds in Colombia specifically, the industry has been progressive in its acceptance of social responsibility. In addition to adhering to international standards for the protection of the environment, Colombian emerald mines have been proactive in protecting worker’s rights. Excavation tunnels are constructed with specialized machinery to the highest safety standards (for example with steel reinforcement and oxygenation). Workplace safety training, transportation methods, and personal protection for workers meet or exceed international standards. Additionally, Colombian emerald mines support local communities through endowments for scholarships, and funding for cultural and sport activities. In other words, emerald mining in Colombia is not an isolated activity which consists only of extracting gemstones to satisfy the necessity of the market, but it is also a way to advance and improve the lifestyle of local communities.
The exploitation of emeralds in Colombia is not the exception on the adoption of social responsibility practices, although the environmental footprint of emerald mining is lower in comparison to other types of mining.