By Lígia Carvalho Abreu (2015)

                Sustainable Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Illustration by Catarina Pinto and Lígia Carvalho Abreu


There is a particular scene in the 1961 Blake Edwards’s movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s, based on the homonymous novel of Truman Capote, which, in my view, is more than a simple glamorous moment for Holly Golightly, wonderfully interpreted by Audrey Hepburn. The opening scene showing Holly window-shopping at Tiffany jewellery reveals the selfish attitude that this main character has towards herself and others by the satisfaction and self-power that she feels when she sees Tiffany jewels. It is a relationship that only focuses on what jewellery does for you and not what jewellery does for us, here understood as the present and future generations placed within a common natural patrimony.

In fact, some jewellery companies, such as Tiffany & Co, have developed its corporate responsibility[i] in order to commit to intergenerational and intragenerational equity towards the integrity of planet Earth, which according to Edith Brown Weiss is inherent to sustainable development[ii].

By applying this ethical commitment, Tiffany & Co is in a trustee position where it benefits from an activity (mining), which has a big impact on the environment. As a consequence, the company has a fiduciary duty to act on behalf of present and future generations, who are the beneficiaries of natural and cultural values.

This equal consideration for the rights and obligations of present and future generations has a legal basis on the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Whereas recognition of inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world[iii].


This conception of justice between present and future generations has accompanied the evolution of International Environmental Law and Constitutional Law. In this context, some of the examples that embrace the theory of intergenerational equity and its underlying intragenerational obligations are: the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or the Fundamental Law from some of the countries where Tiffany sources the majority of its rough diamonds and has manufacturing operations such as the Namibian Constitution (article 95 nº l), the South African Constitution (article 24), or the Belgian Constitution (article 7 bis).

However, if the environmental negative impacts from the mining of precious metals and gemstones are not taken into account, the well-being/existence of present and future generations will be endangered. These impacts are derived from: the use of heavy metals (for example mercury and cyanide); the disposal of toxic waste in natural ecosystems; the abandonment of mining pits and the use of rudimentary methods of extraction. In addition, some environmental impact assessment decisions  do not predict negative consequences on the environment nor do they impose additional conditions such as the remediation of environmental areas, which lead to deforestation, soil erosion and deterioration of public health.

So, how is Tiffany & Co implementing its intergenerational and intragenerational obligations?

Tiffany & Co is one of the leading jewellery companies that is involved in the Too Precious to Wear [iv]campaign of the non-governmental organisation SeaWeb, Leading Voices for a Healthy Ocean[v] to protect corals. As a consequence, the company has not sold any products made from natural coral since 2002. Hence, it supports the demands set out by SeaWeb concerning the improvement of national and international legislation, for instance better funding for conservation, scientific research or adopting substantive measures to monitor coral trade within the context of the United States Coral Reef Act or to improve the protection of red and pink corals, one of the most threatened species by intensive trading, raising awareness to list these coral species in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)[vi].

Tiffany & Co is against the development of mining activities in places with relevant cultural and environmental values for present and future generations. In 1996, the company opposed The New World Gold Mine mining development arguing that it would threaten the Yellowstone National Park. More recently, Tiffany & Co supported the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision of prohibiting the development of the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay (Alaska) and is working with different kinds of stakeholders to protect this natural area. It also urged the United States Forest Service to deny a permit to the Rock Creek Mine in the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in Montana.  In addition, the company defended the reform of the 1872 General Mining Law to protect the United States of America public lands from unsustainable mining activities. It also signed the Golden Rules[vii], established by the non-governmental organisation Earthworks, with more effective and substantive measures taken against dangerous and destructive gold mining, than that of the General Mining Law.

The company is also a founding member of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC)[viii] as well as the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA)[ix], operating within the conformity of the RJC Code of Practices[x] and the IRMA standards[xi] and, consequently, urging improvement on effective responsibility for managing environmental negative impacts (for example, to cover the costs of mine closure, cleaning and restoration by the mining operators or to not dispose mine waste in rivers, streams, lakes or the sea);  the multistakeholder's approach to adopting decisions related to mining; independent third-party supervision in the accomplishment of sustainability standards and fair equitable benefit sharing of profits from the extraction of raw materials.  

Moreover, Tiffany & Co catalogues and packages, including the famous bleu bags, are made from recycled materials such as recovered cotton fibres and certified paper, by the independent non-governmental organisation Forest Stewardship Council[xii], also known for the products that come from renewable sources and responsible managed forests. This sustainable aesthetic is complemented by the use of recycled precious metals in order to diminish their extraction and having a consequential impact on the environment.

Thus, Tiffany & Co is developing a sustainability policy that goes further than protecting the right to the environment for present and future generations and tries to assure their right to landscape. The Pebble Mine case is an example whereby the right to environment of the 7500 people living in the Bristol Bay area (Alaska) means having a healthy physical environment, not affected by any kind of pollution or threat to wildlife, which is important in order to maintain the balance of ecosystems. Their right to landscape also entitles them to a right to cultural heritage, a space of both physical and identity subsistence, an evolving legacy which retains natural and cultural values from the past, present and future.

In this sense, landscape is a common natural and cultural patrimony. It is the object of intergenerational rights and duties farmed by the principles of options and of quality, which in the words of Edith Brown Weiss, require, respectively, that each generation: conserve “the diversity of the natural and cultural resource base” [xiii] in order to “not unduly restrict the options available to future generations in solving their problems and satisfying their own values” [xiv]. It should also “maintain the quality of the planet so that it is passed on in a condition no worse than that in which it was received” [xv] and “be entitled to planetary quality comparable to that enjoyed by previous generations”[xvi].  

The right to landscape is a human right, transcending national law[xvii] and, by consequence, is a limit to political and economic power.  It obliges political and economic actors to be the guardians of landscape along with individuals and non-governmental organisations, by taking an active role in its protection. Since poverty is always an obstacle towards sustainable development, it is essential to pay special attention to the working and living conditions of the mining communities. Tiffany & Co and its Foundation are supporting non-governmental organisations to ensure that mining communities receive training for skilled jobs under safe working conditions, more ecological mining practices and a living wage, contributing to the development of sustainable economies. 


[i] Tiffany & Co corporate social responsibility available at the official website of the company. Also available at this website is the corporate responsibility report of the company: 

[ii] Edith Brown Weiss, In Fairness to Future Generations: International Law, Common Patrimony, and Intergenerational Equity (Innovation in International Law). Transnational Publishers: 1989. 

[iii] The Universal Declaration of Human Rights,  

[iv] Too Precious to Wear,

[v] SeaWeb,

[vi] CITES,

[vii] Earthworks Golden Rules,

[viii] RJC,

[ix] IRMA,

[x]RJC Code of Practices,

[xi]IRMA Standards,

[xiii] Edith Brown Weiss, “In Fairness to Future Generations and Sustainable Development” American University International Law Review 8, nº 1: 1992, p.22. 

[xiv] Ibid. 

[xv] Ibid. 

[xvi] Ibid. 

[xvii] In this sense Selley Egoz, Jala Makhzoumi and Gloria Pungetti, The right to landscape: an introduction. As Ashgate Publishing Ltd: 2011, p.5.