The US head of the world's largest diamond miner says its sustainability plan isn't just good for the planet, it's the future of its business

Hollis Johnson/Business InsiderAlrosa North America president Rebecca Foerster.
  • Rebecca Foerster is head of the North American division of Alrosa, the world’s largest diamond miner by volume.
  • She said that Alrosa’s ability to be fully transparent about where its diamonds come from will appeal to American consumers.
  • Third parties have deemed Alrosa’s practices as sustainable, largely because its diamonds come from the wilderness in Russia and have a lower-than-average environmental impact.
  • This article is part of Business Insider’s ongoing series on Better Capitalism.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Despite its position as the world’s largest diamond miner by volume, Alrosa is not a well-known name in the United States, the world’s largest diamond market. Rebecca Foerster, head of the company’s North American division, is on a mission to change that – and she says Alrosa’s sustainability initatives are key.

“Alrosa, as a pure-play mined diamond company, is one of the few companies that can, without question, guarantee the chain of custody and the provenance of the diamonds that they mine,” Foerster told Business Insider.

Alrosa is a publicly traded company whose majority shareholders are Russia’s federal and regional governments, but Foerster said that she’s not concerned with politics when it comes to the brand, given that the company’s mines in Siberia are among the world’s most sustainable.

“I don’t think the timing could be better in the United States,” she said, dismissing concerns about any political tensions between the US and Russia, and instead focusing on how American consumers are demanding accountability from companies, especially when it comes to environmental impact and treatment of workers.

“If we look at it beyond just the product and we go through the old stories of conflict diamonds and blood diamonds, the reality of mining today is so different, and we have done a really lousy job of communicating that,” she said, referring to diamonds mined in war zones, typically in Africa, used to fund conflicts.

Alrosa features its sustainability initiatives most prominently on its sites among its main competitors, but Rio Tinto also has thorough transparency on its environmental impact, and De Beers also launched a digital diamond tracker last year, eventually partnering with Alrosa on it.

For its part, Alrosa updated its sustainable development policies in 2017, adapting them to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (a practice that the nonprofit B Lab is working to get more large companies to also follow).

“When a mine is built today, there is a plan in place already, before the mine even gets started, of what’s going to have to happen to put the environment back to the way it was after the life of the mine is over,” Foerster said. “It’s not the old visual of a mining shaft and you go in there and there’s a Styrofoam cup of coffee and a chair that fell down and it’s just deserted and no one put anything back together.”

The Diamonds Do Good industry collective is honouring Alrosa this month for its commitment to communities around its mines in Russia, though it has also been recognised for its environmental responsibility in a rating system developed by the United Nations and World Wildlife Fund.

And of course, a high level of transparency around mining, from the diamonds’ source to the miners themselves, lends itself well to American retailers. “What it does is it changes the whole perception of the diamond,” Foerster said. “It gives the diamond a soul. It’s not just an expensive luxury good that I say, ‘Do I have to have it or do I don’t have to have it?'”

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