This is a question we regularly get asked and we have now opted to publish this online as a permanent post.
Firstly I must mention that most of our life revolves around Nature Conservation. We live in a Natural Protected Area which we helped create (its about 15000 acres between 27 farms).Nicole is the Chairlady for MPELA and I do a lot of the anti poaching and all sorts of things....a large percentage of Toprock money has gone into this. Toprock is fully on solar power for the entire warehouse, the houses and the Museum and restaurant (look up "Lower Mpushini Valley Conservancy" on Facebook)
Secondly, I am always very conscious of how we, or anybody else, impacts on Nature and we are generally very conscious of trying to help in the realms of bettering other folks lives that we work and deal with. Whereas I cannot say that a very small part of our business does not rely on destruction from large scale Industrial Copper / Manganese / Cobalt deposits in Southern and Central Africa, the vast majority of our rocks come from hundreds of small deposits that have a tiny to minimal destructive impact. From the industrial deposits, we have at least created a value and saved the crystals (which is a tiny, tiny percent of mine production), from certain destruction to be crushed up in ore to make more computers and TV's, cars and other items that everybody uses (and they use them regardless of degradation) Imagine all of those lovely flowers of Nature being smashed up to make hubcaps for your car or a screen for your cell phone!
Almost all of the deposits that we work with though are mostly mined by hand with no machines by small groups of individuals that we support and work with (no noise impact on environment like with using machinery), and there are very rarely any trees that have to be removed (none if I have anything to do with it..we imposed a R20 000 instant fine ($2000) on the contract for Messina Copper Mines for removal of any Baobab tree) and the small scale, at worse, leaves a few smallish holes of 10-50 feet across that work as water holes for wild animals.
The other part of this is the social impact. Toprock supports around 800 small scale miners, many of whom are in remote areas in Africa and Madagascar. Most African folk these days have migrated to the cities looking for work and food, causing absolute havoc with overpopulation and crowded dirty conditions, whereas our model of business supplies many families with a good income where they live, where they are able to build up economies at home.
Our friend Collen from Malawi is a good example, he will bring down a couple of thousand Dollars of Smokey quartz for us, stays for a couple of months helping us build, then buys solar equipment to take back to his home in Zomba, Malawi. Before he worked with Toprock, he was here in South Africa working in Johannesburg doing construction work for many years without being able to go home. Now, since doing rocks with us, he is at home 70% of the time with his wife and kids, 30% of his time with us, and has now built his own new house, has bought a small truck for the rock business, and is doing well.
Our Congo guys bring down $5000-$10 000 down every couple of months, swapping for cars, buying lap tops, solar panels etc They have been with us for 27 years... and have built up quite large businesses, an internet café outside Lubumbashi and a taxi business. Patrick, (Kabwe from Congo's son), has opened a rock shop in Lusaka, Zambia and is selling crystals and minerals (it’s almost unheard of in Africa with African folks selling crystals for a living) now and doing well and is now 36/37 years old.
We have created a huge amount of jobs for individual good African people that we trust and work with, most of them have become close friends and almost like family. I do battle to remember 800 odd folks wives, kids and grandmothers names, but do remember most of them, as I have spent much time with these good people over the years. We always treat everybody fairly and with respect and enjoy them, the mining, the remote places and making things work (despite difficult conditions and bad roads, often no electric, corrupt Police and borders that demand money from these guys for no reason (there is no tax on most raw crystal and mineral specimens but Police and Gendarme take their "pocket money" regardless).
Mostly there is no environmental legal law to follow, but we impose these ourselves if we are involved and I make sure that folks know not to cut down trees, throw down litter, ruin their lands..and we try and encourage anybody to grow plants, veggies, trees etc. I probably lecture people too much on environmental issues and also on population, correct usage of land, not having too many children (you need twice as many roads, cars, schools, products, twice as much food production etc with just 2 extra kids...many rural folks have 4-8 children)..I hope I have convinced many people just to have 2...and considering that the average person uses 6 acres of resources in their lives (think of everything you use and consume from bottles, food, plastic, paper, metals....this is a few thousand acres saved, while their parents get to educate and bring their couple kids up in a wealthier home. Could you afford 6 or 8 children? Many poor folks seem to somehow manage, but it leaves them and kids perpetually poor and uneducated, causing crowded, hopeless, dirty and often a recipe for creating criminals when they run out of choices.
In Madagascar, I speak French and some Malagasy and most of the Malagasy folks have been working with me for since the early 1990's. Rather than one large Toprock factory (which I could easily do), we have small factory at our house in Antananarivo, then keep hundred of small family Lapidary businesses going and we supply material, order and pay per kg. Doing this instantly gives them the opportunity to make more money, double their incomes and has distinctly sped up Toprock growth, making us larger too, as we have to keep up with selling what they are making.
We are always working on everybody around us improving their lives. They ask me for a value. If I was dishonest or just mean, I could very often pay much less, but I want this to be long term sustainable business, not one or two times where it just covers food and bills...our folks are all going forward, and as our business grows, they have all grown nicely too.
So, yes, we are as ethical as we can possibly be. The biggest disaster for World Health, is the HUGE loss of habitat and careless management of natural resources and land...from bad farming and development these days and pure numbers of humans on our heavily burdened planet. Everybody just keeps multiplying, polluting, cutting trees down, where do folks think soil comes from?.....it needs organic leaves, grass, dead beatles and worms..matter to make fertile soil, not just Nitrate fertiliser.
One modern city with a population of several million (I am originally English, so not pointing fingers here), but each one of these many thousands uses up the production and resources of a whole medium sized third world country. I study landscapes and environments all of the time and see ruin and devastation to previously natural and fertile areas....Romans didn't build cities in The North African Desert..it was bush before....UK was 90% Forest..now 80% fields. Australia has huge problems with infertile land because of salts in irrigation water from underneath and lack of organic matter, China with clearing all trees and pollution, USA with dust bowls and water shortages. If you take the trees off of African bush areas, you have given it a 20 year death sentence ..It’s hot. And if you clear natural land completely for large distances, there is no seed bank to grow it back later either..I see millions of acres of ruined land..Mostly used to support foreign countries economies, but farmed irresponsibly to do so. I see lands that were previously crawling with animals (Buffalo in States, hoards of wild animals in Africa) which have been shot out / hunted almost to extinction. Huge forests in Madagascar that were there 26 years ago...as far as the eye can see...now there is not a tree standing..Chinese taking hardwoods in huge quantities, replaced with rice lands and charcoal production..But not a tree for miles....rice ruins the land after about 12 years, so this will be infertile. USA has the great dust bowl..Take out natural plants and trees, marshes etc and you end up with huge problems later...in third world countries it is worse, as they are only concerned about food for tomorrow at any expense..So desertification is a massive problem..You can see this clearly where there are Nature Reserves..Healthy bush, ecosystems and animals....then surrounded by farming and African trust areas that suffer drought and intense soil problems, mostly directly from bad land management.
Natural Environments are critically important. Any species of plant or animal needs its home environment to survive properly. Without a home it is either extinct or in danger of disappearing from its actual home range. There are endemic populations of almost every type of Fauna and Flora in every single place in the world..But mostly gone now.. disappeared before we were even aware mostly! There would have been an endemic Owl species that only inhabited New York area, and an endemic vole species that was where London is and a River Dolphin where Xhuanzou is in China now, among hundreds of other species that no longer exist there. Most people who say they are concerned about nature in cities throw a tin of beans into a charity basket to save the dolphin or some iconic animal, meanwhile the 1000 acre cabbage field next door made 500 species of local insects, endemic plants etc extinct from that one area, let alone the 100 other corn fields, crops grown next to this cabbage field etc...Not a natural thing in site besides introduced Horticultural of "civilisation".
Of course we have to farm and mine to sustain the world’s population (and fair enough that all the the third worlds populations want what you and I have, so there are 3 or 4 billion more people who want cars, microwaves, cell phones...stuff..And lots of it...but resources are running low. It is far more sustainable to have millions of of smaller units of both Agriculture and mining, as these are both socially and more environmentally friendly than huge organisations whose sole aim is for more profit today or this year..No matter about sustainability or where we are in 20 years from now, usually no thought towards environment.
Folks involved in larger organisations tend not to be aware of their business / company / lifestyle impact on Nature or the excessive use of earths finite resources, as they are only a small part of a huge cog and they do not realise that it is precisely this wheel that is churning the resources up faster and faster, often discarding it almost as fast as it gets used.
I am probably getting a little long winded now, as you have me on a roll with sustainable and ethical questions...but I study these subjects logically and with avid interest. If the average human needs 6 acres of resources in their lifetime, there is already a huge problem, as the worlds land mass divided by 7.65 Billion people leaves 4.2 acres per person...and that doesn't allow for the other 99.9% of animal species that also need their home ranges. We are at least 20-30% overtaxing the planet with current population and usage of resources, and it seems that nobody is prepared to change into reverse gear or use the handbrake!
Think carefully where most of the natural resources actually go. Yes we are as responsible as we can possibly be, environmentally and socially with our business and living methods / conservation efforts, but unthinking masses of public who consume the most are directly responsible for the ruin and wastage of Nature. Flying over Europe and Eastern States is an eye opener for sure..80-90% is already man made or changed by man to suit his needs..All straight roads, crop fields, hedges, hardly any natural woods or forests.
We try hard to work to do what we can with Conservation, and even challenge the laws that prevail. Costa Rica and Namibia have two of the best Environmental law systems in the world. You can farm your land, but you are advised how to farm, which areas to leave natural, what is sustainable etc. Agricultural and Environmental Advisors are available.. If you do not apply these guidelines,, first time is a warning, you will be fined and sent an advisor the 2nd time around, 3rd time is a huge fine...the next time around, your land is confiscated, auctioned or sold and you can never own land again..You can buy a house in town, but you have proven clearly that you do not care for or love your land. Fauna and Flora have equal rights and you have to apply for permission to cut trees, cull animals etc..failure to do so will result in prosecution.
Anyhow, I have to head off...that was more of a novel than an email..I hope I didn't bore you to death or make your eyes go googly, but just in case you were wondering if we care about the Earth...I think you may be able to see that we are extremely considerate, if not slightly fanatical about conservation.
All the best