Spinning Yarn into Gold
Etsy has crafted the business of doing good into a fine art.
The creative mecca that is Etsy—the online marketplace where artists, designers, curators, and shoppers around the world connect in the name of making, selling, and buying handmade items, vintage goods, and craft supplies—is a work of art in and of itself. Behind the scenes, Etsy’s corporate side is an even grander masterpiece, artfully blending creativity, responsibility, humanity, environmentalism, philanthropy, exploration, accountability, transparency, and business into a seamless, trailblazing enterprise. Guided by a moral and ethical compass and certified as a B Corp (a for-profit company certified by the non-profit B Lab to meet rigorous social and environmental standards), Etsy takes its stature and footprint seriously, advocating that making money and doing good are one and the same—and goes to painstaking lengths to prove it.
The 2005 launch of Etsy, then considered an “anarchist artist collective,” gave wings to amateur hobbyists and professional artists alike. Except that Etsy didn’t just give artisans baby bird wings so they could flap and flutter and learn to fly on their own; Etsy bestowed enormous, powerful, nimble albatross wings so they could soar. And thus, the online bazaar for everything arts and crafts has ascended to heights far beyond founder Rob Kalin’s wildest Technicolor dreams.
To begin, Etsy revolutionized the way crafters peddle their wares. It opened the door to affordable, accessible e-commerce for anyone with a knack for creating something–from the stay-at-home mom who hand makes her daughter’s barrettes to the nomadic tent-pitcher hocking his paintings at festivals to the garage tinkerer who blowtorches old pipes into trendy industrial light sconces. It enabled visibility as well, allowing sellers to reach an exponentially larger audience including brick-and-mortar stores and corporate accounts. “The amount of money it takes to drive traffic to your [own] e-commerce site is not economical for start-up or small businesses,” says Tammy LaPorte, who launched her handmade paper flowers and bouquets company, PrincessApprovedShop, on Etsy in 2012. “Etsy makes it easy and affordable to build your business and your brand.”
A Do-Good Company
Etsy cherishes all of its resources—natural and human, alike. Here, Axess shares some facts about the company’s initiatives to do good.
Etsy’s Home Energy Task Force collaborated with a renewable energy supplier to offer financial incentives for Etsy employees who switch to wind and solar power in their homes.
Etsy’s carefully designed twice-weekly family-style Eatsy luncheons, which serve approximately 60,000 meals annually to its employees, utilizes local caterers and farms to plan meals that are nutrient dense, sourced as locally as possible, and in environmentally friendly packaging.
Etsy employees receive 40 paid time-off hours to volunteer.
“We don’t just recycle and compost in every office, we know exactly how much our trash weighs and we bike our compost to community farms every week,” Etsy asserts. Its nine offices all weigh their outgoing waste, recycling, compost, and donation streams to foster accountability and measure reduction results. Waste-reduction programs across its global offices diverted more than 34,000 pounds of waste from landfills in 2014 and increased its landfill diversion rate by nine percent between 2014 and 2015.
Etsy’s Brooklyn headquarters houses a rainwater storage system that deposits runoff from the building’s roof into a 3,400-gallon tank connected to an irrigation system, which waters its indoor greenery. The roof also houses a solar power system that supplies some of the building’s electricity.
Etsy provides a 26-week, fully paid parental-leave policy for new parents of any gender, for birth, adoption, or surrogacy.
Etsy’s “carbon-neutral, commuter-friendly” offices offer indoor bike parking and showers on site.
Etsy publicly pledged to be powered by 100-percent renewable electricity by 2020 and started implementing the foundation for this commitment in 2015, thanks to the Etsy Sustainability Commission’s efforts.
During the construction of its global headquarters, Etsy vetted more than 1,500 products for Red List chemicals, requiring ingredient disclosure to avoid use of noxious substances.
User-friendly functionality, marketing options, analytics, forums, social media promotion capabilities, networking opportunities as well as manufacturing and sales resources don’t even crack the surface of what the crafters’ haven provides to its more than 1.6 million active entrepreneurs. The majority of sellers utilize an assortment of Etsy tools and thrive on the collaborative environment (a 2014 US Seller Survey revealed that 81 percent of sellers have received advice and inspiration from other Etsy sellers).
The spirit in which Etsy operates defies odds and, many times, even logic from a financial perspective. But something is working. At last count, 25 million active buyers were combing through more than 35 million unique items listed on Etsy.com; in 2015, this equated to $2.39 billion in annual gross merchandise sales.
The numbers only tell part of Etsy’s story though. After Chad Dickerson became CEO in 2011, Etsy embarked on an enhanced mission: The re-imagination of commerce. “My vision for Etsy is really building this human-centered economy that’s all about people,” Dickerson told New York Magazine. “Eventually, we want this way to be not an alternative economy; we want it to be the economy.”
The company’s philosophy redefines what it means to be corporate. The “About” section of Etsy.com is a labyrinth of links to an awe-inspiring array of studies, reports, initiatives, statistics, programs, resources and much more, all revealing how Etsy does good and does it better with resolute social and environmental conscientiousness paving the way. Etsy also bares just about everything that goes on behind the curtains in all nine of its global offices in the name of altruistic transparency. Every detail is significant, thought out, researched, and improved, down to the farm that supplies the yogurt to its staff luncheons and its composting’s carbon-neutral mode of transport. “The real magic in creative organizations happens when you can combine that creative spirit with actually running it well,” Dickerson told Duke Magazine. “You need both to build something that lasts long term.” Taking care of and investing in its employees, sellers, and buyers and the planet they inhabit clearly are key components.
Etsy sellers tend to harbor the same ideals as their mothership and are positively influenced by its paradigm. John W. Golden, a lifelong artist whose wall art and home decor Etsy shop, johnwgolden, opened in 2006, attempts to make use of every scrap piece of wood for his art blocks rather than disposing them. “I just keep cutting smaller and smaller pieces of wood to use until I have only unusable pieces left,” he explains. “Those don’t go to a landfill—I have a huge bundle of tiny strips of wood about the size of a clothes washer that represents eight years of reducing waste.” This is part and parcel of Etsy’s values and vision, and with its millions of buying and selling fans around the world effecting global change while keeping commerce alive, the company has craftily turned the business of “doing good” into an art form.
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