How Etsy kickstarted the eCommerce carbon neutral movement

Etsy was the first major eCommerce company to become 100% carbon neutral. They inspired others to do the same.

One comment

A few years ago, I remember seeing something about this company, Etsy, being super sustainable. This was at the time when eCommerce companies – weren’t necessarily – and I guess still aren’t the first industry that I’d think would take action on sustainability, climate change and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. But there they were. So it stuck with me. And I pondered on it.

Fast forward now to 2020 and I’m doing my regular, scrolling through Eventbrite for sustainability events in NYC. I see that both the Director of Sustainability and Integrated Marketing Specialist from Etsy are speaking about their practices in the Financial District. BINGO! This looks amazing and I’m definitely attending.

For anyone who isn’t familiar, Etsy is “the global marketplace for unique and creative goods. It’s home to a universe of special, extraordinary items, from unique handcrafted pieces to vintage treasures.” I mean their mission is meaningful – they aim to keep human connection at the heart of eCommerce by connecting millions of sellers to millions of buyers looking for something special.

SO what’s at the heart of typical ecommerce? SHIPPING. And with shipping, comes the ability to return. 

  • “In the US alone, every day approximately 55,000 metric tons of CO2e are emitted into the atmosphere by delivering packages from online orders.” – Wired article
  • “US returns alone create 5 billion pounds of landfill waste and 15 million tons of carbon emissions annually” Vogue Business
  • “10% of online returns are donated or incinerated and items that are restocked must be hand-evaluated for potential damage, and then streamed or dry cleaned before being restocked”Vogue Business

So I mean kind of a, pardon my french, but big f’ing deal!

So how did Etsy take action?

FIRST, they measured how much Etsy shipping was actually emitting. Director of Sustainability, Chelsea Mozan, crunched a lot of numbers, between US postage, shipping sales, etc. to deduce that 135,459 metric tons of CO2 were emitted in 2018 alongside of Etsy shipping operations.

SECOND, they looked at ways they could combat this negative impact FAST. One way that to do this is by leveraging carbon offsets.

Interesting. So what is a carbon offset?

You can think of carbon offsets (otherwise known as carbon credits) as a way to basically cancel out the environmental damage begin done with any operations. Think about the last time (assuming you have seen them somewhere) where it’s like “your shipment will be carbon neutral” or specifically, on Lyft, where it lets you know that all rides are now 100% carbon-neutral.

And how do these carbon offsets work?

There are carbon brokers that sell you these “carbon credits” per ton. So every credit you buy, you’re offsetting that amount of metric tons of carbon. These brokers are connected with projects and plans nationwide.

Etsy works with a very well known carbon broker, 3Degrees, that essentially sources projects to invest in that will offset their emissions. Etsy communicates how much they want to offset and then it’s up to 3Degrees to find these projects and connect the two.

Note how specific these projects are…

UPM Blandin Native American Hardwoods Conversation Project: conserves 10 million trees, sustainable harvesting project absorbs carbon dioxide from the air, protects biodiversity, increases supply of sustainably-sourced forestry products

Giriraj Wind Power Project: investing in the development and maintence of wind energy in India, will displace reliance on coal, diesel, gas combustion

The Solar Grouped Project by ACME: investing in 11 solar developments across India (energy that would otherwise be delivered via fossil fuels)

Meridian Magnesium SF6 Reduction in the Automotive Sector: supporting new technologies that reduce a potent greenhouse gas SF6 which is 22,800 STRONGER THAN CO2! In the automotive parts

Here’s a quick video from Etsy that summarizes their efforts: 

How did they tell the world about it?

Okay this was the COOLEST part of their talk! They nerded out with some market research and then came up with a kick-ass marketing plan. Once they were verified that they were carbon neutral from the purchasing of carbon offsets – they did some A/B testing on the check out page. They found that when the checkout page let the consumer know that their products were carbon offset – their conversion rate INCREASED! Talk about an easy way to make the business case for sustainability…

etsy speakers

They also achieved probably one of the coolest “launches” I’ve ever seen or heard about in the sustainability world. On the day that they announced they would be 100% carbon neutral – they also bought carbon credits on behalf of ALL US ECOMMERCE OPERATIONS EVERYWHERE! Think Amazon, Google, Jet, etc.

They leveraged this tactic as a way to 1) obviously make a statement and 2) invite other major ecommerce players to do that same. They found that it cost less than a penny per package to offset the carbon emissions. 

Their CEO feels like, “If Etsy, on its own, can afford to buy the industry a day of clean air then why can’t we all do it?”

Shortly after it was annoynced that 87 companies with a total of $2.3 trillion made a pledge to become carbon-neutral by 2050. Amazon pledged to do it 10 years faster. 

So what can we learn from Etsy?

  • It is more than possible to be carbon neutral. Etsy proved it – I mean less than a penny for each package?!
  • You can enable change through acts of environmental responsibility. Shortly after, we saw Microsoft and Amazon announce similar goals.
  • We can support companies with our dollars. I kind of forgot that Lyft rides are carbon neutral so with that – I feel like I will likely only be riding Lyft vs. Uber.
  • Anytime you see a campaign “share this or like this to plant a tree” it’s likely true! By understanding the chain of how carbon offset and credits work – I know can comprehend the direct impacts associated with these types of messaging.

Guys – thank you for reading if you got to the end! I just thought all of this was SO cool and such an example of using business as a force for good.

With lots of love for the planet,

The Sustennial

1 comments on “How Etsy kickstarted the eCommerce carbon neutral movement”

Leave a Reply