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Tracking Etsy’s Carbon Footprint

Feb 7, 2013

by Josh Wise handmade and vintage goods

Since we first started trying to get a handle on our carbon footprint a couple of years ago, Etsy has quadrupled in staff size, steadily expanded our main office space, and opened some new locations in the US and abroad. We’ve learned a lot more about what we need to look at to get an accurate assessment of our ecological impact, but we’ve also had to recognize that we’re a moving target. Any piece of data we collect has to be understood in the context of our changing headcount and total occupied square footage. It’s difficult to assess a growing company — even more difficult to assess one that is growing rapidly. Our earliest attempts had us sorting through electricity bills, looking at seasonal trends and equating kilowatt hours consumed in our Brooklyn office with an amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere. This was a worthwhile exercise, but in hindsight it was woefully incomplete in terms of a real effort to understand the environmental impact of our company’s operations.

This past spring, after Etsy narrowly made the cut to become a certified B Corp, we held our own internal “Hack Day” devoted to projects that might help us better understand and address our deficiencies. During the Hack Day, employees took time away from their regular jobs to team up and work on initiatives that would improve our B Corp score. In the B Corp Environmental category, we definitely had a lot of room for improvement, and employees came up with an abundance of interesting ideas. One of the favorite Hack Day projects presented was the concept for creating a carbon tracker tool to help us visualize our carbon footprint. The idea was to come up with a way to make this information visible within the company and eventually to share it with our community. A dedicated bunch of Etsy employees gathered utilities data from our Brooklyn, Hudson and Berlin offices and put together some initial visualizations that allowed us to compare electrical usage across locations. We also began to incorporate numbers from our local composting efforts. It felt like we were getting somewhere. What we quickly realized, however, was that even this seemingly tiny step took a hell of a lot of work. We needed dedicated time and resources to gather data and guidance on putting some sturdy, reliable processes in place. Were we asking the right questions? Were we collecting the right data? Were we missing some things entirely? We decided to reach out for advice.

Friends at the NRDC directed us to Closed Loop Advisors, a small data-driven consulting group who embraced our desire to come up with some hard numbers while approaching the assessment of our operations in a holistic and transparent manner. We wanted to report our findings according to international standards but also to use our baseline operational assessment as the foundation of a proper sustainability strategy for Etsy — something we had never done before! We needed some concrete data, and we needed a context within which to understand it in order to start sharing it more broadly and setting real goals for ourselves as a company.

Fast-forward to the present: we’ve mostly completed a baseline assessment treating the operations of our Brooklyn, Hudson and Berlin offices as well as our New Jersey data center. Fun fact: the data center accounts for 80% of our total electricity. Wow. For certain slices of information, like office electricity, we have data going back a year or more. For shared utilities like heat and water, we have made estimates and are seeking more direct access to meters, dedicated accounts and more sophisticated ways of automating our data collection going forward. On the DIY measurement front, Closed Loop has helped us set up processes for collecting and weighing our landfill waste, e-waste, recycling and compost at all office locations. We now have about three months of data, and the whole pie so far looks something like this:

Having real numbers around the waste, recycling and compost we generate at Etsy will allow us to run experiments, create prototypes, and measure and improve ourselves in a strategic manner. There will be some obvious things that we can do immediately, and there will also be some more complex problems that require collaboration with building managers, commercial haulers, vendors, and engaged members of our communities. But this is an example of a first step into strategic sustainability management. There will inevitably be some outlandish ideas and hijinx along the way, and yes we’re still working to realize our original goal of creating a tool to help us visualize our carbon footprint. Our imperative is to improve Etsy a little bit every day, even as we grow larger, and to create a positive impact in the buildings, the neighborhoods, and business communities where we operate. And crucially, we want to share our victories and failures with you so that you might benefit from our discoveries, our successes and our mistakes. We hope you’ll share your own insights with us as well in this collective effort to bring our businesses into harmony with the delicate ecosystems that support us all. Stay tuned, and thank you!


  • riskybeads

    Lori from riskybeads said 8 years ago

    this is really cool and inspiring!!

  • ChuckEBrydWallArt

    Chuck from ChuckEByrdWallDecals said 8 years ago

    While I am happy to see Etsy doing it's part, I am not sure I understand what "e-waste" is. I have never heard that expression before is all I am saying. Thanks for sharing your efforts with us.

  • AlwaysAMemory

    Kitty Phillips from AlwaysAMemory said 8 years ago

    Interesting! Thanks!

  • lindock

    lindock from Lindock said 8 years ago

    Thank you for sharing! I am so glad to see, even with etsy growing/expanding so much, they still care about their environmental impact! That is something I greatly admire.

  • filecutter

    Joyce and Tony from filecutter said 8 years ago

    Nice piece of information and thank you for sharing.

  • CabinFeverNYC Admin

    Nick Silverman from CabinFeverNYC said 8 years ago

    E-waste is electronic waste. Here's some quick info about why it is important to recycle and/or dispose of it properly:

  • MegansMenagerie

    Megan from MegansMenagerie said 8 years ago

    Oh wow! Thanks for sharing!

  • FergusonsJewelry

    Thomas and Jo Ferguson from FergusonsFineJewelry said 8 years ago

    Very interesting! Always nice to see etsy stepping up and being a great example/inspiration!

  • SeptemberHouse

    Corinne from SeptemberHouse said 8 years ago

    Thumbs up!

  • newhopebeading

    newhopebeading from newhopebeading said 8 years ago

    neat article... thanks for sharing!

  • ChuckEBrydWallArt

    Chuck from ChuckEByrdWallDecals said 8 years ago

    Thanks Nick for the link and the explanation. I had a head to desk moment reading what e-waste is, makes sense it would be the disposal of electronic products. Now that I know what it is I understand it is a very big problem. Thanks again for explaining it.

  • strawberrycouture

    Lenore Berry-Zaragosa from strawberrycouture said 8 years ago

    It's nice to see an infographic on the progress of Etsy.

  • SnappingDragon

    Awun from SnappingDragon said 8 years ago

    While I appreciate the efforts etsy is going through to reduce the carbon footprint of its offices and data center, it really is a drop in the bucket compared to the carbon footprint of its sellers. Think of all of these packages being shipped all over the country and across the world! Think of all the packaging used to keep these parcels safe. It is an impossible task to calculate the carbon footprint of selling online. I love supporting small businesses and handmade sellers but I sometimes ponder the environmental impact of this on a global scale.

  • ryanmeinke

    Ryan Meinke said 8 years ago

    Awun - you are right to look at the big picture and think about the carbon footprint of the whole marketplace. Etsy's next step is to start understanding that - and it's already underway! Ryan (Closed Loop Advisors)

  • digitaldaze

    Kris from foreward said 8 years ago

    I agree with others shipping is a huge part of the etsy foot print.

  • NadinRings

    Nadin Sandler from NadinRings said 8 years ago

    wow great

  • SoulRole

    Nancy Campbell from SoulRole said 8 years ago

    we must be the change we wish to see in the world,and I for one am grateful to be a part of a market place that is open to doing just that.Mahalo Etsy,and Aloha nui for all you do to create positive change in commerce & community .I seriously love you..will you be my Valentine? xoxo ps:what about solar panels on your headquarter roofs?Lots of people in Hawaii use solar(and wind!)and sell back excess energy created to the grid!Maybe you need a data center in Hawaii ;)

  • SoulRole

    Nancy Campbell from SoulRole said 8 years ago

    @ awan-so true and one of the reasons I put off doing online business.Its a hard one-I need to earn a living and for me to get a job in town I would have to drive 60 miles a day roundtrip.working at home I use solar and wnd to create my things and I can just drop off orders at the PO when I take my kids to steps I guess..

  • isewcute

    June from isewcute said 8 years ago

    Fantastic and inspiring article!

  • LoraJK

    LoraJK Kalbfleisch from OneBlueDragonfly said 8 years ago

    Very interesting subject, thanks for sharing this.

  • OhFaro

    Faro from OhFaro said 8 years ago

    This is just wonderful. I am very impressed. We also try to keep our footprint as small as possible. Thanks for being a great example, etsy.

  • TheHickoryTree

    Linda from TheHickoryTree said 8 years ago

    Being accountable to our carbon footprint needs to start somewhere and kudos to Etsy for taking a first step in this direction. Even though online businesses create waste with their packaging, the carbon footprint is much less when vehicle usage goes down and whenever possible we should all try to utilize paper products as opposed to plastics when shipping.

  • vinylclockwork

    Scott from vinylclockwork said 8 years ago

    Good Job Etsy

  • johanada

    joanna ada from paintingcanvas said 8 years ago

    yone my shop close in few days take a look and find original and cheap thinks thanks all

  • 2TrickPony

    Rachel from 2TrickPony said 8 years ago

    I agree with Nancy above, I appreciate your efforts and would like to see some solar panels or other forms of renewables incorporated into your plans.

  • somethingxtraspecial

    somethingxtraspecial from somethingxtraspecial said 8 years ago

    I agree with Awun, that quite frankly its good to hear about the office but when all is said and done the reason for the 'etsy' business is selling online, and if that isn;t massive carbon footprint usage I'm not sure what is. So to me this sounds like a very nice piece of eco marketing - or maybe I'm just a little too cynical.

  • MagpieQuilts

    Ann from MagpieQuilts said 8 years ago

    Great start! It's very difficult to get an accurate overview of environmental impacts for a large organization and kudos to Etsy for taking a first step.

  • silversamba

    Alana from silversamba said 8 years ago

    thanks for sharing

  • aressa

    aressa from OriginalBridalHanger said 8 years ago

    Love knowing Etsy is trying to be a responsible company in reference to their carbon footprint....Thanks for sharing this information....

  • gboliver

    Gail Oliver from AttentionGetting said 8 years ago

    Glad to see you are doing this and leading the example for other companies to follow!

  • thelaughingcatalpa

    Stephanie from TheLaughingCatalpa said 8 years ago

    Interesting! Thanks for sharing!

  • thevicagirl

    VaLon Frandsen from thevicagirl said 8 years ago

    Very detailed. A lot of your data is good, but I can still see places that need improving. Still sending 42% to landfill? Hum... Also, as you have noticed that seeing how much CO2 you put out, just seeing where your waste goes isn't all there is to being sustainable either. You guys have made a lot of progress, but I am sure you can do more. That being said, I really liked the photograph of a picture being taken of the wood. I think that is the type of things etsy is the best at. A lot of the sellers on etsy do things with sustainable materials, and if we support them, as I know your office does, this helps on our way to being sustainable. Now, if only we didn't ship things all over the world, adding to the carbon footprint.

  • potsfrombeverly

    Carolyn Ingleson from FromCJsWheel said 8 years ago

    Kudos to Etsy for being concerned about this. Great work. Another item to consider. The NY TImes did an article in the past year on the intensive use of power required by cloud applications, that many of the data storage centers use energy inefficiently and use a tremendous amount of energy. It would be interesting to look at Etsy's indirect consumption of energy via data storage facilities too.

  • gypsymaffa

    Gypsy Maffa said 8 years ago

    Ian. if you think Marjorie`s comment is something... I just purchased a great new Subaru Impreza from having made $8677 this last 5 weeks and also 10-k last-munth. it's actualy the most-comfortable job I have ever done. I started this six months/ago and almost immediately began to make more than $84 p/h. I use the details on this website,, jump14 . ℂ o m

  • TwoStylishSisters

    Aubrey and Nicole Goulet from TwoStylishSisters said 8 years ago

    Awesome article!! Our shop is always trying to find ways to re-use and up-cycle as much as possible. It's great to see that Etsy is concerned about its carbon footprint and the impact on the environment. : )

  • vintageartchic

    Kelly from TheGussyOwl said 8 years ago

    Love this :) thanks!

  • valeriakondor

    Valeria Kondor from ValeriaKondor said 8 years ago

    I love the attention and effort You take into reducing the footprint. However I was always wondering if our postage related carbon, including the petrol, package and such wether more per item than any other product we buy from physical shops. Thank you for sharing this summary of yours!!

  • divinecartomancy

    Bren from PsychicBren said 8 years ago

    This is very interesting...I had no idea...Thank you for sharing.

  • zafuchi

    Sarah Zafuist from ZafuChi said 8 years ago

    Any buying/selling is part of the consumer aspect of the carbon footprint. If we all consumed less how would etsy (all of it) fare? Reducing the footprint to me means not only the how of it but the why of it...oops, uncomfortable question.

  • zalt57

    Terrance Lazaroff from zalt57 said 8 years ago

    Artists are great at recycling. I did notice recently that I was throwing a lot of recycle materials out in my studio trash. I now have a new bin for this stuff. I compost all year around. My city now wants to collect compost material. They won't get mine. It is too valuable. This summer it will be rain water that I will collect. A little at a time will add up to a big chunk in the long run.

  • eshannon12

    Eric Shannon from BigBarkerDogBeds said 8 years ago

    Fits the Etsy brand perfectly.

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