I was browsing on Pinterest one day and I saw one of those cheesy inspirational quote pins — “Cultivate a business like you would cultivate a garden.”
It kind of makes sense when you think about it.
If a business is a garden, then entrepreneurs are gardeners, and eco-entrepreneurs are gardeners with A LOT more work. We have to bypass the easy yet harmful fertilization methods by focusing on growing something that will sustain the earth healthier and longer.
So what is a gardener to do with all these difficult tricks to figure out and with little money for eco-friendly fertilizer?
Well usually, they rent a plot of land that someone else owns to make things easier. And the major plots of land available nowadays are called Amazon or Etsy. eBay is also major, but we’re gonna focus on the ones that I personally have found more eco-friendly sellers are interested in.
Marketplaces are where all the online shopping traffic is. In 2018, Amazon’s share of the U.S. e-commerce market hit nearly 50 percent!
But the biggest isn’t always the best. It’s important to really weigh the options of which platform or platforms you will invest your time (and money) into.
So is Etsy more eco-friendly than Amazon? Yes. Is it better for eco-friendly sellers? Arguably, yes. So should I enroll as an Etsy seller today? Well, hold your horses, I haven’t gotten there yet.
P.S. There are marketplaces out there for eco-friendly products in particular, but in terms of getting on one of the major ones as an eco-minded entrepreneur, here is what you need to know.
Amazon spends lots of green on green, but the roots are damaged
I don’t think I have to waste my words by explaining why Amazon has exceptional traffic and marketing opportunities for your brand.
But, Amazon isn’t for businesses who actually want to scale and get to know their customers. The e-commerce giant is well-known for competing against sellers with their own brands, limiting communication with customers, and countless other criticisms — to name a few issues.
In terms of sustainability, Amazon makes headlines for setting ambitious goals for renewable energy, supporting green legislation, and we can’t forget the $2 billion chunk of change focused on reducing the impacts of climate change.
You can read more about Amazon’s Sustainability goals here.
And while I definitely don’t want to undermine the progress and benefits these actions will bring — we all have to be honest with ourselves.
No matter how much Amazon commits itself to sustainable practices, the values of the business itself will always be rooted in convenience and low prices, which are the antithesis of eco.
There are eco-friendly products on Amazon, but chances are they are sourced from unethical factories in China.
So if you’re an eco-conscious seller, especially a new one, you will likely be facing HIGH competition with less ethical alternatives on Amazon.
Also, Amazon as a corporation has also been under fire multiple times for alleged inhumane working conditions for warehouse workers.
According to Amazon, it emitted 44.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2018. That’s about the same pollution levels as a small country.
Most of its emissions are a result of its transportation of products, packaging, etc.
It is important to note that in SOME cases, ordering online can reduce your carbon footprint because the online retailers can optimize their supply chains to get the products to the consumer on the shortest route possible, ie. with less emissions. But this depends on several factors, including your location, the speed of delivery, etc.
Bezos committed to a Climate Pledge to make Amazon carbon neutral (or offset the same amount of carbon it produces) by 2040. But it remains to be largely a promise without a plan.
So, if climate change is near and dear to your heart, signing up for Amazon can be a hard pill to swallow.
I mean we’ve all done it — bought from Amazon for that sweet, sweet satisfaction of knowing our product will be on our doorstep the following day. But it comes at a bitter, bitter cost.
Amazon has a fleet of electric vehicles, but it also outsources services like UPS which use freight vehicles. These types of vehicles are responsible for nearly one-quarter of the carbon footprint in the transportation category.
Not to mention the HUMAN cost of one-day shipping.
A 2019 investigation by Buzzfeed News found that drivers went to horrifying lengths to meet delivery goals including skipping all meals, bathroom stops, and rests that resulted in countless crashes.
The meme says it all.
Amazon is notorious for excess packaging, and as an Amazon seller, you wouldn’t have control over that.
Amazon has gone a little more green with recyclable mailers, but you probably want the first thing your customer sees to be packaging that says YOUR brand name and shares YOUR values as an eco- entrepreneur.
More on sustainable packaging alternatives here.
Etsy — An eco community with little enforcement
Etsy Eco Overview
Etsy just inherently has more of an “eco feel” than Amazon — I mean their graphics even feature a leaf or two sometimes.
I feel that as a consumer, I trust Etsy eco-friendly products more than Amazon. I know (with some certainty) that it was handmade, which in itself ticks a lot of my boxes.
In-fact, according to Etsy’s 2019 insights, there was a 100 percent increase for the search term “eco friendly” – so the demand for it is certainly there.
As far as social responsibility goes, Etsy has great representation for women leaders – at least half of its board, workforce and executive team are made up of women.
But they still have ways to go in terms of hiring people of color — who only represent 8.5% of its total workforce. That being said, they did show grounds for improvement by doubling its number of black and Latino hires in 2018.
Etsy’s downfall is its enforcement of its rules. Plenty of non-handmade, sneaky sellers can list on Etsy without much pushback.
Plus, Etsy can still be very unfair to its sellers.
Etsy published a blog about how to source materials responsibly, but there isn’t really any real actionable guidance in it.
That being said, there is a whole market on Etsy itself for sourcing materials from other sellers.
Eco-friendly consumers DEMAND to know where their products, and product materials, come from.
Etsy gets points for encouraging sustainable sourcing, but does nothing to really support or enforce it.
Etsy’s concept of “helping keep useful skills alive” by featuring handmade, vintage, and artisan products in itself appeals to more eco-friendly values.
ETSY EMISSIONS — PACKAGING/SHIPPING
As a whole, the company gets major applause for being the first e-commerce brand to offset 100% of its carbon emissions from shipping at the cost of less than a penny per package.
It is pretty cool to know that when you send out your package as an Etsy seller, those emissions are being offset by sustainability initiatives.
That being said, offsets have been criticized for being an easy way to just pay your way out of pollution, without actually making the changes to REDUCE anything.
Etsy sellers have more control over their packaging, which means they can opt in for more sustainable options that can be recycled. (Although I will say, I have gotten some pretty wasteful packaging from Etsy before — I mean, was 10 pounds of glitter around my bath bomb really necessary?)
Taking the path less traveled – towards an eco future
Whether you pick Etsy, Amazon, or another platform for your seller needs, the best “plot of land” to start growing your business “garden,” is your own damn property.
Starting your own business by building your own website, bringing traffic to it, and maintaining that momentum, is no easy task. In addition to the regular demands of building a website you have to think about:
- Using ethically sourced and environmentally friendly materials
- Providing fair labor or doing all the labor yourself
- Shipping/delivery with a low or negative carbon footprint
- Remaining transparent about all items and materials in your product lifecycle
But the road less travelled, can be quite fantastic (Or something like that according to Robert Frost).
Owning your own business means truly being your own boss – not under Etsy or Amazon’s green thumb.
Transitioning to your own business through a platform is a great start. But overall, you are going to make the biggest impact by starting your business from a foundation that is truly under your control. Embrace the struggle of plowing your own field and getting the foundation ready, because the fruits of your labor can taste much sweeter.