How Etsy Leapfrogged Amazon in the Race to Go Carbon Neutral

As of today, the brand says it will offset all of the carbon generated from shipping

Etsy has announced a new carbon-offset program. Etsy

As you read this, some 1.6 million packages containing items people have purchased online are on their way to their buyers—and that number only includes Amazon shoppers. Ecommerce has become a $505 billion industry in the U.S. (one projected to hit $735 billion in the next four years) which means a lot of planes in the air, trucks on the road and tons of carbon particulates out of the exhaust pipe.

The issue of how to ameliorate those emissions has become an item of increasing concern for retailers. Earlier this month, Amazon announced its “Shipment Zero” initiative, which aims to make half of all its shipments carbon neutral by the year 2030.

This morning, however, ecommerce platform Etsy stole some of Amazon’s thunder by announcing a plan to clean up its act much sooner—as in, now.

As of today, Etsy claims it has become the first global ecommerce company that can offset all of its shipping-generated carbon emissions.

“With the climate changing even faster than scientific predictions, business leaders have a responsibility to act urgently and aggressively,” Etsy stated on its corporate blog. “Offsets are an immediate step Etsy is taking to balance our impact as we work towards longer-term emissions reduction solutions.”

How does one go about offsetting the carbon generated moving all those cardboard boxes around?

It’s called a carbon offset. For every purchase made on Etsy, the company purchases a reduction in greenhouse gases that correspond to those generated by the online purchase. Various vendors are in the business of selling offsets, and Etsy has enlisted 3Degrees for its own effort. The offsets that Etsy buys funnel resources into a variety of green efforts, including the sponsorship of wind and solar farms and the protection of forests.

Today’s announcement isn’t Etsy’s first effort to green its operations. Three years ago, it pledged to use only renewably sourced electricity by 2020, and the company touts the solar panels that sit atop its Brooklyn offices. Those measures are in keeping with Etsy’s corporate persona. In contrast to the slick and suited Amazon, Etsy has long enjoyed a reputation as ecommerce’s hipster teen. Founded in 2005, Etsy made a name for itself as a marketplace for home-crafted wares like candles and scarves.

But Etsy’s crunchy-granola reputation changed when the company went public in 2015 and elevated Josh Silverman to CEO in 2017. The platform might still be your headquarters for sweaters hand knit with organic yarn, but it’s careful to keep Wall Street analysts warm, too. Its Q4 revenues of $200 million were up nearly 47 percent year over year, and net income for the period came in at $41.3 million.

Encouraging as Etsy’s carbon offsets might be to eco-conscious consumers, it’s worth pointing out that, with 2018 revenues of close to $233 billion, Amazon is many times the size of Etsy, which means finding correctives for its carbon footprint is a correspondingly larger undertaking.

As Amazon itself admitted last week when it pledged to get half of its shipments to zero carbon by 2030: “It won’t be easy to achieve this goal, but it’s worth being focused and stubborn on this vision and we’re committed to seeing it through.”

@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.