Etsy is a really cool online marketplace. In many ways they are pioneering what we hope to do with Silent Springs. They are a giant of a business and discriminate less than we do with our artisans around sustainability, but ultimately their hope and ours is to re-establish the opportunity for cottage industries to thrive and grow in a "modern" age.
What I love most about Etsy and about Silent Springs is the focus on people! Yes, real people design and produce the products you buy. In our case, we work with small artisans who demonstrate a passion for sustainability exclusively. We are also working with several larger leaders in sustainable products manufacturing. Our goal is ultimately to grow the number of small scale artisans we work and encourage family businesses to invest in sustainable products by offering a stable market. We experienced our first success in this regard recently when a company contacted us at the suggestion of one of their employees. After introducing ourselves and asking a few questions we quickly realized that the paints they were using in their products simply did not meet our company standards. At that, they simply said, "teach us how to be better." They intend to transition into a new set of more sustainable and healthy paints, and we intend to market their wonderful efforts!
Etsy, like other large corporations are re-defining not only the market itself, but also how business is conducted. Etsy has recently transitioned to a (B) Corporation following the example of Patagonia and others. The status permits the company the opportunity to make business decisions based on social responsibility as well as financial responsibility. You might think this is just common sense, but corporations have struggled with this for years. Corporate statute dictates that publicly traded corporations are legally responsible for maximizing profit. If you are a company that wants to buy from a vendor that doesn't exploit its workers but you must absorb the cost of that transition, then you'd be in a legal bind.
An employee at Etsy recently reported on yet another responsible business tactic. The company has purchased a cargo bike that they use to personally transport their compostable waste to nearby Red Hook Community Farm. What I find most important about what they are doing is that they have not contracted this task out to someone else, but have taken it on themselves. As corporations go, I think it demonstrates a sense of humanity.
Now, all that said, I still believe there is great value in small family-owned businesses over large corporate structures. If I eat a carrot while writing this blog, I can throw the top out my window into the compost bin in my own garden. I can also tend to my children, say hello to my neighbors, ship your purchases, and make myself lunch all without leaving my home. In reality, we run our business and our home as a family. I may write the daily blog while my son brings out the compost, my wife chats with a potential artisan on the phone, and my two young daughters sit in the grass picking flowers for the table. Personally, I don't think you can beat that. For those companies that have chosen to grow larger, I hope they will follow the examples of companies like Etsy that have learned how to do business responsibly.
Vincent M. Smith - PhD