May 10, 2012

What are B Corps? Why Do We Need Stuff?

In my last post, readers, I reflected on Earth Day and sustainable small businesses and our own businesses. It was a lot to read, kind of heavy, I know. Today is going to be a bit along those lines, but I'm going to share two big things, that combined, relate to sustainable small businesses.

Please note that when I use the word sustainable, I use it a la Merriam-Webster definition
a : of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged <sustainable techniques> <sustainable agriculture>  
b : of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods <sustainable society>. 

The first thing, which is the second question in the title, "Why Do We Need Stuff?" comes from Megan Auman, of Designing an MBA. In the last month she launched a site called Understanding Objects and is all about changing the perception that the world doesn't need more stuff, it needs YOUR stuff. 

Hardly a mind-blowing concept here, but as an artist, I've struggled too with the idea that there are already so many stationery companies out there, why does the world need my stationery? Or better yet, I've tried to build a business based on a Toyota business model where I buy only what I need when I need it to avoid having too much stuff around. To have another artist out there, trying to repair our concept of "stuff", especially in relation to our own art, it's encouraging. It reminds me that there is a place for my art and my stuff, it's just a matter of placing the correct value on the stuff we buy and sell to others.  

The second thing, is that yesterday, Etsy announced their certification as a B Corporation. This point answers the first question, "What Is A B Corporation?"  I encourage you all to read the article about Etsy joining the B Corporation Movement and what it means as an artist and seller on Etsy. It's some incredible stuff, let me tell you! 

But I want to talk about what it means for us, Etsy sellers, a bit and also what it means for our readers on this blog that are buyers and lovers of the New York Etsy Team.  

As, I've discussed many times, what I do personally to run a sustainable business- I run a non-certified sustainable corporation. That's right, I've taken my personal feelings and actions and have allowed them to determine how to run and operate my business. I think it's a logical step for any small business just starting up and one-artist show. However, when a largish company like Etsy takes the steps to become a certified B Corporation, it means they are opening themselves to being questioned regularly about their sustainable business practices and are open to follow a set of guidelines and metric systems that determine whether they are practicing sustainable business standards not just on local, environmental, and employee issues, but globally, as well.  Companies already established as B Corporations are Patagonia and Seventh Generation.

So what about you, artist and small business owner? What does Etsy becoming a certified B Corp mean for you? 

Well nothing yet. You don't have to rush out and do anything, but you should be aware that Etsy is interested in practicing good business for itself, and you. This also means that Etsy's hopes to influence others businesses to start practicing sustainability. It was in large part what Hello Etsy in Berlin (which I covered last year) was all about-how can large and small businesses make an impact for the good of the environment, irreplaceable resources, and humanity?

These are tough questions. After all, who doesn't want to make money? People go into business for a variety of reasons, but most often to make money.  Etsy's decision means that now they want to help small businesses keep making money AND make business decisions that don't hurt humans, or the environment.

I don't believe that many of us small businesses are capable of paying to go through the rigorous process of becoming a B-Corporation yet, but I think it's a great thing to aspire to. I also think it's something that can be started small just by using the tools in the NYC area:
  • composting your produce and coffee bean scraps (Etsy does it!)
  • riding your bike, or taking public transportation instead of driving
  • recycling even the smallest piece of paper
  • carrying our own bags when shopping to avoid taking new bags, or even just collecting all of your plastic bags and then recycling them in the bins specific for plastic bags
  • turning your paper bags into envelopes (I did a tutorial you can see here)
  • recycling your #5 plastic containers (mostly the stuff that holds your yogurt) at Whole Foods Stores
  • Reuse magazine pages to stuff your packages when mailing
  • Reuse boxes, when shipping mail (yes branding matters, but you can do a lot if you state your case beforehand)
The list goes on, and all it requires you to do is to look around you for the resources, until you are large enough and can become a B Corporation of your own.

And for buyers, what does this mean for you? 

Well, it means that you know and have a better idea of the type of business you are purchasing from. I don't want to imply that all businesses are bad businesses, because they are not. However, now those individuals that are concerned with the state of environmental affairs and want to start buying stuff that has value and meaning (Go Megan!), know that you're shopping on a site that is practicing sustainable business and is encouraging their members to practice the same, and they will feel better about their purchases and will put a higher value on them knowing that they are making an impact on the greater world.

Lastly, for artists, buyers and Etsy Small Businesses in NYC, I encourage you to check out Goodnik. Goodnik is an organization that helps social entrepreneurs whether they are in the for-profit or not-for-profit or aspiring B Corporation sectors. They are a great resource just for learning more about this topic.

Let us do more good business!

S2 Stationery and Design


Simone said...

This is so interesting. Thanks for giving me some food for thought this morning.

Sara said...

You're very welcome, Simone! Believe me when I say, Etsy and Megan, both, gave me some food for thought, too!

StoriedVintage said...

I linked to this from my Etsy email this morning and I am SO glad I did! Hello from Cleveland, Ohio. What a great blog and what an important post. It's brave and important to acknowledge that as small shops we sometimes--painfully--feel compelled to make small sacrifices but can still aspire--and take small steps--towards sustainability. Bravo, Etsy and Brava, Sara!


Sara said...

Hi Lorraine! Thank you so much! I honestly had NO idea this article got linked until just now, today, and it explains the convo I got early this morning in my Etsy Shop from someone else saying thank you. I'm so glad you guys are out there fighting the good (sustainable) fight! -Sara