When companies strive to do good, 'scale is your friend,' says Etsy CEO

Chad Dickerson.
Chad Dickerson.

Chad Dickerson tells C2 Montréal big corporations needn't be bad

MONTREAL — Etsy may call to mind images of grandmas knitting chair socks, or eccentric shut-ins crafting chocolate-scented poop candles. But there’s nothing small about the company itself. And it’s the size and financial success of Etsy that allows it to do enormous amounts of good in the world, said CEO Chad Dickerson, speaking at the C2 Montréal conference on Tuesday.

For example, Etsy instituted a new program last month that lets sellers in four states purchase discounted solar panels for their homes or workspaces. Known as Etsy Solar, the program wouldn’t have been possible without the company’s financial success, said Dickerson.

"I think getting bigger only allows you to think bigger, and think bigger about what impact you can have," he said, speaking to Stowe Boyd, futurist and head of research at Gigaom. "Scale is your friend."

"You can do bigger things like take care of families," he added. (Etsy’s 900 employees receive six months of paid, genderblind parental leave.) But Dickerson, who left Yahoo! to join the company in 2008 when it had just 60 employees and about 100,000 sellers, also credited Etsy’s success in part on its focus on social good.

"We believe that being socially responsible is good business," he said. "Some companies, they look at it as kind of a sacrifice." He pointed out it’s a sacrifice Etsy hasn’t had to make, noting that the company is publically traded on the NASDAQ and that its most recent quarter had been profitable.

Thanks to its size, Etsy is moving toward purchasing enough carbon credits to offset its entire carbon footprint, 95% of which is generated by products shipped from the company’s 1.6 million private suppliers worldwide, said Dickerson. Etsy also recently became the largest company in the world to receive B Corp certification, a third-party designation signifying a company meets high standards for "social and environmental performance."

The talk took place on the first day of the annual conference, which celebrates the intersection of commerce and creativity.

Rather than promoting positive change for its own sake, Dickerson said companies would increasingly be forced to consider social impact, if they didn’t already. "Citizens and people are going to demand more and more from businesses. They're going to demand more transparency, they're going to demand social responsibility, and more and more companies are going to have to measure themselves in very transparent ways on how they achieve those goals."

There is an underlying idealism that peppers Dickerson’s comments – this is no calculated greenwashing. "For every interaction on Etsy, I want everyone to win," he said, decrying the no-sum equations that inform some corporate business practices.

He predicted business would (or would have to) take the lead in addressing societal problems like climate change.

"My biggest fear," he said, "is that the old way of doing business won’t go away quickly enough."

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