Lessons from Etsy

Starting a green business can be a daunting task, so we asked eco- entrepreneurs on Etsy, the popular website that’s like a virtual village marketplace for buying and selling handcrafted items, for their top tips, tricks and tactics for surviving the green business trade.

Take small steps.

Consumers can be overwhelmed by the mountain of green products available, so keep your offerings streamlined.

“Try to focus on one thing that the consumer can relate to and your product will have the opportunity to have a much greater impact,” says Amanda Deibler, owner of Green Street, which specializes in reusable cotton snack and sandwich bags.

Jessica Ress, owner of Angel Face Botanicals Aromatherapy Bath and Beauty, agrees. “In starting my store, my goal was to create a sort of rolling ball of environmental goodness, an entity with momentum that made a progressively larger positive impact as it grew.”

Don’t fake it.

Consumers are becoming more savvy about greenwashing, so eco-entrepreneurs should put honesty above all else when talking up their products, or themselves.

“Be honest and your customers will appreciate that,” says Deibler, even if that means you’re still working your way toward 100% recycled packaging or zero energy use.

Save like crazy.

Most small business owners on sites like Etsy don’t make enough money from sales alone to pay the bills, so it’s important to have plenty saved (or another means of income). Says Kristen Chalmers, owner of Planet Playground, which offers upcycled and organic fashion for infants and toddlers, “After I graduated college, I started working in retail. I knew it was not where I wanted to be for the rest of my life, so I started putting money aside. Two years later I quit my job, and with the money I saved, I started my online shop. Most of my savings went towards starting up shop and paying my rent in the beginning months when I had very few sales.”

Be unique.

These days green business owners must compete with thousands of other eco ventures, so it’s important to sell something that’s truly one-of-a-kind to stand out. “I sell children’s wear even though sometimes it seems like everyone sells children’s wear,” says Chalmers. “So what makes me unique? The fact that I love to recycle! I push that when describing items in my store.”

Do it yourself.

Wrapping green products in not-so-green packaging materials like bubble wrap and Styrofoam hurts your credibility. “When I tag my clothing, I print the info on recycled paper,” says Chalmers. “Not only the recycled paper you buy at stores, but my own paper that I have used only one side of. Not only are you minimizing waste, but you save so much money.”

Get paid.

Doing something that you love may seem like payment enough, but many first-time business owners mistakenly shortchange themselves in the process.

“Just because you love what you’re doing doesn’t mean you should pay yourself two bucks an hour,” says Tracy Prince, owner of Sea Find Designs, a sea glass and beach stone jewelry store. “Handmade should come with a price because it has a story.”

Keep learning.

Starting a green business can be a lot of trial and error. Allow yourself time and space to learn along the way. “I felt I was being green just by picking up glass on the beach, but I’ve also come to learn which supplies are green, like recycled silver, vintage goods and recycled packaging,” says Prince.

Think smart.

The best green business owners are the ones always looking to improve efficiency. “I never thought about my daily trips to the post office to mail my products before, but I finally realized that it’s a lot of wasted gas and pollution,” says Prince, “so I purchased a scale just recently and am now mailing from my home.”


Online forums are a place for green business owners to find invaluable real-world advice. “Being a part of Eco Etsy [a subgroup within Etsy] has taught me more than I could have ever learned on my own,” says Prince. “Plus, the support system is great. The advice and tips you get from them are priceless!”

JESSICA A. KNOBLAUCH is an environmental writer living in California.