Source: There’s been a theme to today. Finding a common enemy. This post focuses on the common enemy of shipping and it’s large, mostly silent contibution to climate change and CO2 emissions. At this point this is the central argument of my thesis. Our supply chains are completely unsustainable and that we’ll have to dig deep to change this reality. Case in point: It’s esimated that 16 super-cargo ships create as much polution as all the cars on earth.

Online services have provided us with a level of “fast” that we’ve never had before. And with that comes a level of shipping that is unprecedented and continues to grow. Having a history as an user experience/website designer and an activist, I think it makes sense for me to look at systems I am familiar with, hence e-commerce, and try to apply the knowledge I’ve learned of interaction design processes to it.

I’ve been encouraged to look at Etsy: an exceptional model of a online store with a mission. They’re also the hipest office in Brooklyn; dogs, picknick tables, three armed sweaters

Disclaimer: My advisor, Alex Wright, works at Etsy

It's a rad office.

This part of the Etsy site: Shop Local, is kind of hidden away in the side bar towards the bottom if you come to the index level navigation. I can understand business-wise why they wouldn’t place this front and center. This issue of shipping is an increasingly intriguing one for the Etsy brand considering they are a B-Corp. Meaning they have a mission statement at their core (not just shareholders), one in which they are rated annually to uphold their B-Corp status. The company is driven to provide a sustainable solution within the realm of online commerce, not just to compost everything in their office which they do very delicately, and once a week have employees bike to a local rooftop farm.

Here is an example of the Etsy shopping local flow.

Etsy is successfully driving home a small, hand-made market online and making champions out of housewives and stay-at-home husbands all over the globe. The common enemy here is that shipping logistics and cost are difficult to mitigate, shipping of the product itself is rarely seamless or without financial and, may I suggest, emotional distress. The cost of shipping is ever-increasing while the age old institutions like our U.S. Postal Service are quickly falling to pieces right before our eyes. Just take a look at the Post Office across from Pen Station in NYC. You can see the cobwebs forming on the awnings.

The models we have for moving goods are stagnant. It’s the usual players in transportation: trucks, trains, boats, and airplanes. Well, I don’t know about boats or trains, these are mostly used to ship raw goods. All of which run predominantly off some kind of oil combustion. Which, just happens to be the largest contributor to our catastrophic climate predicament.

Etsy is in the right place to build a network of consumers and sellers that will seak one another out locally. It’s really not going to make a dent in the global shipping networks or ways to reconfigure said networks but it will help us get to know each other, maybe find more value in our neighbors simple due to the fact that it’s local. Not just handmade, handmade-locally.

In a previous blog post I talked about personal responsibility (Climate Guilt) and how that lead to my concept of “The Lightbulb Problem.” I understand that we all want to do something to help, though. Whether that’s changing a lightbulb or composting, we’ve taken small steps towards responsibility in our homes and offices.

At the same time, we’re more and more attached to having things shipped to us. The ease of online commerce for example has nearly shut the doors of every major bookstore in Manhattan, and within a mere decade and a half. I doubt most would disagree that as a society we are addicted to getting things Fast. Fast food. Coffee on the go. Delivery. Shipping. Drones. We’re all guilty of wanting efficiency, I know, but does it make it our sole responsibility as the consumer? It’s starting to feel like it and as I pointed out in the Lightbulb Problem post: large companies agree that there is money to be made off of our guilt and they are coming for it by selling us ‘natural’ products and pushing the cost off to us.

It’s infuriating! While companies with social missions and an audience that will support those social missions this is great but the whales in this sea do little to nothing to combat the issue. All while encouraging their shareholders that the “Light Bulb Problem” is a sure opportunity for business growth by selling the consumer a Climate Guilt riddled fantasy of changing the world, as Duke Energy put it, “one light bulb at a time”.

There’s a wealth of solutions and ways to fight this shared enemy.

  • First we keep supporting companies like Etsy in hopes that they will set an example for others to follow. And they already are. You saw that office.

  • We educate our fellow citizens to be aware of when they feel climate guilt and provide them tools to circumnavigate the corporate marketing strategies that instill such anxiety.

  • We stand up to the those corporations as a society. By using our wallets:

    • not buying big box store stuff.
    • finding ways to collectively contribute to methods that reduce CO2.
    • building lasting and engaging opportunities for small businesses within our communities.

A lot of times I will look up an item on Amazon to see the price point and then go to the bookstore to buy it. I’ve always been this way though, I like interacting with real people. I like asking people about their taste and style. I like to know what they’re reading, not just what others who looked at this product also looked at. We are human. We have to get back to having these engagements. Some believe the internet to be a black hole of this old-world type of interaction, and maybe they’re right, I hope not, but even if they are, we’ll probably still have companies like Etsy. Companies with niche markets and a large base of support from a extremely active and compassionate few. My question is: will those companies and their audiences ever have enough barring to leverage real sustainability in the mega commerce and shipping markets? Could they be pioneers?

We’ve been encouraged recently by a teacher to put up a fight. He said he liked thesis that showed some struggle and encouraged others to put up. In this upcoming draft I am going to focus on putting up a fight to curb long distance shipping habits from online shoppers and help people find other options closer to home. The common enemy here is shipping and I hope we can all agree on that. Not that shipping is this terrible thing but it really is causing our climate and therefore our economy major strain. If we can contribute more with our wallets we’ll win. At least I think so.