During my travels to New York last fall for the CitiesAlive! conference about designing sustainable cities – I had the opportunity to take a tour of the Etsy Headquarters. Yes – THE Etsy.  Located in a renovated factory that overlooks the Brooklyn Bridge in the Dumbo neighborhood, just walking into the building you can feel all the creativity and soul that goes into their entire business ethos.

In moving to this historic space, the team at Etsy wanted the building and the company culture to reflect their values of sustainability, while maintaining the New York City vibes. They made it their mission to participate in the “Living Building Challenge” – a multifaceted foundation of biophilic design principles that is an accredited process through the Living Future Institute. A “Living Building” according to Living Future, requires the following criteria:

  • Regenerative spaces that connect occupants to light, air, food, nature, and community.
  • Self-sufficient and remain within the resource limits of their site. Living Buildings produce more energy than they use and collect and treat all water on site.
  • Healthy and beautiful.
Etsy’s Certificate of achieving the Living Building Challenge

The challenge, which consists of 7 parts, or “Petals” as they call them, breaks down the ideals of a Living Building into applicable action area s, which include: Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity, and Beauty.

The bike locker room helps keep workers bicycles safe and stored neatly.
  1. PLACE

    For this category, Etsy not only focused on the building in its sustainability efforts, but wanted to translate how the company culture would reflect their sense of community and how employees relate to the natural world. They encouraged people to walk or ride their bikes to work, and had a bike locker room to house all their modes of transpo safely. They also employed the geniuses at Greenery NYC, to install a green roof on top of their campus to allow for more biodiversity in the bustling urban environment, as well as a fun place to hang out and get some fresh air!

    View of Brooklyn Bridge and downtown NYC from their intensive Green Roof
  2. WATER

    Part of this challenge was to utilize our water resources more efficiently. By installing low-flow toilets, as well as capturing stormwater run-off to irrigate their green roofs and living walls, these efforts insure that not a drop goes to waste down the drain!

    This workspace is a social gathering environment, decorated with plants, reclaimed wood elements, and bright open floor plan that allows for the natural lighting to come through.

    The floor plan of the space is open, beautiful, and bright thanks to large windows and spaces available to benefit from the natural lighting. All of the lighting fixtures are LED bulbs, which saves them considerable extra energy costs. They also have a solar panel on top of their intensive green roof that helps power a portion of their building, and they are currently looking to source the energy they do use from renewable energy operations in their state of New York.

    This is their 12kw solar power system on top of their green roof.

    This Petal focused on the well-being of the employees and the space. By having an open-floor plan, efficient ventilated air systems, and the incorporation of plants around EVERY corner – employees didn’t feel the pressure of working in a cubicle-office environment, and instead benefitted from the natural resources that assisted in their productivity. In their campus cafeteria, they also sourced their food from local, organic vendors, and in their janitorial department went completely toxic-free in the use of chemical usage for cleaning products.

    This photo shows the open-air courtyard that lies in the center of the building campus. You can see the green living wall on the opposite ends through the windows. Green everywhere!

    This to me I found perhaps the most intriguing, and perhaps because in “sustainable” efforts, sourcing of materials and the methods of disposing of materials aren’t always of discussion. Etsy made a very conscious effort in sourcing materials that were re-purposed or came from local sources, meaning they were contributing to less waste and emissions in their sourcing for furniture and decorations. Many of the furniture pieces and plant boxes were made from reclaimed wood. They also had an extremely efficient recycling program in their facilities, and also weighed all of their trash, compost, and recycling before it left the building to keep track of how much resources they were adding to landfills vs. putting back into recycling stream.

    By weighing all the “waste” that is produced on campus – management is able to keep track of how much materials get out of the landfill stream. This photo shows that 86.6% of all discarded materials were diverted from landfills.

    This petal is to ensure that all workers live in a socially equitable environment. This helps their employees feel empowered by the work that they do rather than be focusing on their sex, race, sexual orientation, class, age, etc. By having non-binary bathrooms, as well as a generous parental leave policy for new parents – Etsy supports their employees in all walks of life.

    The living wall that lives in the heart of their campus.

    This part of the challenge is the most visually apparent achievement within the Etsy campus. Etsy is the hub for all things craftiness, and this petal reveals just how innovative and resourceful the company is in creating artistic and beautifully made spaces. Around every corner you will find something green, living plants in the form of a green wall or utilized as dividers for work spaces. The attention to detail is reflected through all the decorative elements, whether it be from their light fixtures to the furniture – everything has been carefully curated to be beautiful and last for decades.


    Each employee on their first day of work gets to weave a charm token to add to the entrance wall.
  8. Reclaimed wood planters and plants line every hallway.

    Thank you for taking the tour with me and learning more about Etsy’s mission to include biophilic design principles into their workspace. If you want to learn details about their programming, click this link here. For more information about the Living Building Challenge and the Living Future Institute, click hereTo read more about my experience in New York at the CitiesAlive! conference learning about sustainable and living infrastructure, read this blog post.