Interview with Amy Skoczlas Cole - Director eBay Green Team (Video)
Amy Skoczlas Cole is the Director of eBay's--yes, that little site with 89 million active buyers and sellers and 15,000 employees--Green Team, a group of eBay employees and volunteers dedicated to encouraging users to make more sustainable purchasing decisions. She was in town this past week to speak at the 11th annual New York Fashion Conference and I stopped by Edelman's offices to speak with her about sustainable fashion, consumer trends towards reuse, eBay's carbon emission reduction goal, upcoming announcements in 2010, and more--click through for our discussion:TreeHugger: The Re+Purpose campaign just wrapped up, where the Green Team collaborated with green blogs to encourage consumers to find new value in existing products, what can we expect in 2010?
Amy Skoclas Cole, Director eBay Green Team: The eBay Green Team is going to get stronger and bolder in 2010. We have great plans underway for the March/April Earth Day time frame. I can't share what they are yet but look for them in the near future.
TH: I saw that the Green Team is matching the Uniform Project's holiday fundraiser dollar for dollar--up to $15,000-- for the Akanksha Foundation, will you continue to work with green fashion blogs, The Uniform Project and Ecofabulous in the new year?
ASC: We have really great relationships with those folks and we have found a really warm home so I can't imagine that we wouldn't continue to work together.
TH: Can you share talking points from your scheduled talk at the 11th annual New York Fashion Conference: Heirlooms: Style, Materials, and Sustainability? Also, what trends in heirlooms can help us create more sustainable fashion?
ASC: A shift in how people are presenting themselves to the world by the fashion choices that they make. We are in a moment where value and values are coming together. People are reframing how they want the world to think about themselves by the consumption decisions that they make.
If we are coming out of an era of irrational exuberance and excess--not just in the housing market but in our own consumption patterns--then today is about people wanting to be seen as smart consumers, wanting to think about the purchases they are making as--it's a strong word, but as--investments that are durable over time. We definitely see a trend towards durability of goods, towards things that have intrinsic value, that are going to stand the test of time, think classic and timeless, this is the shift that we've seen from our vantage point.
TH: What do you think has influenced this shift?
ASC: I think it's very much a combination of economic challenges that just about everybody is facing right now and when a consumer starts to think about how much pocketbook decisions reflect who they are as human beings. Now we're talking about consumption as a lifestyle decision. We're talking about making smarter greener choices because that's how we feel about as human beings. It become less about the individual product and whether it's 'green' and more about the entire ecosystem in which a product lives.
We start to think about how a product is produced, the way it's going to be disposed of - this whole concept of cradle to cradle, and this is where the concept of pre-owned or used products--giving products a longer life--really comes into play: it's great for the planet but it also reflects values of today. You could almost say we're in the era where reclaimed is the new black.
TH: Have you seen a shift in consumer trends--towards buying more sustainable products or othwerise--since eBay's inception in 1995?
ASC: What I have seen as a practitioner of trying to bring green into the mainstream. I think the most important thing that has happened in this space is that we have seen green move from a niche concept in the world--and from being thought of as something good for the planet but with undesirable attributes--and move very much into the mainstream, and a part of people's everyday buying experience. We have seen the idea of sustaining ones lifestyle in a way that also sustains the planet as being core to more and more mainstream American's buying habits.
What you can see on eBay is the rise of both traditional eco-friendly products, demand for products that are made with Fair Trade practices--like those found on WorldOfGood by eBay--as well as people thinking more about how they can be more sustainable consumers; by using what already exists in the world today and turning to eBay to buy existing products.
TH: How can we encourage people who are set on buying new products to reuse?
ASC: It's a really interesting question. I think you have to ask, why would someone need a new product when one that already exists can be just as good--and meet every functional need, aesthetic need, and in some cases even better aesthetic need.
Take the case of vintage fashion, where we see that it is actually a way of expressing one's individuality as a human being. It actually has a higher aesthetic appeal than mass market fashion today. That's what we need to consistently do, demonstrate that goods that are considered green also have a higher consumer touchpoint, and are simply better all around for what the consumer is looking for as a citizen of the planet.
TH: Which market do vintage or reused items primarily appeal to?
ASC: It crosses all demographics. What we see at eBay is that the clothing, shoes, and accessories category is one of our strongest categories. People love the deep selection and the deals that they find on eBay, and the diversity of high end products that they can find, really good quality products that can last over a long period of time--because they're well made--and that's everybody from the trendy, eco-fashionista to mom, and grandmas. I think the more important question is why would someone think that new is good, and that's a question we need to ask ourselves as a society.
TH: Do you have statistics supporting the environmental impact/landfill diversion of reused products?
ASC: We did some research with a third party social venture firm in the Bay area called Cooler. We worked with them to understand the global warming and climate change implications of buying used on eBay vs. buying new at the mall. What we found was pretty astonishing: Take the case of the leather handbag. Those purchased from 2006 to 2008 on eBay, was equivalent to [the impact of] planting 2 million trees. Last year in 2008, the sale of pre-owned laptop computers saved 96,000 tons of CO2--these are just two products against 50,000 product categories.
On eBay we sell about $2,000 worth of goods every second. When you think about the fact that the majority of those are used, vintage, or pre-owned, we start to think about creative reuse on a grand scale, that may not be happening anywhere else in the world. It gives us a pretty unique opportunity to engage consumers in the magic that happens when buyer and seller meet.
TH: With upcoming announcements in 2010 on fuel cell and a new data center under wraps, can you share the progress of reducing corporate greenhouse gas emissions by 15% by 2012?
ASC: We announced out commitment earlier this year to a 15% reduction in absolute carbon emission by 2012 (by 2008 standards). As we looked across our businesses we realized that our energy use for managing data and technology was one of the biggest pieces of our corporate footprint. This is actually relatively small compared to many companies because we don't operate anything or manufacture anything. Our business is projected to grow rapidly, so this challenge becomes much more significant.
We have a three part strategy, the first is really smart energy conservation. There is a lot more we can do within our own facilities and actually conserving and consolidating the energy that we're using and use less of it. We have also made a lot of investment in renewable technologies. We have the largest solar instillation in the city of San Jose, California on our roof. We have explored fuel cell technology and we're looking at any range of renewable options that are going to help us meet our carbon reduction goal.
Finally, and this is where the eBay Green Team plays in, there is a percentage of that goal that we're assigning to our employee behavior change (15,000 people). It's mainly going to be in the realm of travel and office behavior. We believe that it's very important that we get the entire company culturally on board with the concept of conserving and being efficient in our use of energy.
TH: What steps are being taken to change employee behavior?
ASC: The Green Team is structured as an informal network of facilitators across the company, most are volunteers. One of the first things that we've done is put up some informational signs. For example, we have a picture of a butterfly above a copier that says "Nature Prints...Double Sided, Shouldn't You?" Then we actually aggregate it and say if every employee switched to double sided here's how many sheets of paper is would save and here's the impact it could have on the world. Help people see that can be a part of the solution.
The beauty of eBay is that across 89 million active users and an employee population of 15,000 we actually have aggregating power and so we can actually show what our efforts can do for the planet.
More at eBay Green Team.