Etsy's hundreds of employees last month moved into one former warehouse building in Brooklyn's iconic Watchtower complex, formerly the world headquarters of the Jehovah's Witnesses.
The office is a 200,000-square-foot haven for all things reclaimed and handmade and ecologically aware and sustainable. The massive project had been in the works for about two years.
There are the hundreds of items of furniture and installations, roughly half of which were designed and crafted and--in some cases--upholstered (without the fire-retardant chemicals) by local independent artisans. The treads on the stairwell are planks of wood salvaged from a water tower removed from the building's roof.
And there are native grasses and ferns now replacing the water tower on the roof, which employees can use for meetings, lunch, or breaks. And, well, non-employees can use it, too. Says Devon Leahy, Etsy's director of sustainability and social innovation: "We are trying to create a habitat for local birds."
Two other outdoor spaces are accessible from the building's fifth floor. Josh Wise, Etsy's director of workplace ecology and design compared one of them to a "stoop," and says the other is "kind of like a back porch." Aha! A habitat for the local humans of Brooklyn.
"There is lighting and connectivity out there," Wise says. "It's a great place to step outside if you don't have time to fully get out."
Oh, and 20 percent of the roof is covered in solar panels. But it's for show: a token, if you will. Sure, they function, but they contribute only a small amount of energy to the building. Instead, they represent the company's commitment to be 100 percent powered by renewable energy by 2020.
"The real strategy behind our sustainability scope was based on aligning Etsy's values and our community," Leahy says. "We spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of standards and certifications were out there."
What Etsy pursued was the Petal Certification and the Living Building Challenge. These certifications involve meeting complex sustainability markers--with the goal being for the building itself to produce a net positive of energy, and have a net positive environmental impact.
And part of that "impact" is to be a net positive force specifically for the company's surrounding Brooklyn waterfront community. To that end, Etsy isn't doing the stereotypical tech-startup meal plan, or even starting its own full-service cafeteria. That's because it wants to support local shops and restaurants as much as possible. Instead of having an industrial-scope cafeteria, the company will bring in local chefs and caterers to do meals one at a time, twice a week.
And it has built sustainability into the office--in fact, every single nook and cranny of the office. In considering materials used in flooring, installations, desks--really, everything--there was an emphasis on finding non-toxic materials, locally sourced, and created by individual artisans or small companies.
"We can say we have the healthiest materials in this space. We've vetted some 1,500 individual products," Leahy says. "Each of those products represents at least a conversation with the manufacturer of toxicity of materials used."
Now that hundreds of employees have fully moved into the new space, the biggest reaction, according to Leahy and Wise, is to the natural light and open feel of the space.
"I've heard people say today, I'm really gonna work better. You feel better here with all the daylight," Leahy says.
Wise adds: "It feels kind of healthier and more serene--but also more efficient and functional. It's a good combination."