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Sustainability takes community: Why Etsy made measuring cloud energy use easier for everyone

November 15, 2022
Matt A.V. Chaban

Senior Editor, Transform

Working with Google Cloud's OCTO, Etsy developed Cloud Jewels to track its energy use, and now it's sharing it with the world.

If you're looking for jewels, you can find them in abundance on Etsy, the online marketplace for creators, crafters, and collectors of all stripes (and other patterns). There’s bulk bags of gemstones, exquisite vintage engagement rings, and rare orchids, to name a few. 

Hidden beneath them all is a collection of a different kind: Etsy’s Cloud Jewels, which help measure the efficiency of the company’s cloud operations. And whereas all those other gems, baubles, and bulbs may cost you a pretty penny, Etsy is giving its Cloud Jewels away — all for the sake of the planet.

Etsy has been a long-time environmental champion, and even chose to operate on Google Cloud in part because it’s considered the industry’s cleanest cloud. And they know that one of the most important steps for reducing a company’s impact isn’t simply implementing efficient systems but also measuring them to ensure they’re running optimally. 

“When we’re talking about a website’s carbon footprint, we’re talking about the energy that it takes behind the scenes to run the databases, run the servers,” Katie Sundstrom, an engineer at Etsy, said. “In order for a company to reduce its carbon footprint, they have to be able to measure their carbon footprint. That’s essential.”

It seems obvious — to reduce your impact, you need the data — but it’s not always so easy to understand exactly how much energy you’re using, whether that's on your cloud servers or in your business overall. That's what makes measurement so important. 

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When Etsy relied on its own data centers to power its marketplace, the engineering team had straightforward access to its energy usage information. When Etsy moved to Google Cloud, it became one of hundreds of customers across industries trying to make sense of its energy data.

And so a team of engineers at Etsy devised Cloud Jewels two years ago. As they explained upon launch, Cloud Jewels “help us roughly convert our cloud usage information (like Google Cloud usage data) into approximate energy used.” A Cloud Jewel equates to roughly one kilowatt hour of energy used running virtual machines, RAM, storage, and networking in the cloud. 

Etsy is using Cloud Jewels, which have been peer reviewed by experts at PwC, to meet its goal of reducing its energy intensity by 25% from 2020 to 2025.

If Etsy had stopped there, the company’s efforts to understand and reduce its carbon impact would have been impressive enough. Community has always been at the heart of Etsy’s business, though. So just as it does with its sellers’ 100 million-plus listings — like cool modernist quilts or antique Tiffany tumblers — the team at Etsy wanted to share its discovery with the world. It wanted to give away its Jewels.

A green network effect, made possible by your network

In the early days of cloud computing, there was fairly widespread concern that all those vast networks of remote servers would consume large amounts of energy, leading to considerable carbon footprints. The predictions of the past decade have not come to pass, though, as much of that computing power would have taken place anyway, and more importantly, the hyperscale clouds have been designed with efficiency and net-zero goals in mind — helping keep our technical advances from advancing greenhouse gasses, as well.

Furthermore, the cloud allows for the hyperscaling of sustainability initiatives built upon it. It’s how, for example, Etsy is able to offer Cloud Jewels as an open-source sustainability tool. 

When Etsy first began developing Cloud Jewels, it worked with a team in Google Cloud’s Office of the CTO, or OCTO, a collaborative innovation group of top technologists inside Google. Together, they built an API containing cloud usage data, which Etsy was then able to use to extrapolate its energy consumption.

Etsy's programmers worked with OCTO to go into the inner workings of Google Cloud and build more accurate models of energy usage.

And because Etsy's technology was already built on APIs, it could easily and securely share Cloud Jewels with the greater cloud community, encouraging them to implement it and better understand their energy consumption as they work to reduce it. This would magnify both Etsy’s work and its mission. 

“What Google has allowed us to do is to share our position much more broadly,” Etsy CTO Mike Fisher said. “So we’ve gotten a bigger voice than we could’ve on our own. That’s made even more impact.” 

“If we can add another 10 companies,” he added, “we’ve actually had a bigger impact externally than internally.” 

The virtuous circle doesn’t end there, either. OCTO is set up to be a give-and-take of innovation — and Etsy gave as good as it got. 

Along with other partners, Etsy helped push Google Cloud to make more data on energy usage more accessible. The result was Carbon Footprint, announced in October 2021, a product that provides Google Cloud customers with their gross carbon emissions associated with their platform usage.

“While we definitely know that we’ve reduced our energy consumption, what we were missing is the actual monitoring of energy,” Fisher said. “Google came in and said, ‘How do we partner with you to solve these problems?’”

It's a challenge most every organization is now looking to solve. 

“The corporate carbon footprint is so important to keep in mind because its impact is so huge,” Sundstrom said. “OCTO gave us an incredible platform to share this work, and gave us access to people we wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.”

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