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Family-Run Green Ecommerce Business

 - Feb 16, 2012
References: trendhunter
Greg Seaman is the founder of Eartheasy, an ecommerce platform that sells environmentally-conscious lifestyle products. We recently wrote a Social Business profile on the company, and today we're taking the opportunity to learn more about Greg and the family business he has been able to create. In the questions below he shares what it's like working with his two sons and wife, his personal journey as a social entrepreneur, and how he stays inspired on that path.

5 Questions with Greg Seaman, Founder of Eartheasy

1. How did the idea for the business model come about?
During the first year or two of building the site, I made a conscious decision to not think about a business model. Eartheasy began as a "content" site, and the goal was to create content which would be as informative as possible. I did not want the content to be corrupted by "seo" (search engine optimization) formatting schemes, and I did not want site visitors to feel the content was merely designed to get them to buy products.

This strategy was not entirely naïve from a business point of view. I felt that quality content would eventually build traffic, and once there was significant traffic it would be possible to monetise the site.

To earn some income in the first years, I sold links on certain content pages, which helped make ends meet. Then I started peppering in some Google ads, and then graduated to more specifically targeted affiliate ads. A few businesses also paid for annual ad spots on some pages. This all added up to a very modest amount, but my cost of living is low since our lifestyle leans towards self-reliance. Eventually I learned about ‘drop-shipping’ and decided that it would not compromise the integrity of the Composting page by offering a composter to sell. In fact, it would enhance the page. As obvious as this seems, it was an epiphany for me at the time!

Today, Eartheasy carries over 500 products and has grown into a healthy business. But I still feel we need to guard the integrity of our site by stocking only products which contribute to sustainable living. We have to remind ourselves that profit is a by-product of providing solutions to sustainable living, and not a priority in itself.

2. How did you decide to join this sector?
As a child I spent much of my free time in the beautiful natural woodlands of Long island which were a source of recreation and inspiration. Over the years I lamented the loss of many natural areas given over to development. I also witnessed the pressure on my parents to keep up with unrelenting demands for consumption, for ‘social status’, and how these demands took a toll on family life.

As a young man I was able to witness the impact our modern lifestyles have had on the environment through my experience working for the American Museum of Natural History. I supervised the Centennial Exhibit, called "Can Man Survive?", which illustrated the extent to which our collective way of life was unsustainable. Having been exposed to this knowledge, and having a love of nature, I wanted to chart a life for myself which could explore ways of living with less impact on the environment, and with more focus on family.

For the next 30 years I lived and raised a family in a beautiful natural environment and tried to put my beliefs and ideals into practice. The experience has been rewarding
beyond expectations, and I learned that one can find happiness and fulfillment while having a small environmental footprint. And by living simpler lives, closer to the pace of nature, my wife and I had lots of time to spend with our children which is of immeasurable value. I felt an obligation to share what I learned with others, and so developing the Eartheasy website was a natural progression which came more by instinct than calculation.

3. You run a family business. How often do you all work from the same place, or is it always virtual?
We very much enjoy the ‘virtual’ aspect of this business. We are able to conform the business to our lifestyles rather than the other way around. Ben, Aran and Dana work from a central location which facilitates their sharing of information and receiving business communications, and my wife and I are able to continue our lifestyles from a more remote location while still contributing to the business.

We also have a warehouse and team based in Wisconsin which manages order fulfillment. This location was chosen for the purpose of centralized shipping, so shipping costs would be similar coast to coast.

From a strictly business point of view it would probably be better if we had more face time to ensure we are working in concert with our shared goals. But by working apart much of the time, the boys have become more independent, and have advanced the business in ways I would not have predicted. All things considered, I think the business is healthier due to its virtual nature.

4. How do you get your inspiration?
My inspiration comes from visitors to the Eartheasy site. During the first years of developing the site, I envisioned my goal as crossing a wide river. Every now and then I would receive an email from someone expressing support or sharing knowledge. In my mind, these emails were like little stepping stones to help me cross the river. They would arrive just when I needed them, the timing was uncanny. It sounds corny, but I owe much of Eartheasy’s success to these strangers who reached out in support. They have no idea how important their comments were to me, and today I still value the input from site visitors above all else.

5. How do you reset yourself to be creative? Do you have any rituals?
I used to think creativity was a skill that one either had or did not have. Over time, I’ve come to believe that creativity exists within us all, and can be accessed when conditions allow. For me, the best way to nurture creativity is to get out into nature, alone and with no technology. For every day spent in creative writing, it takes me two days of non-creative activity to recharge. Of course, there are many aspects of this business which are mundane, and not particularly creative, so productivity can continue on other levels.

There are times when I feel unable to meet the challenges of the day, or feel dwarfed by expectations, often self-imposed. It can be dispiriting when poring through information every day about the state of our environment, and maintaining a balanced perspective can be daunting at times. During these moments, I go to the shore, kneel down and put my hands in the water. This simple ritual makes me feel connected with the planet in a sublime moment of peace. Invariably, this restores optimism and energy, and confirms my belief that we are all part of a single organism whose well-being we are drawn to protect.