The View from the C-Suite: eBay CEO John Donahoe

View from the C-Suite

The View from the C-Suite: eBay CEO John Donahoe

Founded only 15 years ago, eBay is the world's largest online marketplace. eBay enables over 90 million users to buy and sell almost anything: "Whatever it is, you can get it on eBay."

Last year, $60 billion worth of goods transacted -- $2,000 every second. eBay's business model enables the recycling of goods -- cars, electronics, vintage and vogue fashion. In 2007, Libby Reder and 39 co-workers launched the Green Team to help eBay "go greener." Their mission: "Inspiring the world to buy, sell and think green every day "

GreenBiz.com's Heather King talks with CEO John Donahoe about sustainable commerce, the importance of authenticity, his buzz on Bloom fuel cells, and helping his mother clean out her closets.


Are eBay employees still the primary driver for eBay's green strategy, or are your users becoming more of a factor?

Yes and yes. Although eBay employees started the conversation about greening our plant and our operations, that conversation has expanded into our user community.

Our Green Team started small and local. It is now global. Last year, the 2,400 employee members invited buyers and sellers to join. Already, 225,000 have opted in.

What does it take to join eBay's Green Team? Do you have guidelines or requirements for members?

Consumers don't like to be told what to do; they like to discover it for themselves. The Green Team enables communication in our user community. It helps concerned buyers evaluate and select more sustainable products. It helps concerned sellers become greener merchants. The heartening thing is that this field has become mainstream.

Some online retailers, like Amazon, provide consumers information about the greenhouse gas impact of their business. eBay has researched GHG savings, and even savings of specific items. I don't see this data posted.

Amy Skoczlas Cole, the leader of our environmental strategy, feels strongly that leading companies have authenticity, and that it is more important to 'do' than 'talk.'

eBay is inherently a more sustainable commerce model. We enable a marketplace for recycled goods and we keep customers from having to get in cars and shop at a brick and mortar, all of which make for a carbon intensive shopping experience. Pierre [Omidyar, the founder of eBay] saw online retail as a business opportunity. Yet, eBay's model is inadvertently green. This puts us further down the sustainability curve. But we try to maintain humility, keep learning and share our best practices.

{related_content}Initially, we shared what we learned from making our building one of the greenest in Silicon Valley. We shared what we learned by working with the USPS about hassle free, flat rate shipping.

Now, we are ready to play a greater role in educating people. We are exploring ways to encourage greener buying behaviors in the context of our "free market' system.

When you became CEO, you were described as "intuitively understanding eBay as the world's largest recycler." Yet, during your tenure, the mix of merchandise sold has shifted dramatically. Last year, over 70 percent of the goods transacted on eBay were brand new.

Our emphasis is on secondary market goods -- excess inventory and overstock, as well as used and pre-owned items. We bring efficiency into the market. A more efficient market means a more efficient planet.

Earlier this year, you suggested that, ultimately, online retail would resemble offline retail. As the largest online retailer, do you draw any inspiration from the largest offline retailer -- Walmart -- especially when it comes to instituting sustainability strategies?

eBay Green PromotionI wouldn't call us an online Walmart, but I do think Walmart has embraced green in a very authentic way. I similarly want to make it authentic for eBay. I want to empower our employees, buyers, and sellers to do more good things.

Looking forward, eBay has set certain goals, such as reducing its carbon footprint 15 percent by 2012. What will eBay look like ten years from now, on its 25th birthday, and how will you measure that success?

We want to be an innovator. We want to make it easy to list, easy to sell, and easy to buy. Our new iPhone app is a perfect example. In the past, it has been cumbersome to post goods for sale. As a result, some goods that could have been resold ended up in landfill. With eBay's iPhone app, my mother can go into her closet, take photos of a coat she's ready to pass on, describe it and list it in less than a minute.

The same will be true with mobile payments. We will make it easier for people to buy and sell wherever they are.

We also support innovations that help the efficiency of our operations. We were an early installation for Bloom's fuel cell architecture. The exciting thing about Bloom is that it represents the tip of the iceberg for clean energy advancements.

Ultimately, our goal is to expand our active community globally. The beauty of eBay's business model is that as we scale the business, we scale our impact on sustainability. The bigger we get, the more good we can do for the planet.