Makers make ready for climate change
Climate disasters pose unique risks for craftworkers, who often operate their businesses from their homes on thin margins.
Across the United States, outdoor markets brimming with local produce, pastries and crafts are a summer staple. But this summer’s extreme heat forced the closure of hundreds of these events.
For Aaliyah Taylor, the cancelation of markets in Alabama during summer heat waves was more than an inconvenience or disappointment — it represented a substantial financial loss.
By day, Taylor works as a children’s librarian in Birmingham, Alabama. But in the evenings she painstakingly pieces together jewelry and other accessories from tiny, vibrant beads in her home. Taylor relies on outdoor events to supplement what she earns durig her day job and selling her handiwork online.
Tens of thousands of makers and craftworkers — the majority of whom work out of their homes — are increasingly feeling the impacts of a dangerously destabilized climate.
In many U.S. cities, more than 90% of maker businesses are Black, Latino or Indigenous-owned. These communities are often hardest hit by disasters and receive less federal support after the fact.
“We hear from makers all the time struggling to keep their businesses going in the face of increasing climate disasters,” says Rebecca van Bergen, Founder and Executive Director at Nest, a nonprofit that empowers and supports makers and artisans in 120 countries. “From makers in New York who had their studios flooded in Hurricane Ida to artisans in Hawaii who lost everything in the fires in Maui, climate change is having a devastating impact on these small-scale craftworkers, many of whom are women and minorities.”
Artisans and makers face unique challenges from climate change
This summer, Nest partnered with Etsy and Environmental Defense Fund to launch a climate research initiative to understand the impact of climate change and climate disasters on this small and understudied community.
The team is creating resources and tools to help makers and artisans in the U.S. access support both before and after a climate disaster.
“Climate change poses unique challenges for makers,” says Sinduri Soundararajan, an EDF Climate Corps fellow who worked with Nest and Etsy on the project. “Because most of these craftworkers run their business out of their home, there’s this duplication of destruction: damage to one means damage to the other.”
An artisan’s guide to disaster preparation
Taking measures to prepare for a disaster can be challenging for makers.
Most small businesses operate on thin margins, and most makers say their primary source of funding is their personal savings. Expensive home upgrades that could protect their businesses down the line, are often out of reach, financially.
And while federally-funded programs may exist to help small businesses prepare for climate change, many of the federal disaster-preparedness programs are only made available after a disaster strikes and most are provided to communities, not directly to households or businesses.
The team’s first guide is designed to help artisans prepare for disasters by providing information on actions that can be taken ahead of time to lower losses from disasters or make recovery easier. This includes explaining different types of insurance, and how to properly document supplies and inventory that might be damaged in an extreme weather event. It also offers tips on business continuity planning and simple home-hardening measures that can prevent expensive damage.
For Taylor’s business, flooding is a major risk. She keeps thousands of dollars of inventory at home — a first floor apartment near the Cahaba River, which routinely threatens to overflow its banks.
“If I lost all of those pieces, I would never be able to make them all again,” says Taylor. “I don’t know how I would keep on doing this.”
Navigating disaster relief
The second guide walks makers through the byzantine disaster recovery process.
“For makers, filling out disaster relief applications is a minefield, where one wrong word could make you ineligible for thousands of dollars of aid,” said Soundararajan.
The guide covers how to document damage, and how to apply for grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and loans from the Small Business Administration — two federal agencies that provide disaster relief — to maximize support for home-run businesses.
The team also created a database of organizations and nonprofits that offer grants, tax incentives and other resources to help makers fund their recovery and resilience efforts.
“As a small business owner, I wear a lot of different hats,” says Taylor. “I’m in charge of design and production, managing inventory, marketing, filling orders and bookkeeping. If my business does suffer damages from a disaster, I’m grateful that I’ll have everything I need in one place to help me get back to making my art.”
Following the devastating wildfires in Maui, Nest distributed initial versions of the guidebooks to makers so they had advanced access to the critical information they needed to recover.
The guides are available on Nest’s website and will soon be distributed to their network of artisans in the Makers United Guild. Etsy, co-creator and funder of the project, will also be distributing the guides to their network of sellers.
“More than ever the world needs creative entrepreneurs to help tackle the unprecedented challenges of the climate crisis,” says van Bergen of Nest. “As artists, makers are uniquely able to create beauty from chaos and think about the future in new ways.”
Hope for a warming planet
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