As part of our Industry Expert Interview series, we had the pleasure of speaking with Jenny Kalanges, Vice President of Membership at 1% for the Planet. 1% For the Planet is a global organization whose members contribute at least one percent of their annual revenue to environmental causes to protect the planet. The aim of the certification is to offer accountability, prevent greenwashing, and "certify reputable giving."
Jenny’s career to date has been, self-admittedly, anything but linear. The one constant throughout her time at companies like April Cornell, Facebook, Mamava, and Ursa Major Skincare, has been her ability to connect with people and help them thrive. That skill has proven to be of enormous benefit in her current role at 1%. Check out our conversation with her below:
KSV: One of the areas of focus within your current role is to scale 1% for the Planet’s membership. Are there certain criteria that you're looking at when you're identifying potential businesses to partner with, or relationships to build?
Jenny: Commitment to the model and the movement is our number one criteria. The beauty of 1% for the Planet membership is that just about any company can join. So, whether you're already a B Corp, and you're doing all this great work in the world, and you want to add on a philanthropic piece - that’s fantastic - or it's your first foray; it's the first thing that you're able to do, or you want to do as part of your ESG or CSR mission. Both instances and anything in between are perfect.
There are also subsects of members that we are going after as we build our business development efforts for the first time at 1%. In some cases, this is a “grow where you're planted” approach. We might say, "All right, these are the industries that we know we resonate in," and the sales pitch there is really like, “Do you want to join the movement and join others who are stepping up in your industry?” There's that pitch to be made.
There's also a lot of work to do as we answer the question of “Who do we want to invite in?” or “What do we want our network to reflect?” And, is it possible that our messaging isn't resonating with certain communities or certain businesses? We know that a more diverse group of change agents will always produce better, stronger solutions to complex problems. For example, are there businesses led by specific groups - think indigenous or black led businesses, businesses within a certain region or country that we're not resonating with, and aren't joining? Why is that, and how can we go about listening, learning, and understanding how we can bring a more diverse group of perspectives into the network and really create value and impact for them and with them as a result?
KSV: Have you had that experience already where you've had that “a-ha!” moment of, oh, our message isn't resonating with X, Y, and Z, and making a pivot?
Jenny: I think because we’ve just formed this biz dev function a few months ago, it's pretty nascent in terms of the insights we’ve been able to glean, to be totally honest. One thing I can say for sure, is that for the most part, our membership base is a mix of privately-held companies. I think a really interesting challenge that I'm quite interested in is public companies, and understanding how our offerings might resonate with them, and really just get to speak to the leaders of those companies and understand what it is about the commitment that maybe feels like it's not attainable, or it's daunting, or it doesn't resonate with shareholders, etc. I think that's an interesting piece to get after, because high revenue companies are one way we're able to drive a lot of giving and awareness.
KSV: Many businesses within the past several years have been very vocal about their commitment to social impact, and their commitment to change, but still struggle to get out of that commitment bubble, and transition into action. How do you feel that 1% is helping them make that transition?
Jenny: At our very core, we exist to inspire action and commitment so that our planet and future generations thrive. What I love about 1% specifically is that by becoming a member, you're not only making the commitment, but that commitment is the action.
Many companies approach responsible business as a fair weather commitment like, "these are our goals, and we're going to do our best this year to reach them when we can," whether it's donations, or volunteer time, or emissions, or any of that, and they're sort of backing into those goals depending on how things go. And if they don't hit them, they don't hit them, and they cut their losses and move on. It's short-sighted. Because the impact on the planet and communities - the taking of natural resources - that still happened, and they’ve not held themselves accountable for the damage. When you sign up to be a 1% member, you’re committing upfront each year. You're saying, "No matter what, I'm committing to this amount that I'm donating every single year, year after year." And we hold you to it. We help you figure out how to make it work for your company. We’re accountability partners through and through.
I think our model also really helps with decision paralysis when it comes to sustainability or responsible business. There are so many options out there, and so many things you could do that it can start to feel overwhelming or hard to measure. 1% of sales is simple. And if you are one of those companies that wants to do a lot of different stuff, and you want to have your employees volunteer, or you want to invest in offsets, or you want to use paid marketing to share your story, we have programs to support that too. But you don't necessarily have to do all of that. It could just be about one relationship with one nonprofit that you really want to foster and give to. All of it helps. And all of it counts. It's the commitment to the action that really makes it meaningful.
KSV: We've seen, as 1% has grown significantly over the past few years, that the ease of translating that commitment as a member into action, is highly effective. Do you attribute that growth over the past couple of years to that a-ha moment of people being like, ‘Okay, I can make this commitment, and I can make this action at the same time,' or to what do you attribute that growth?
Jenny: We were surprised by the growth, thinking that people would invest less in philanthropy during an economic downturn and a pandemic. But, what we saw was actually the exact opposite - people really got down to what really matters. And I think the same is true of companies and how they were led during that time.
We saw such a huge influx of joins and inquiries for membership with 1%. We essentially doubled our number of members in two years. I think the other thing that's true is that a lot of small businesses were started during that time, and 90% of our network is small businesses. A lot of those people who started their own business at that time really wanted that mission-driven piece. And 1% is such an awesome way to do that. We don't have revenue thresholds or many of the barriers that other certification qualifications hold so it's quite attainable.
KSV: It’s interesting that the majority of 1%’s membership is small businesses.
Jenny: Yeah, absolutely. They are our multipliers, so they're the ones that… a lot of times…you see out there in their communities making a difference.
KSV: You talked about 1% looking to scale a little bit, and growing this sales component, which is still new to the business. How do you balance that idea of scaling and continuing to grow with keeping the purpose-driven mission and focus really front and center?
Jenny: What we've learned is it comes down to our people. If we ensure that our people are aligned with our values and our mission, then that will shine through. And that's not an easy task, but I would say it's our number one focus as leaders at 1% for the Planet. It is what we spend the most time thinking about, talking about, and working on, is ensuring that our internal systems are aligned with our values.
KSV: Do you feel that the focus on this idea of the employee-centered workplace has really grown in the past couple of years? And do you think that it's a missed opportunity for brands that are plowing ahead without stopping to focus on employee satisfaction?
Jenny: Mm-hmm, I do. I think it's a huge missed opportunity. Our employees, our teams, are the foundation of the impact that we create, period. If they're not communicating well, if they're not feeling supported, happy, they don't have what they need, the long term results will not be as good and the health and success of the organization will falter.
I still think it's an employee market right now, and I think it's a good thing. I think it should really inspire leaders to delve a little bit more deeply into the listening aspect of their roles, to hear what people need, and what they want, and to try to the best of their ability to create the conditions for their people to be - as our CEO Kate Williams often says - “wildly successful.”
KSV: When businesses scale and grow so quickly, as quickly as 1% has, inevitably there has to be some level of burnout, or anticipated burnout, or just stress that comes along with growth, no matter how positive it might be. How do you, as an organization, tackle that?
Jenny: Yeah, it's a good question. There's so much around climate anxiety that's swirling, and then just the busy-ness of the work itself. It can be a lot to hold at times.
One thing that I loved that we invested in last year was somatics coaching - this concept of being in your body. We show up to work in bodies in front of our computer and never pause to be like, ‘What's happening right here right now? Where is my body? How is my body? Or, I haven't taken a deep breath in the last several hours.’ We trained the whole org on that. We also take our flex time and time off really seriously at 1% at all levels of the organization. Time and space to disconnect from work is deeply valued and respected. I think of this more as a work/life integration than a work/life balance.
And, I think modeling vulnerability goes a long way. When I'm feeling distracted, or tired, or whatever, I will absolutely share with my team and just open it up with "I've had a tough day or week or moment - here’s where I’m at. What’s going on for you all?" And sometimes to open things up in that way, it allows for other people to come in with their own imperfect being-ness and fosters connection.
KSV: Do you find that when having conversations with potential new members, that there is a barrier to entry because brands or organizations are worried around that whole idea of climate anxiety?
Jenny: It can be a scary topic to broach in many ways, especially when you are not an expert in it, right? And with so much cancel culture going on out there, I can totally understand why some companies may just be like, "We don't even want to touch it." But they do want to contribute.
And we, in fact, have some members who are like, "We commit to this. We do not speak about it externally," likely for those reasons. It just feels like too much, too big, too risky, whatever. Some of the expertise that we have internally can mitigate that, and can support that, especially our awesome marketing team who can help these organizations talk about the commitment they’ve made.
We haven't had people specifically say, "Oh, we're not going to do this, because we're afraid of bringing it to the surface." But I think that's an interesting point. In much of our business development materials, etc., we've had to shy away from some of that doom scrolling language. I don’t think that shame is a corrective path. In marketing and communication, it's finding the right balance of positivity and the urgency of an issue that is very real, and we want to invite companies into being part of the solution.
KSV: You have these businesses of all different sizes that are members of 1% for the Planet. How do you foster that sense of collaboration among members when there is such a huge spectrum of industries and sizes… from Mom and Pop shops to global organizations in Europe?
Jenny: Our team just started this past year actually, a Slack community group, which I think has been a really nice way to let members connect in the ways that they're interested in connecting. That felt like one of the best ways to do it, because I think in the past, account managers would work to connect people one to one, and it's just not scalable given how 1% has grown and the capacity of our team.
We believe that members are best served on a continuum of human touch and technology. Our account managers have these incredible relationships with their members and, at the same time, we’ve done a lot to improve our self-serve technology with automations, a new resource center, member portal, and will be launching a new site any day now. I think technology can really empower members to access what they need when they need it and that's a great thing.
…So yeah, launching tools like Slack for members, regional newsletters that go out every quarter - so if you live in a specific area, you'll get the news and the announcements that are specific to that region, often translated in the local language. Our team also hosts incredible member social hours each month with various themes and in different time zones. We really are working to best serve a global diverse network through these efforts.
KSV: The final question that we have for you is, how do you feel that a business's commitment to giving back impacts the output of the work that they're doing?
Jenny: We often use the term “ripples of impact” instead of return on investment. One known and powerful impact is employee engagement and satisfaction - we know that when someone feels like they're linked to a meaning or a purpose, that they feel more engaged and more excited about the work that they're doing. The same is true of talent attraction with Gen Z, and millennials, making up a good amount of the workforce.
I think the other thing that's often overlooked is the innovation and creativity that can come from this kind of commitment, this giving back. The partnerships you can forge, the stories you can tell, the projects that you can take on when you have a purpose and a reason behind what you're doing are just so much more engaging, and enriching, creative, and exciting.
The last thing is long-term preservation and regeneration. If you're protecting and nourishing the world in which you live and operate in, and you need those natural resources to be successful over time, long-term, the impact that's created by investing in those resources will ripple out for years to come.
Thank you so much for chatting with us Jenny! Learn more about 1% for the Planet’s mission and impact here, and stay tuned for future installments of this series.