This generation seems to be really looking at each other for inspiration, and unfortunately I think it’s fair to say that the adults have failed them — in everything from the environment, to gender and racial equality, to school shootings. It’s not the adults that are pushing these kids; they’re seeing the situation that’s in front of them and deciding to take charge themselves, because nobody else is going to do it for them. It’s unfortunate but I think it’s fair to say that previous generations have failed these kids.
As part of my series about what we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Parkin. Jason is the Founder, President, and CCO of Compose[d] a digital creative services agency in NYC, that for the past 9 years has been creating digital experiences for some of the world’s top brands, and is now utilizing that expertise to help brands move towards sustainable initiatives, and building campaigns around them. He has more than 20 years of experience specializing in creative strategy, interactive/user-centered design, and animation. He is a founder and former Design Director of Motionbox, a personal video sharing company that was acquired by HP Snapfish in 2010, where he helped create a then new, and now widely used interface for viewing online video. His work has been recognized by various award bodies including the Webby’s, the MIN Best of the Web Awards, OMMA, and the One Show Interactive Awards. Prior to founding Compose[d], he was the Creative Director for Maxim Digital — where he headed up all creative for both advertising and editorial content, and Art Director for CondéNet’s Creative Services division. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Jason lives in Harlem with his wife Nicky and their dogs Shiloh and Ryder. He is USCF Category 3 bicycle racer, ice hockey player, hiker, rookie climber, and photographer in his limited spare time.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up in Cleveland, OH; the only child of a single-mother who was a journalist. I was spending time at the local journalist watering hole, playing with matchbox trucks on the bar, while eating grilled cheese, drinking Shirley Temples, and having pearls of wisdom extolled on me from various reporters; one who would go on to become the first African American Editor-in-Chief of the “Detroit Free Press”.
I was always an artistic and active kid, and my mom instilled in me very early on, the values of recycling, not being wasteful, and human equality.
Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?
It’s been a goal of Compose[d] for a few years now to put a focus on working with brands that were “doing well by doing good”. We were lucky enough to work with (and continue to) one such brand Alaffia, which is one of the top selling body care brands in Whole Foods, and was founded with the primary goal of getting the nation of Togo out of Poverty.
About a year and a half ago, we attended our first Outdoor Retailer conference, and it was a bit of a catalyst in seeing how many brands were starting to focus on sustainability — it was definitely the theme of the show. In addition to that, we met Derek Sabori, who’s a sustainability consultant and educator, and he’s been both inspirational, and a tremendous resource of information. At the same time, I started having some great conversations with a gentleman named Ted Van Hessen, who’s been adamant that agencies bear the responsibility of leading their clients just as much as they serve them.
Merge all of that together, and it clearly defined both our point of view, and the direction that we’re taking our company in: one where we’re now not only looking to work with brands focusing on sustainability and purpose driven values, but also how we can help our traditional clients start to work their way into this area. We’re doing that by providing consumer insights around these topics (a division that we launched earlier this year); identifying partners such as organizations like Sea Trees, which focuses on Ocean Reforestation; leveraging our relationships to make sure that messages will hold true in the sustainable communities; and finally, utilizing all of our experience from the past nine years that we’ve been in business, with the multitude of amazing expertise that our team has from their past careers, in order to creating compelling, engaging content and experiences for some of the top brands in the world. The great thing about where we’re at right now is that these values have moved beyond corporate altruism, and are now necessary business practices for brands that expect to be relevant in the very near future.
I genuinely believe that brands that don’t make the move towards sustainability are going to be like the brands that didn’t embrace digital, and four to five years from now, they’ll be scrambling to catch-up, or will go under.
Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?
Honestly, I think it’s the other way around, and it’s the young people that are inspiring us. The global population is the youngest it’s ever been, with 50 percent of the global population being 30 or under, and the top issue for this group is climate change. Whether we are talking about Greta Thunberg (age 16) and all the attention that she’s brought to the issue, Isra Hirsi (age 16), the co-founder of the U.S. Youth Climate Strike, or Autumn Peltier (age 13), the Chief Water Commissioner for the Anishinabek Nation, this generation has continually inspired their own peers as well as us older Gen Xers.
This is the generation that’s really going to get this pushed through, and besides taking an active role in it, they’ve changed the purchase decisions in their own homes even before they have income. I’ve seen some estimates that Gen Z has purchase power of $148 Billion in 2019. That’s only going to grow, and they’re going to continue to vote with their wallets.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
Sure, on a personal level, it’s just continuing to look at the small things in daily life that add up. From the obvious things like using reusable bags and bottles, to switching to a great new product called Stasher, which offers reusable silicone based bags for all of the food items at home. Also, purchasing from a lot of the resale clothing companies like ThredUp (which my wife uses non-stop) and The Real Real (resale and upcycled clothing has been big for Gen Z as well), looking at more ways to ride a bike around the city, composting, switching to 100 percent clean energy for our home, and working on initiatives to do the same with our Condo board.
We unfortunately have less control at the office, but we absolutely enforce recycling policies, work to keep energy efficient practices, any schwag that we create (which is minimal) uses products from brands like Upcycle LA which has a full line of recycled (made from plastic bottles, and recycled cotton) t-shirts and totes. We’re trying to find ways to utilize solar for various tasks, but it’s a bit of a work-in-progress just due to some of the confines of the city.
For both business and personal, we make sure to support and donate to causes that are direct action non-profits for things like reforestation and conservation.
Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks things that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?
Probably one of the biggest in my mind is to reduce. We grew up with the “Reduce, reuse, and recycle” which is great, but the more that we can reduce the better. To that point, anything that someone can do to reduce plastic use (again, something like Stasher, which I have zero affiliation with by the way) or carbon emissions, such as turning your engine off instead of idling, are huge.
Second, would be to vote. Focus on electing leaders who listen to scientists and will make informed and positive commitments to the environment in public policy.
And lastly, look at reducing the meat in your diet, and also eating more mussels when you have an option for seafood. If cows were their own country, they would be third in the world as far as greenhouse gas emitters go. Mussels on the other hand, are easy to cultivate, have a very small footprint, are low on the food chain, packed with Omega 3s, and filter and improve the water quality where they grow. So not only are you not depleting our oceans of marine-life, but they’re also really delicious!
Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
Similar to what I said about inspiring young people to become environmental leaders, I think it’s the same case here. This generation seems to be really looking at each other for inspiration, and unfortunately I think it’s fair to say that the adults have failed them — in everything from the environment, to gender and racial equality, to school shootings. It’s not the adults that are pushing these kids; they’re seeing the situation that’s in front of them and deciding to take charge themselves, because nobody else is going to do it for them. It’s unfortunate but I think it’s fair to say that previous generations have failed these kids.
That said, I think there are obvious things that parents can do such as just building good habits in their own children: reducing what they use, reusing as much as possible, buying locally, composting, and instilling solid environmental values. But to be honest, these kids are learning all of this already from their friends and their devices. A lot times they are the ones educating their parents! I think a great example is a very good friend of mine, his nine year old daughter is a vegetarian, demands that they buy organic food, cut waste, don’t use plastic, and advocates they buy and use anything that is sustainable. This isn’t because my friend and his wife are push-overs (VERY far from it), but their daughter is engaged, educated, and sees climate change happening right in front of her eyes, and she wants to do everything she can about it, because she wants (and deserves) a habitable planet for her, and everyone one of her generation to grow old, and live a full life on.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
Stop with the analysis paralysis and just commit to it. The data is there that this is what consumers want and are demanding, and it’s not something that isn’t going to pan out as long as you are genuine in your actions. Our most recent insight study showed that 77 percent of Millennials and Gen Z beauty consumers would switch to a sustainable product that offered the result that they were looking for. I think it’s pretty clear that if you’re not going to make that shift in your product, that someone else will, and our numbers show that the consumers will switch allegiances as soon as they find out about it, or at least give it a try.
The other big piece of advice that I would give is that if you are a larger traditional brand, don’t be afraid of talking about any and all efforts that you’re making. Sustainability is a journey, and it’s not about where you’ve been, but where you’re headed. We’ve heard from a number of brands that are nervous about promoting a new product or effort because they’re afraid that they’re going to be put under a lens and scrutinized over everything else that they’re doing. As long as you’re honest about your intention, and where you’re headed, I think that’s really the main message that consumers want to hear.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are a number of people that I’m grateful for that have helped get me to where I am today, and set me up for where we’re going. I think across the board, I’ve been really lucky to have some amazing teachers, mentors/bosses, and friends. If one thing stands out though, I would say that the way that my mom brought me up — by always encouraging me in whatever I was into, and never telling me that I couldn’t do something — was pretty inestimable as far as influence goes.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Oh man, that one is tricky as there are so many important areas out there that need to be addressed. Besides sustainability and looking to make as close to a zero percent impact on the earth as possible, I think reforestation in general and particularly for our oceans is key. I’ve been really inspired by the guys at Sea Trees lately, and I think that would be one effort in particular that I’d love to see really accelerate into a movement. The oceans are the blood of our planet, and if they’re not healthy then we’re all in real trouble. What I love about their platform is that it’s set up to empower local communities around the world by essentially creating jobs for people to reforest the oceans, create habitats for ocean species, and sequester carbon out of our atmosphere — everything from kelp forests to mangroves to coral reefs.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
“The point of a business is to make life better for other people.” I heard Richard Branson say that, and it immediately stuck. It genuinely embodies everything that I’ve put at the core of our company: from our office culture, to how we treat our clients, and the efforts that we’re now really leaning into to help brands with sustainability efforts.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
@jasonparkin and @composednyc on Instagram.
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
About the author:
Penny is an environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur. She’s worked as a climate scientist, an environmental planner, and a wilderness park ranger. Motivated by a passion to raise a generation of environmental leaders, in 2010 Penny founded Green Kid Crafts, a children’s media company that provides kids around the world with convenient and eco-friendly STEAM activities. Today, it’s become a leader in the subscription industry, with over 1 million packages shipped worldwide that have exposed a generation to think about and take a leadership role in sustainability. Penny, her husband Jeff, and her children Rowan and Declan live together in San Diego, California. She holds a B.A. in Environmental Management and an M.S. in Environmental Science. Penny has over 20 years of experience in entrepreneurship, management, strategy and finance. She’s a seasoned leader, an inspiring speaker, an encouraging business mentor, and a creative writer. You can learn more about Green Kid Crafts at https://www.greenkidcrafts.com/ and follow Penny’s stories and updates at https://www.instagram.com/greenkidcrafts/ and https://twitter.com/bauderpenny.