Model sustainable behaviors for your kids like reducing the amount of single-use plastic in your house starting with one room. I’m working on going plastic and paper free in my kitchen. I recently switched from plastic baggies, saran wrap and aluminum foil to reusable silicone bags, reusable wax wraps, and silicon baking sheet liners.
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 Grechen Huebner, Co-Founder of Kodable. Grechen is Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer at Kodable. She founded Kodable with her co-founder Jon Mattingly in 2012 in Louisville, KY. With a marketing background by training, Grechen taught herself design so that she could create the art and world within the Kodable game. She has helped Kodable reach tens of millions of kids in every developed country around the world. A Westly Prize winner and member of the Forbes 30 under 30, she has dedicated her life to giving kids from all walks of life, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds the opportunities she wished she had as a child. In her free time, Grechen enjoys spending time in nature, climbing, and hanging out with Kodable’s Chief Morale Officer, her dog Mo.
Thank you so much for doing this with us, Grechen! 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 Louisville, Kentucky in a middle class Christian family. I was lucky to have a very happy childhood and two supportive parents. My parents set great examples for me with their entrepreneurial spirit. My dad started an insurance agency and my mom started a janitorial service. They worked very hard to afford to send my sister and me to a small private school. I was lucky that my high school offered a programming class my junior year. I was very interested in taking the class, but ultimately decided against it because I would have been the only girl in class. (Sadly, many children and teens are still discouraged from engaging in Computer Science because they feel those classes/clubs are not “for them.”) Once I was in college, I decided to start teaching myself to code. I was able to get several internships and freelance jobs with my skills, but I felt called to give kids — all kids, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic background — the chance to learn to code before college. I decided to start a company with my co-founder Jon Mattingly, giving kids a computer science education starting in elementary school.
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?
I moved to California to find investment for Kodable and because of the perfect weather and amazing landscapes, I soon started rock climbing as a hobby. I hadn’t grown up as an “outdoorsy” kid, but the problem solving as well as physical and mental triumph of rock climbing hooked me. I was quickly a true enthusiast! I took every opportunity I could to get outside and climb. On my first outdoor climbing trip, I noticed a lot of bottles, glass, and candy wrappers around, but didn’t think much of it. “This is what parks look like sometimes,” I thought. Then I noticed the people who brought me climbing started cleaning up the trash before we left. None of this trash was ours, but they filled their arms and took it all to a nearby trash can. That was a lightbulb moment for me. Since then, I’ve learned how important it is to respect and care for the environment that allows me to enjoy my new hobby. I recognize that I’m fortunate to have access to climb in the places I do. As a climber, I’m confronted with the impact people have on the environment regularly. I — and all of us — need to take care of the things we love. I must do my part to make it last for future generations. I realized then that Kodable gives me a unique opportunity to inform others about how they can take care of the environment. I try bringing sustainability, empathy and problem solving into lessons we offer in Kodable.
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?
When I am climbing, I intimately appreciate the gorgeous vistas and the nature that surrounds me. With that appreciation comes a sense of responsibility. Each day, I do more to reduce my carbon footprint and keep our environment thriving for future generations. But what one person does is not enough. Thinking beyond yourself is an important skill for every young person to learn. Thinking of those who came before you and those who will come after you has a direct impact on every aspect of your life. My dad always told me to leave something better than I found it, and this can be applied to my outdoor hobbies of rock climbing and backpacking, but it also applies to my work life and projects. In our technologically advanced world, we often spend a lot of time connected to the world only via our devices. Young people who truly understand the importance of the world beyond their bubbles will undoubtedly be environmentally conscious and hopefully will become tomorrow’s environmental leaders.
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?
Jon and I created Kodable to bring coding to children because critical thinking, as well as creativity and collaboration, are skills needed for computer science, and for tackling seemingly insurmountable societal issues. By bringing Kodable’s coding curriculum to millions of kids worldwide, we are potentially shaping the problem-solvers and environmentalists of the future. In fact, this December for Hour of Code, we will offer a beach clean-up tutorial that perfectly pairs messages of recycling and ocean health with computer science education. That’s how you not only INSPIRE the next generation, but EQUIP them with the skills necessary to act! There is no doubt that many of the issues we are facing with climate change and sustainability will be addressed by developing a deeper understanding through data analysis and creating solutions driven by technology…and coding is the basic tool needed to power of all of this work.
Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks things that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?
1. Get outside! Enjoy the environment around you and you’ll see yourself wanting to make changes in your own life to preserve its beauty. Sometimes, you must experience the environment to truly understand and appreciate the value of caring for and preserving it.
2. When you go outside, take a minute to “leave it better than you found it”. Pick up your own garbage and maybe tuck a bottle cap, a piece of glass or empty can into your backpack to throw away later.
3. Think about how you travel. Can you carpool or ride a bike or walk to your destination? It sounds small, but if each individual cuts down his carbon footprint even a little, we all will benefit.
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.
You don’t need to be an activist to be engaged in the environmental movement. Small changes and everyday activities by each person can have the biggest impact.
1. This might be redundant, but take your kids outside. Go for a hike, go to the lake, go camping, or play at a park. The more time they spend enjoying the environment as a child, the more likely they are to maintain that lifestyle as an adult. I love seeing all the outdoor families on @bornwildproject, an Instagram account that promotes sharing your love of the outdoors with your kids.
2. Model sustainable behaviors for your kids like reducing the amount of single-use plastic in your house starting with one room. I’m working on going plastic and paper free in my kitchen. I recently switched from plastic baggies, saran wrap and aluminum foil to reusable silicone bags, reusable wax wraps, and silicon baking sheet liners.
3. Grow a plant or garden together! Trying to keep something alive together is always a good way to stay engaged, especially if it’s something you can eventually eat. I recently started a garden and it is surprisingly rewarding to know exactly where your food came from when you eat it.
4. Visit a national park. Our national parks are a testament to the magnificence of nature, and they often have great programs for kids to learn about the wildlife nearby and ways to help it thrive.
5. Sit down this Saturday morning and play Kodable’s beach clean-up activity together to practice problem solving and critical thinking with a goal of cleaning up the beach. Find it here(https://www.kodable.com/hour-of-code). If you can, join or launch a real beach clean up near you!
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?
As a small team, our carbon footprint is relatively modest, but we do our part by recycling at the office and having reusable cups for water. Several members of our team ride the train, carpool or bike to work. We also allow employees to work from home two days a week to decrease their travel time.
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?
My dad has been a great role model for me throughout my life. I watched him build his own business from nothing and grow it based on providing quality, courteous service to clients. I learned how to work hard and conduct business from watching him. I don’t know if I would have the entrepreneurial spirit that helped me to co-found Kodable had it not been for the privilege of knowing, watching and learning from my dad.
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. 🙂
I would love to see more people buying used whenever possible. Many people don’t realize how much water and energy is used to make things we use every day. Over 1,800 gallons of water are used to produce a pair of jeans. Before you go out and buy something new, make a stop at a local thrift store. You’ll save some money and do a little bit to save the environment.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
“Life has to be a little nuts, otherwise it’s just a bunch of Thursdays strung together.” — Rumor Has It
When you start a company, you have a plan about how it will go and things never end up that way. Life happens and your plan changes, but that is what keeps things interesting.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
Follow me @grechennoelle on Instagram to see my climbing adventures and @grechennoelle on Twitter to keep up with what’s happening at Kodable.
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!