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Penny Bauder: “I believe that being uncomfortable is a requirement for growth”

Be okay with being uncomfortable. I’m a true introvert, although most people don’t believe it since I’m very social and not shy. But most of the things I do, from speaking at conferences, to mentoring other woman founders, to traveling internationally, to leading team meetings, make me very uncomfortable. But I do them anyway because […]


Be okay with being uncomfortable. I’m a true introvert, although most people don’t believe it since I’m very social and not shy. But most of the things I do, from speaking at conferences, to mentoring other woman founders, to traveling internationally, to leading team meetings, make me very uncomfortable. But I do them anyway because I believe that being uncomfortable is a requirement for growth.

As part of my series about “companies and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Penny Bauder. Penny is an environmental scientist-turned-entrepreneur. Motivated by a deep 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 sustainable STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) activities. Today, it’s become a leader in the subscription industry, with over 1 million packages shipped worldwide. Penny has over 20 years of experience in environmental science, entrepreneurship, management, strategy and finance.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to start on your career path?

I spent most of my childhood in the woods next to my house, and this contributed to a lifelong love of the natural world. In college I was drawn to the natural sciences, and I eventually received a B.A. in Environmental Management and an M.S. in Environmental Science. I went on to work as an environmental scientist and park ranger, working in wild areas all over the United States. In 2008, I had my first child and, like many new mothers, re-evaluated my career and my goals for the future. To inspire kids to become environmental leaders, I decided to launch Green Kid Crafts, a children’s media company that provides kids around the world with monthly educational STEAM activities.

Did you set out to start a movement? If so, what was your vision? If not, what did you imagine would be the impact of your work?

The mission of Green Kid Crafts is to encourage kids to see themselves as leaders, scientists, designers, and engineers through activities designed to help them discover, explore, and create. As an environmentalist scientist, I recognized a need for a convenient solution that would allow families to bond while enjoying screen-free, nature-based STEAM activities that fostered a child’s creativity and confidence while also empowering them to take environmental action. I knew the importance of making sustainable materials more accessible and was passionate about building a company to inspire the next generation of creative leaders that could serve as a model for environmental responsibility and corporate citizenship.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

As a lifelong environmental scientist working primarily in the field, I had a lot to learn about how operating a company worked. Green Kid Crafts was founded on a $4,000 loan from a friend. I used half of that to build our first website. The other half I enthusiastically spent on a gigantic shopping spree of random craft supplies. I had this vague idea that I would play around and experiment with the materials and then magically come up with amazing projects kids would love. As my shopping spree packages started arriving, it wasn’t too long before we had to move our car out of the garage to accommodate the deliveries. It was only after I was drowning in box after box of construction paper, glitter, paint, pom poms and glue that I realized I would probably have to get some kind of business training if Green Kid Crafts was going to succeed.

Today, our product development process is much more deliberate and intentional. We now have a product design team of scientists and STEAM specialists with backgrounds in education, art, engineering, and science. They plan, design, and test our project ideas to ensure that our products are creative and educational. And we have a test crew of kids to make sure each project is developmentally appropriate, fun, and universally liked by both boys and girls.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Green Kid Crafts has become a leader in the subscription industry, with over 1 million packages shipped worldwide. We love hearing from our young scientists, artists, and makers about how they are taking environmental action inspired by our products. From participating in river and ocean cleanup projects to launching their own businesses to starting environmentally focused groups in their schools, we are so proud of our Green Kid Community!

My passion to spark positive social and environmental change is at the very core of Green Kid Crafts, from the company vision to the way that it is translated into action. We are carbon neutral, offsetting 100% of the carbon dioxide generated by our business. We minimize packaging and use recycled and biodegradable materials. We also integrate sustainability into our box themes as much as possible; recently monthly boxes include Rainforest Science, Save our Oceans, and Green Energy. Green Kid Crafts also gives back by planting a tree for each online order and donating at least 1% of sales to environmental organizations through our membership in 1% for the Planet.

Our mission to foster the next generation of creative, environmental leaders by engaging kids with the planet in positive, hands-on ways has exposed over a million kids to think about and take a leadership role in sustainability.

Wow! Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted this cause?

One of our early Green Kid Crafts subscribers, who is now 11, started her own global non-profit group through her school called Kids Saving Critters. The purpose of Kids Saving Critters is to connect kids all over the world to learn from each other, help wildlife, and develop the skills to make communities and the world a better place. Her group connects kids around the world through wildlife projects and an internship program, and they work together to make a difference in their communities.

What are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Connect Kids with Nature. Kids need to care about nature in order to take care of it! The health of our planet depends on kids having a personal relationship with nature. But because of the decreasing space for outdoor play and the increasing temptation of electronics, children are spending more time than ever sitting inside. As with other behaviors we wish to instill in our children, connecting kids and the environment works best when we lead by example. We need to make screen-free time a priority, promote hands-on activities, and prioritize outdoor education.

Support STEAM Education. STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math) education inspires students to think more broadly and to solve real-world problems. Introducing kids to STEAM principles also provides opportunities for collaboration, allows for innovation, and has been shown to increase critical thinking. The ‘A” in STEAM is crucial. It’s typically what makes learning more project-based. But unfortunately, the arts are being pushed out of schools. They are being seen as an extravagance at a time when school budgets are facing a squeeze. We need to reverse this trend and assist kids in mastering STEAM concepts so they can solve the next wave of problems that society faces.

Reduce Single Use Plastic Waste. There is a global movement happening right now to reduce single-use plastic waste. While it’s promising to know that some world leaders are taking our plastic problem seriously, we all have to lend a hand to make a real impact. Reducing single use plastic waste is an issue that kids can really get behind, and it’s been a business practice for Green Kid Crafts since its founding. Now that this issue is gaining momentum and societal support, we need policies that promote alternatives to plastic pollution. Getting kids behind this issue improves the chances of success, since they often make their parents more aware of environmental issues.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I think leadership is less about position and more about innovation, creativity and relationships. I believe that the best leaders are those who can easily connect with other people and see and approach problems from a variety of perspectives. I especially admire those who have found ways to lead, exercise influence, and still honor their own personal values.

My personal leadership style is influenced by my introversion and my ability to empathize, collaborate, listen, reflect and think strategically. I’m also highly creative and innovative, which shows up in my tendency to ask hard questions and test assumptions in ways that traditional business leaders might not.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Your business should serve your life, not the other way around. The second year after starting my company, I knew that something had to give during a 60-hour work-week a few short months after giving birth to my second child. I decided then that I was going to work a 25-hour work-week even though I had no idea how to make it happen; I wanted to like my life in addition to liking my work. I learned to be very disciplined about my schedule and to delegate and now I have more balance in my life.

Don’t try to be a supermom. My biggest challenge has been juggling parenting and entrepreneurship. I’ve had to let go of some old ideas about motherhood, and now I’m happy being a “good enough” mother instead of a perfect one. At one point I was the “room mom” of both my kids’ classrooms, their volunteer art teacher, and the coach for my daughter’s volleyball team. I’ve since learned I have to say “no” to most of the volunteer requests that come my way.

Be okay with imperfection. I learned early on that perfection is unattainable. Now, I’m intentional about not being a perfectionist. You can waste a lot of time trying to make everything perfect when “good enough” will work just fine.

Celebrate your successes, both big and small. In the past, after experiencing big wins such as hitting our revenue and subscriber goals, I would never take the time to celebrate. Instead, I just moved on to the next task. Now I know that celebrating success motivates and inspires our team and that taking time to reflect and recharge leads to more success.

Be okay with being uncomfortable. I’m a true introvert, although most people don’t believe it since I’m very social and not shy. But most of the things I do, from speaking at conferences, to mentoring other woman founders, to traveling internationally, to leading team meetings, make me very uncomfortable. But I do them anyway because I believe that being uncomfortable is a requirement for growth.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favorite quotes is something Maya Angelou said about success. She said that to her, “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

I’m able to stay motivated, inspired and focused by keeping this quote in mind. I work on liking myself and practice self-care with a daily routine that includes a trail run in nature, meditation, journaling, painting and reading. And I truly love what I do; leading Green Kid Crafts and knowing that we’ve influenced a generation of children to think about sustainability is a dream come true.

But the part about “liking how you do it” gives me pause all the time. Am I acting with integrity and taking the high road in my business decisions? Because if I don’t, I won’t like how I’m managing my company. When running a company there are a million decisions a day to make, and each time there is a choice about whether you will cut corners to save money or make a decision based on fear or pride. This quote reminds me to run Green Kid Crafts on the values by which it was founded: to be a company that strives for sustainability and positive change by fostering the next generation of environmental stewards, engaging kids with nature in creative ways, and giving back in any way we can.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Website: https://www.greenkidcrafts.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/greenkidcrafts/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/greenkidcrafts/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/greenkidcrafts/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/bauderpenny

Your work is making a massive positive impact on the planet, thank you so much!

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.

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