Sometimes, major goals can be best tackled by a wide range of people and teams. At Kickstarter, a global platform for funding creative projects, this collaborative approach has helped the company make sustainability progress.

By committing to a number of internal projects, the company has leveraged its reputation with its creators to help them implement more sustainable practices into their design and creation processes.

Jon Leland, Chief Strategy Officer at Kickstarter, helps to oversee the progress the organization makes each year toward sustainability. Leland explained how Kickstarter integrates sustainability into its practices, the role its creators play, and why actionable sustainability is a necessity inside large companies.

Kickstarter's First Chief Strategy Officer

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Jon Leland, Chief Strategy Officer at Kickstarter

Kickstarter operates as a public benefit corporation (PBC), which means that it has a responsibility to create public good through its mission and practices. The company reincorporated as a PBC in 2015, and in the process of chartering, committed to greater sustainability and less environmental impact. Soon after, Leland’s job as Chief Strategy Officer came into play.

As Kickstarter’s first Chief Strategy Officer, Leland said he ensures the mission is properly integrated throughout the company. He works with teams, departments, and leadership inside the company to make sure that happens, while supporting other internal functions.

The company’s insights function — comprised of data science, analytics, user research, and market research — reports to Leland.

“When you think about guiding the company [as a Chief Sustainability Officer], you have to basically be the person that understands what’s happening at the company better than everyone else and what’s needed. This [insights] function is sort of the raw data to inform that perspective,” Leland said.

Another key part of Leland’s role is overseeing many of Kickstarter’s sustainability efforts.

Kickstarter’s Approach to Sustainability 

Leland said Kickstarter has made multiple commitments as a company to greater sustainability — but that its creators have helped with those efforts, too.

In the absence of federal action on this, we think voluntarily paying for [carbon offsets] at least makes us feel the pain, [and] helps us incentivize ourselves internally to take steps and invest in actions that reduce our carbon footprint.

Kickstarter has committed to reducing its carbon footprint, and has successfully done so over the past three years. While Kickstarter works toward fewer emissions each year, it offsets any carbon emissions by purchasing carbon credits, according to Leland.

While Leland said federal regulations requiring offsets would be beneficial for sustainability, those laws have not been put into place.

“In the absence of federal action on this, we think voluntarily paying for that at least makes us feel the pain that, as a company, helps us incentivize ourselves internally to take steps and invest in actions that reduce our carbon footprint,” he said.

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Enabling Creators to Practice Sustainability

Because Kickstarter’s mission revolves around its creators and bringing their products and ideas to life, part of the company’s sustainability progress has included engaging creators in the process.

If we weren’t [working on our carbon footprint], and we were talking to these independent creators about their carbon footprint, they would just easily point the finger back at us and be like, 'Well, what are you doing about your carbon footprint?’ So, having taken care of our own house, we can then engage our community on these issues.

According to Leland, though, the progress Kickstarter has made with its creators likely would not have been possible without commitment directly from the company. Because Kickstarter has committed to net-zero carbon emissions and sustainability efforts, its creators have begun adopting similar practices.

“If we weren’t [working on our carbon footprint], and we were talking to these independent creators about their carbon footprint, they would just easily point the finger back at us and be like, 'Well, what are you doing about your carbon footprint?’ So, having taken care of our own house, we can then engage our community on these issues,” Leland said.

What does sustainability work look like for creators?

Kickstarter partnered with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to create a framework for its creators to use when creating goods. That framework, part of Kickstarter’s Environmental Resources Center, is easily accessible to creators and features multiple subcategories for environmental commitments creators can make on Kickstarter’s platform.

“We don’t expect [creators to be] knowledgeable or experts at how to embed sustainable practices into their products. We developed a framework with EDF to orient them around sustainable practices and manufacturing physical goods,” Leland said.

Many creators have joined in on the sustainability efforts. According to Leland, about 70% of creators who make physical products have made environmental commitments as part of their product. Consumers, who can see and choose to fund creators’ projects, can see when a creator has made an environmental commitment on Kickstarter.

Encouraging Sustainability Now

For Leland, moving toward better sustainability at Kickstarter has not been just a long-term goal. Instead, he and his team have focused on creating solutions and practices that encourage sustainability now.

As climate issues persist, Kickstarter has advocated for firmer legislation for companies and corporations.

“Kickstarter has a big footprint in our economy and with small businesses, and has a very well-known brand name. So we can be helpful in pushing for climate legislation, both at the state level and national level. And so we do some advocacy with representatives there.”

By 2050 — a deadline many companies have set for their sustainability goals — it could be too late, Leland said. Companies and their leaders have the chance to help lessen the strain on the environment through tactical, immediate efforts to curb emissions and increase sustainability.

“Here we have this opportunity, this challenge that is the largest challenge to ever face humanity,” said Leland. “And I don’t think the leadership class has woken up to the incredible moral responsibility and opportunity they have to participate in that struggle.”