If I could use one word to describe Kathleen, it would be: disruptor.
Here’s what I mean -- Most of what she tells me makes an impression in the moment but digs more deeply into me later, forcing my normal flow of thoughts about why I choose to do what I do to come apart at the seams.
A plant-based diet is what you’ll hear talk about most often -- a decision I’m heavily considering after talking to her regularly -- but the reality is that she weaves her beliefs about how to be more a responsible, compassionate citizen in this world into her lifestyle and her business in a way that is uncompromising and inspiring. That’s exactly why I wanted to talk to her for the VETTED series.
Throughout our interview, Kathleen had a variety of insights to bring to the table around the importance of reducing our meat intake, becoming a conscious consumer, and how businesses can use capitalism as a force for good.
I hope it helps you consider that every single business, no matter the size, can make a positive contribution to our planet, the people we serve, and profits.
When someone asks you why you’re a vegan, and you’re helping them make the connection between veganism and the environment, how do you approach that conversation with someone who is either doubtful or completely unaware??
It depends what they bring up. If they ask, “Where do you get your protein from?”, then my answer might be, “Well, think about the strongest animals on earth, like the silver-backed gorilla, the rhino, the horse, the cow -- they’re all vegan. They don’t eat other animals, where do you think they get their protein?”
I met a rancher who once told me, “We’re the stewards of the land. We care about the land. Prove your source.” To me, it’s not really about source. Animals produce methane, and there are over 100 million cattle. If they’re excreting 10 pounds of poop a day, where is that running off to and how is that affecting our environment? It’s more about common sense to me.
And while I believe that ranchers are fine, that’s unfortunately not what we’re dealing with right now. We’re dealing with factory farms and there being more cows and animals to be raised to be eaten by humans than there are humans in a lot of cases.
A lot of people tell me that veganism is bogus. I don’t understand that argument because we can all agree that a vegan or plant-based diet is low on inflammation and good for your body, so I don’t think there needs to be a conversation after we agree on that.
Overall, though, I’m getting better at having these conversations. I know when to bite my tongue and when to speak up.
When it comes to having this conversation with family and friends, at what point do you stop talking about it so it doesn’t harm the relationship?
Pretty early on. Even Keegan Kuhn, one of the filmmakers of What the Health, says that the people closest to us are our biggest challenges. I think my family thinks I’m crazy.
So what I’ve learned the hard way is that they don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to be burdened by it. They’re already judging themselves just by you being around because people are really self-conscious about food. They often think I’m looking down on them or judging them. So unless someone asks me a question, I keep my mouth shut.
What I’ve found, too, is that people generally need to hear the truth from others who aren’t friends and family. I can’t stand it, but at least they’re getting the information from somewhere.
Have you been in any situations in your lifestyle or your business where you compromise your values?
I don’t. This was a decision I made a long time ago. In social situations, I decided I was done buying $15 iceberg lettuce salads with one tomato on it to make everyone feel better and then have to go home and make myself food anyways.
If they have other things on the menu that I can eat, I’ll get them. I’ll always bring my own food and be prepared. But overall, I won’t compromise there.
To me, making a decision like that really sets you apart from someone who is trying to be socially conscious and someone who is leading the way to help others become socially conscious. How would you describe a socially conscious business leader?
My values from my personal life bleed into the way I conduct business. I think that’s the best way to put it.
‘Socially conscious’ is really tricky, and I think we’re constantly redefining that. What I think makes someone a leader, though, is that they use their values to make business decisions and that they speak up about issues they care about whether or not one has bearing on the other.
What socially conscious business do YOU look up to as a role model?
The person I always look up is Yvon of Patagonia. I’ve been beyond impressed with him. You’re using the word ‘role model’, and I’m going to use the word ‘pioneer’ with him.
In the 90s, when he discovered how conventional cotton was negatively impacting health, the environment, and people, he told his team that they were going to find an alternative or that they weren’t going to be in business. It was something he was unwilling to compromise on.
They’ve disrupted the marketplace by saying ‘don’t buy this jacket’ the day after Thanksgiving. They don’t want you to buy a bunch of shit you don’t need. And even through the recession, they’ve constantly experienced growth because they’ve held tight to those values.
Consciousness is part of their business and it’s woven through everything that they do. That’s what I really look up to, that one has everything to do with the other. It’s not, ‘hey, we make some clothes, and we give some of our profits to homeless shelters’. It’s all one in the same.
Who is sewing their stuff is fair trade. The materials everything is made of. The way they treat their employees. The way there are solar panels at their office. The way they have an organic break room. The way they offer complimentary childcare. All of those things plus how they give 1% to the planet. They’ll fix anything you send them just to keep it out the landfill.
My husband, Brock, just did that. Our dog ripped his hiking pants wide open and he’s had them for years. So he sent it to them and they sewed it up and sent it back totally for free.
Yvon was doing this before it was chic to do it. That’s why I’m so infatuated with his brand and his leadership.
What do you think is taking everyone else so long to get on board with becoming a socially conscious company where they have a ‘triple bottom line’, or take the planet, people (community), and profits into consideration as opposed to just profits?
In the bigger business space, they’re tied to increasing revenue. Every quarter, they’ve got to be showing that they’re making more money. I think that stops innovation and gives them an excuse to not stop and say, ‘okay, this month we could hire someone for CSR’ or ‘this month, we can redo the building with LED light bulbs’. I think that pressure to traditionally perform is what is holding people back in that space.
In a lot of other spaces, people feel like being charitable is enough. They feel good about it, and they don’t think they need to go beyond philanthropy.
There are companies that say, ‘we sell x shirt, and nobody knows this, but we give a lot of money to charities for domestic violence’. They’re totally separate.
In the personal brand space, it’s just not being talked about. There are people who are donating a portion of their profits, but that generosity isn’t built into their business models. Again, they think that philanthropy is enough.
How do you feel about ‘buy one, give one’ companies that are becoming trendier? What are your thoughts on their impact, and do you feel like they have something of value to offer in this space?
To me, the answer is: when you know better, you can do better.
For example, I don’t personally have anything against Toms Shoes, but I think they’re a good example of the buy one, give one concept. I think that initiative was started from a place of compassion and intention to do good, but when you learn that there’s maybe a flaw in your thinking, you can decide to do things differently, like make things locally or open a Toms shop locally.
There is definitely a lot of these companies that are doing it as PR move, which I agree with you, is diluting the industry.
I really don’t have an answer for what the solution is for that. I think people always find out the truth, and there are people who are really gullible. There are people who will pick up a package of refined sugar with an ‘organic’ stamp on it and will think that it’s good just because they bought it at Whole Foods and it’s organic.
There are people who see green packaging and assume it’s biodegradable. That’s totally happening in this ‘buy one, give one’ trend. But I think it’s the consumer’s responsibility to be aware of the potential flaws in a system.
I also think that businesses have a responsibility to evolve once they learn more about the consequences of their practices.
I totally agree that we should be more conscious consumers, but the information isn’t mainstream. Where do we go to get educated? How can we tell when we’re being taken by marketers?
I remember once I was searching for these dog waste bags on Amazon, and one of the first products that came up were in this cardboard box that seemed recyclable, the bags themselves inside were green, and I wasn’t sure if they were the ones that I already get.
So I started reading, and I’m realizing that there’s nothing about the product that says it’s biodegradable or compostable.
When I get to the question area, someone had asked, “Is there literally anything green about this product besides the color of the bags?” And everyone had responded, “no, not at all”.
They almost took me. They were one of the first five that came up when I keyword searched this stuff.
I mean, they’re paying for SEO to be at the top of the search for pet waste bags.
In terms of where we go to get educated, I think it’s important to highlight that for every study that we see that has X result there’s another article that says it’s Y result instead.
I think it’s important to use common sense and discernment while also educating yourself on things like:
What is a ‘GMO’?
What does ‘organic’ mean?
What does ‘grass-fed’ mean?
What does ‘fair-trade’ mean?
What does ‘natural flavors’ mean?
What does ‘eco-friendly’ mean?
It’s being aware as a consumer to know that there are full-on agencies in place to keep the consumer confused. You can’t assume that the marketing is telling you what you want to hear.
For example, Target has organic cotton and 6.99 towels. It’s still made in a sweatshop and still made with toxic shit.
Or, another example, I found a dog bed that said it was ‘eco-friendly’ because it was made out of plastic water bottles. So it was good for the environment, but I don’t really want my dog laying on plastic water bottles. There’s a difference between something being ‘non-toxic’ and something being ‘green’ for the environment.
You have to look out for the buzzwords and be aware of what they actually mean.
Tell me about your Conscious Business Makeover. What does that do for people?
In the bite-sized Conscious Makeovers, the 2-hour ones that I do, it depends on the person.
What I generally do is I come on and ask people ‘what is important to you? What do you want to be part of? Is there a particular cause or organization that you want to partner with, advocate for with messaging and branding?’
My hope is that we establish what they values are, we identify what their vision is for playing a role in that -- communicating to their audience, donating a portion of their profits, donating time / services -- and then how you can use your voice / visibility to be a part of that. And what we’re seeing is that consumers are making choices based on their moral compasses. Businesses are more inclined to do business with other business who share their values. We’re also seeing that businesses that have socially conscious values at the forefront are outperforming in the marketplace.
I teach brands how to effectively communicate what those values are and what their social responsibility measures and practices are, so that a client, a potential business partnership, or anyone can recognize that. They’ll know immediately what is important to that brand.
To me, this is about communicating their generosity and social responsibility to the forefront of their brand so what they stand for is synonymous with the work that they do.
She wants you to watch: What the Health
She wants you to know that: Animal agriculture contributes to 51% of all greenhouse gases and it’s mostly methane, which is 87x more damaging to the ozone layer than carbon dioxide.
She offers: a service called Conscious Business Makeover for brick and mortar business, personal brands, and individuals.