Figures of Progress: Jonathan Hsu, CEO of Recyclebank

As Recyclebank chief executive officer, Jonathan Hsu is responsible for the overall operations and strategic direction of the company.

GOOD and IBM have teamed up to bring you Figures of Progress, our new platform that explores the different ways that information has revolutionized our world. Through videos, story profiles, and infographics, we're sharing stories about the power of data and how today's leaders in business, city government and nonprofits are finding innovative ways to use it. Here's our latest Figure of Progress interview.

As Recyclebank chief executive officer, Jonathan K. Hsu is responsible for the overall operations and strategic direction of the company. A media and Internet executive veteran, Hsu was previously the chief executive officer of 24/7 Real Media. Recyclebank helps create a more sustainable future by offering discounts and deals from more than 4,000 local and national businesses that drive environmental impact. A Certified B Corporation, Recyclebank has been recognized as a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum and a Champion of the Earth by the UN Environment Programme.

GOOD: As an industry leader, what most influenced you on the road to your current position?

Jonathan Hsu: I’ve been fortunate in having many great—and some not so great—experiences that have brought me to where I am today. I will say that the one constant along the road has been passion. And it’s Recyclebank’s ability to combine many of my passions—digital media, social responsibility, creating a greener world and bridging the gap between online and offline—that secured my interest in the company. In my former life in digital media, I was inspired by digital innovation and now strive to apply that innovation to a greater purpose—fostering a culture of more sustainable actions.

GOOD: What type of data and technology would you consider the most valuable to your company?

JH: I think that most people want to understand their relevance. What is my impact? How do my actions affect the environment and how can I change my behaviors to be more environmentally-friendly? Any piece of information that allows us to understand if or how we’re making an impact and moving sustainability forward is key. Measuring impact is a vital component of Recyclebank; without that information, we’re ultimately not supporting our mission of encouraging more sustainable behavior—online and offline.

Through our home recycling rewards program, we partner with communities and municipalities across the country to reward residents for their recycling efforts with discounts and deals from local businesses and major brands.

For instance, in 2010, Cincinnati chose Recyclebank as its rewards partner in conjunction with a deployment of larger recycling carts and a switch to single-stream recycling, which subsequently rolled out citywide in February 2011. Through this joint effort, the city with Recyclebank increased participation in the recycling program by nearly 75 percent and increased collected by nearly 50 percent. Better yet, Cincinnati saved nearly $1 million in landfill disposal costs. Being able to show residents and municipality leadership the impact individual actions make in their community and to the environment adds yet another layer of incentives.

GOOD: How has data changed and informed the way you can interact with customers and improve your customer service?

JH: At its core, the Recyclebank mission—to motivate individuals and communities to realize a world in which nothing is wasted—has not changed, but it has evolved, largely informed by the revealing data such as the examples referenced previously. Data has fundamentally informed how we at Recyclebank connect and interact with our members, and has helped me personally better understand their motivations and, therefore, the strategic vision for our business.

We conducted an extensive survey recently by a third-party research firm. The 60 questions answered by more than 3,400 Recyclebank members have helped us glean a better understanding of the attitudinal and demographic composition of our audience. Through this data we were able to check that our mission is still core of the services we provide and reflect the content we’re delivering our members.

GOOD: What are the qualities and/or skill sets that you believe future successful leaders will need to have?

JH: The leaders of tomorrow, especially those working in the private sector, must redefine what it means to lead a successful company in today’s world, shifting values toward a model that inherently promotes sustainable business and consumption. When we are faced with issues on such a massive, global scale, we can’t afford to keep “green” in the niche bucket.

The most successful leaders of tomorrow will value innovative, cross-sector partnerships, and evaluate their bottom lines with a new light: how they profit in direct correlation with benefits to the community, society at large and the environment. Customers and shareholders have come to expect that businesses of all sizes take these factors into account—and the successful leaders of tomorrow will inherently understand this.

GOOD: What is your greatest hope for how your work can influence positive change in our world?

JH: If through my work at Recyclebank, I can inspire one person to alter his or her understanding about sustainable living, then I’ve already made a powerful change. What I can hope for is that I don’t just have the opportunity to inspire one person, but the ability to motivate millions. I want to know that I’m doing everything I can to make the world a better place for my children, and inspiring them to want to do the same.

Read more from leaders like Hsu at Figures of Progress, including interviews with Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America; Adam Brotman, chief digital officer of Starbucks; Rachel Sterne, CIO of the city of New York; Oliver Hurst-Hiller, CTO of; and Nathan Blecharczyk, Co-founder of Airbnb.

Photo by Josh Couch on Unsplash

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