In this first post of our Change Maker series, we spoke with Kim Johnson, half of the driving force behind the Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation and Kokua Hawaii Foundation. Kim, and her husband, Jack Johnson, have leveraged the global platform that Jack’s music has provided to help promote plastic free initiatives and sustainable local food systems.
They initially launched the Kokua Hawaii Foundation in 2003 to support environmental education in schools and communities throughout Hawaii, where Jack grew up. Kim, a former math teacher, believes in place-based, hands-on learning, and outdoor education about the importance of developing a deep caring for their culture and environment. In their experience, lobbying policy makers, although important, can be tedious work that and easily can take years to accomplish a goal. However, working with children, getting them outside of their classrooms, and inspiring them to take action can ignite a generational change, and they found it to be much more fun.
These days, when Kim is at the grocery store children will come up to her and show her their healthy local food choices and their reusable water bottles and bags. Likewise, parents will tell the Johnsons that they can’t put a can in the trash without getting a lecture from their children on the importance of recycling. Clearly the tables have turned and children are the drivers of positive behaviorral change in adults!
As Kim and Jack Johnson traveled on multiple world tours in support of Jack’s music career, they began to consider ways that they could take their positive experiences with the Kokua Hawaii Foundation’s initiatives and the Kokua Festival, and inspire people around the world to make similar changes in their own communities. In 2008, they launched the All At Once social action network and partnered with non-profits in each city of the tour, providing donations and promotion. They launched the Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation with the goal of supporting non-profits that they met while on the road that were involved in music, art, and environmental education. These groups were invited to have a table at each venue that Jack performed atshow in the Village Green, as a way to connect and engage with concert- goers. Using profits from that 2008 tour, the Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation was established to support environmental, art, and music education into the future. Over the years, as the Johnsons’ ideas evolved, the line of folding tables where each non-profit sat turned into the Village Green, where concert-goers can funnel through a dozen tents and see what actions local groups are taking in their communities.
Another way the Johnsons worked to engage fans was to encourage interaction with local non-profits at each tour stop leading up to each concert. They provided concert tickets to partner non-profits that organized volunteer events in conjunction with the tour stopsuch as watershed clean-ups or garden planting days. Surfrider San Diego would hold a beach cleanup, and the local radio station would promote it. Now radio stations, instead of promoting the concerts with free ticket giveaways to “caller number nine”, would plug the beach cleanup where a lucky participant would win tickets to Jack’s concert.
Additionally, while at the Village Green, concert-goers were asked to make a pledge and take a photo to “Capture Your Commitment.”The photo would be posted to the All At Once online community and would also show up on a screen at the concert venue. This idea of concert-goers making a public commitment online sprung from a Community Based Social Marketing workshop Kim had recently attended where Doug McKkenzie-Mohr lectured aboutshared ways to create social marketing initiatives to change community behaviors. These included having people make a visual pledge with their personal networks as witness to increase accountability and follow-through.
The first few years of the “Capture Your Commitment”campaign was took place before Instagram. As such, the Johnsons lugged around a clunky photo booth that would take digital photos that were uploaded to the All At Once online network every evening. Flash forward a few years and now a concert-goer’s commitment is immediately captured with a simple hashtag. Back in 2008, while many artists utilized social media, at the time, the Johnsons were ahead of the game by creating an online network that was focused on driving social change.
The response from concert-goers to the All Aat Once network was phenomenal. After a Jack Johnson concert came through town, participating non-profits reported back that their membership rates skyrocketed and demographics skewed lower in age. A win-win all the way around!
It wasn’t just the concert-goers and non-profits that benefited from a visit by the Johnsons. The venues were affected as well. In the early stages of Jack’s career, the Johnsons would specifically request thate venues not provide any bottled water to his crew, as they each carried their own reusable tour bottle and filled up at the tap. That behavior was unheard of by the venues: What? No bottled water?!? That was just the start of the shift in large scale venue operations.
Over the years, the Johnsons encouraged the venues to source local food and compost their waste, as well as recycle. After a while, some of the venues began to adopt these best practices into their year-round business operations. What has become clear for Kim, is that as the Johnsons revisit the venues year after year, they find that significant changes have been made with regards to sustainability. Remarkably, one venue has even installed a complete composting system on-siteand another launched a reusable pint cup program this fall.
By sticking with their core values and pushing to evolve the systems that the music industry has historically relied on, the Johnson’s were able to completely change operating practices in venues around the world. As they navigate these new waters, they continue to educating themselves and generously provided knowledge and support to non-profit organizations around the world.
This year, Jack and Kim are unwinding from his 2014 world tour and refocusing on their Hawaii initiatives. They will both be sailing with 5 Gyres on our S.E.A. Change Expedition, assisting with our research as we navigate the North Atlantic Gyre. The Johnsons will also be attending the All Islands, All At Once Youth Action Summit in the Bahamas, where 100 students will be working with activists, artists, scientists, and educators to explore and generate solutions to plastic pollution for island nations around the world.
To learn more about Jack and Kim Johnson’s environmental and tour greening initiatives, visit www.AllAtOnce.org and www.jackjohnsonmusic.com/greening. To learn more about their two foundations visit: www.kokuahawaiifoundation.org and www.johnsonohana.org.
This article was originally published by the 5 Gyres Institute. It has been reprinted here with permission.