Pioneer Of Humanability: Jeff Kirschner
In an interview with PSFK, working in collaboration with Verizon, Jeff Kirschner discusses how he is using technology for good with his company Litterati, fostering litter-free communities
In a special series brought to you with the help of our partner Verizon, The Pioneers of Humanability is directing the spotlight onto the people, organizations and companies who are using technology to do more new and do more good in the world.
While many people wish to contribute to bettering their community, sometimes they don’t know where to begin. Choosing a way to serve society can feel overwhelming, and ultimately can lead to lower input. This is what Jeff Kirschner, one of PSFK’s featured Pioneers of Humanability, and founder and CEO of Litterati, hopes to change using technology, social awareness and art to make cleaning up the planet accessible to anyone. In this interview with PSFK, founder and CEO of Litterati, Jeff Kirschner explains how his service uses technology to form a global community of people who not only help reduce litter in key areas, made possible by the use of real-time geotags, but also connect with one another to further the cause, helping vastly reduce waste pollution thanks to increased accessibility.
PSFK: In what ways do you think technology has the potential to impact humanity, making a positive social difference?
Jeff: The social and environmental problems we face can feel overwhelming. Most people don't know what they can do, or where to start. In the case of Litterati, if a woman picks up a bottle cap in Stockholm and a man picks one up in San Francisco, those actions are isolated. Neither knows of the other's existence. Technology can serve as a unifying umbrella. It can connect those people, along with millions of others, and transform that isolated, quiet act, into one that's social and shareable. When people realize they're not alone in the fight, that there's a community of like-minded individuals, that feeling of overwhelm turns into one of empowerment. But that's just the beginning. Technology can provide data—information that can be used to identify the root cause of problems, recognize patterns within complex situations and measure the efficacy of our positive impact.
How does your work create a positive impact on communities both locally and globally?
Our mission at Litterati is to empower people to “crowdsource-clean” the planet. We measure impact in a variety of ways (number of pieces picked up, number of people in the community); however, our true impact comes when there's a systemic change. Here's a local example: A group of 5th graders picked up 1247 pieces of litter on their schoolyard. The data showed that the most common type of litter was the plastic straw wrappers from their own cafeteria. The students then went to their principal and asked, “why are we still buying straws?” And they stopped. Simple and effective. Globally, we're now in 115 countries and growing bigger each day. From people becoming more aware of their surroundings, to leveraging the data to influence public policy or helping brands understand the environmental footprint of their packaging, the Litterati community is creating impact.
What inspired you to do more new and do more good?
I was hiking through the woods with my two little kids, when my 4 year old daughter noticed a plastic tub of cat litter in a creek: “Daddeee, that doesn't go there.” That was the eye-opening moment. I was reminded of a lesson I learned as a kid at summer camp. On visiting day, we'd each have to pick up five pieces of litter. When several hundred kids each pick up five pieces of litter, it doesn't take long before you've got a spotless camp. So I thought, why not apply that same “crowdsource-cleaning” model to the entire planet? And leverage technology to do it.
Why did you choose this type of platform as an effective way to encourage participation, incorporating games into community service?
We believe there's an opportunity to use achievement levels, badges and leaderboards to encourage participation. People are naturally competitive, both with themselves and each other. Plus, games are fun. If we can effectively integrate gaming techniques to inspire people to collectively clean the planet, our impact will increase considerably.
Who are your biggest users?
From a Dutch environmental activist, to an Australian consultant, to an Irish former librarian, to an 11-year-old in Reno, the Litterati community is an eclectic mix from all walks of life. They're all saying, “How can we do more?”
How are you using the data gathered by volunteers to make an even bigger impact?
Earlier we talked about “Stories of Impact.” The Litterati TED Talk highlights three such stories, which demonstrate how data is being used to generate an impact.
Technology is making incentivized ways for people to service their community possible, helping increase engagement as well as output. For more about how innovators like Jeff are using technology to serve progressive goals and better the community for all, see The Pioneers of Humanability, brought to you by PSFK with Verizon.
Verizon’s Pioneers of Humanability list honors the people, organizations and companies that are using technological innovations to bring about good things for the world. These are the pioneers, keeping food safe and water clean, cutting pollution, saving energy and enabling doctors to treat patients a county or a country away. They’ve stopped asking “What if?” or “Why isn’t?” and started doing and leading. These are the people, organizations and companies you need to know about now—because they’re building the future.