John Davies, the Senior Director of Brand Editorial + Sustainability at Avocado Green Brands, has 20 years of experience telling award-winning content. Formerly a writer and editor at publications like New Mexico Magazine and Powder, he excels at finding the stories readers will emotionally connect with, and is now using that ability to engage consumers around sustainability to help reinforce the Avocado brand. We interviewed John to gain insights into his perspective on sustainability communications and consumer engagement through editorial content.
As you made the pivot from editorial to corporate. What was different? How did your previous experience benefit you?
The pure, relentless pace. At Powder, it felt like every day we were sprinting while juggling eight different projects. It was fast, loose, and extremely rigorous. Our expectations for ourselves and the creative product were very high. We thought of Powder as a literary magazine. We wanted to appeal to the intellectual side of skiing, as well as the inherent beauty of the sport and the lifestyle it fosters. And with that, we really went deep into climate change and general environmental advocacy, which skiing, and skiers, are fundamentally and explicitly connected to, whether they want to be or not. That was an age where social media was this absolute firehose for traffic, and we had crazy readership. Inevitably, we received a ton of blowback from skiers who didn’t want to hear about the realities of skiing. The experience taught me to be both fast and good, to have thick skin, to be open and receptive to feedback and advice while remaining confident in my abilities and decision-making as a writer, editor, and advocate.
That experience also taught me how to be a leader. I had never thought of myself as a leader, and it was a trial by fire experience. I made a lot of mistakes, but I learned that my temperament and perspective were really valuable professional leadership traits.
I was too naive to realize it at the time — I was nervous about how those skills would translate to the corporate world — but that experience at Powder, and my subsequent editorship at New Mexico Magazine, set me up to be successful at Avocado in more ways than I probably even understand. As communications professionals, the goal is clear, compelling copy, regardless of the channel. At Avocado, the pace is slower, more deliberate, and work-life balance is an actual thing. I started at Avocado five months before the pandemic really changed how we think about work in America, and Avocado has been the perfect environment for this time in my life: extremely positive, healthy, and supportive.
What are some interesting ways you’ve found to engage your consumers around sustainability? Can you provide an example of a successful communications effort that you led in this area?
When it comes to corporate content, I don’t think anyone is really doing what Avocado Magazine does. Most company blogs are SEO plays and only focus on the company, their products, or explicitly related subjects. We publish three stories a week and most have original reporting. The magazine is truly a space where we have the freedom to champion environmental and social responsibility, health, and the way these subjects are inherently connected. This approach has been very successful for us. Since shifting the lens on our content, we’ve seen a tremendous amount of growth with our stories.
What makes great sustainability communications?
Sustainability communications present this fundamental challenge, because the topic is inherently nuanced and full of esoterica — I don’t think most people know their ESGs from their SDGs — but it’s also urgent information that people need to understand in order to make informed decisions for themselves, their families, their communities, and the planet. How do you strike that balance? For Avocado, the mission is to be an authority on socially and environmentally responsible action while providing an inclusive, inspiring space where all are welcome. This is a traditionally very white, very judgy space. At Avocado, we come from a place where we want to bring more people in, and the knowledge that most of us are just trying to do the best we can. We’re all trying to figure out a more sustainable path forward, together.
In your opinion, what role can brands like Avocado Green Brand play in driving systemic change towards a more sustainable and ethical future, and how do you approach that responsibility in your work?
As a Climate Neutral Certified brand since 2019, we’ve been measuring our scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, reducing everything we can, and offsetting the rest. So we’re a net-zero emissions company, but that’s not nearly enough. We know that offsets and even marginal emissions reductions are not going to move the needle when it comes to climate change. We need systemic, legislative changes. Through our partnership with Ceres, we meet with national and state legislators in California (where we manufacture our mattresses) to advocate for climate legislation. That includes SB 253, an emissions disclosure bill, and SB 261, a climate-related financial risk disclosure act. We hear all the time from politicians how valuable the business voice is to these bills. We hope more businesses can step up and lobby for a more stable and inclusive economy for all by voicing their support for laws that equitably fight climate change.
What can companies not founded on sustainability like Avocado (both within industry like Serta or Casper, and beyond) learn from those that are rooted in sustainability?
Most brands know by now that customers prefer products that are more sustainable. That makes greenwashing rampant. Rigorous third-party certifications are foundational to any serious effort at sustainability. At Avocado, GOTS/GOLS confirms the organic integrity of our materials and products. 1% For the Planet confirms our philanthropy and commitment to giving back to the Earth. And our “Best For the World” B Corp scores verify that we are going way above and beyond even the threshold of regular B Corps when it comes to social and environmental responsibility. Companies are going to have to pull back the curtain on their processes and put their money where their mouth is as Americans become increasingly savvy sustainable shoppers.
Can you share a pivotal moment in your life or career that shaped your perspective and inspired you to pursue your current path as an editor and communications professional?
Throughout my life I had very special teachers, mentors, professors, and family members encouraging my writing. Which I’m extremely grateful for, because aside from washing dishes, writing is the only employable skill I’ve ever really had. I just said yes to every writing opportunity I could and kept going until a career started to form. Eventually, then Powder Senior Editor Matt Hansen hired me as an intern for Powder and my work — and world — really grew from there.
Since those college years, the most influential fulcrum of my life happened while skiing at Alta in 2016. At the top of one of my favorite runs, a mutual friend introduced me to a woman named Axie. Axie eventually became my wife. Axie is just a very powerful force, the ultimate teammate. She gives me the confidence to believe in myself and pursue the things that give me fulfillment and joy, while also helping me keep everything in perspective and focused on what’s most important in life.
What is giving you hope right now?
My daughter. She’s about 10 months old right now. When she was born, it felt like we were anteing up. We were going all in. My wife works in conservation, and between the two of us, we just want to do our small part to try to create a better world for her.
That and the Inflation Reduction Act, the crazy low prices for solar and wind energy, the relentlessness of climate activists, writers like Kim Stanley Robinson and Octavia Butler, the poet Mary Oliver, and friends and family around me who embrace doing really hard, difficult things, and jumping headfirst into global, intractable problems like climate change.