Janna Irons helps put the ‘think’ in thinkPARALLAX. As one of our senior communications strategists, she advises clients on strategies and tactics for amplifying their corporate sustainability and social impact work. With a background in both journalism and communication strategy, Janna has a natural talent for finding stories that stick. Janna traces her innate passion for sustainability storytelling to her upbringing on Kaua’i where she grew up exploring its natural beauty and surfing the pristine waves.
In this thinkPARALLAX Spotlight, we interview Janna to get a better idea about what makes her tick and why she’s committed to amplifying impact.
What made you want to pursue a career in sustainability communications? Briefly tell us about the journey that brought you to thinkPARALLAX.
Prior to thinkPARALLAX, I spent six and a half years as an editor for SURFER Magazine. While working there, I completed my Master’s in Communications with an emphasis on strategic brand management and marketing and began thinking about how I could parlay my experience and knowledge to make a greater impact through my work. I stumbled upon thinkPARALLAX and was amazed by how it was doing such compelling, creative work with huge companies. After researching the founders, culture, and projects, I knew it was somewhere I would love to work.
What is your role at thinkPARALLAX and which clients do you work with? Describe a typical day.
As a senior communication strategist, I work with a variety of clients on different types of projects. Currently, some of my clients include Eli Lilly, International Paper, and McCain Foods, but I also contribute to work for Boar’s Head, Fossil, Darden, and Qualcomm. A typical day might include developing a strategic framework to help a client communicate the core pillars of their social impact strategy, then developing a communication plan for an employee engagement campaign, before working on a draft of a script for a video for a company’s sustainability microsite we created.
What is the most difficult part of your job and in communicating sustainability overall?
We work with many large corporations that have tremendous power to make an impact. The size of these companies means there are often many layers of decision-makers, which can result in strategies or language being diluted. It can be difficult to know that a company could or should be doing more, but that there just isn’t leadership buy-in. It helps me to realize that even smaller changes made by these global companies make a massive impact. And as the public discourse around sustainability and climate action has evolved over the last several years, it’s become much easier to rally leadership around the need for bold sustainability commitments.
What is the most exciting part of your job and why?
There’s no one-size-fits-all for what clients should be doing when it comes to sustainability and social impact. With each new project, we’re tasked with not only understanding the industry and its distinct challenges, but also the company culture and brand identity. As someone who’s endlessly curious, I love this part of the project. It’s fascinating to see under the hood how companies operate, uncover where they have the most opportunity, and provide guidance on how they can make a unique difference in the world—then come up with the creative narrative and ideas to bring it to life.
As our team is currently working from home in response to the COVID-19 crisis. How do you stay motivated and creative throughout this adjustment process?
I’ve worked from home for years, so the fact that the whole team is as well has been quite beneficial — more Zoom hangouts, virtual collaboration, and communication. If I’m hitting creative roadblocks, short walks with my dog during the day help me organize my thoughts. I also find that by about 3:30 PM or 4:00 PM I’m often tapped, so having the flexibility to log off for a few hours, get a workout in, and dive back into work after dinner is super helpful.
Which company do you most admire for their sustainability/social impact work and why?
As cliché as this answer is, I’d have to say Patagonia. They treat their employees well (hello on-site daycare), they lead the charge guiding the industry toward operating more sustainably, and they invest significantly in projects aimed at both systemic change and smaller local issues that have a major impact for local communities. They also genuinely care about creating products in the most sustainable way possible (fun fact: I also review outdoor gear for a few different magazines on the side, so I’ve researched this more than the average consumer ever should).
Which sustainable development goal are you most passionate about and why?
Climate Action (SDG 13) – It’s obviously the most pressing challenge we face today. The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly made me realize that it is possible for humans to change their habits in ways that can significantly change our trajectory—now we just have to figure out how to motivate everyone to do it.
What do you like to do when you’re not amplifying impact? (e.g. hobbies, personal passions, etc.)
I was born and raised on Kaua’i, so surfing has always been a passion of mine. Three years ago I moved to Washington state with my husband and have since fallen in love with mountain and lake activities—skiing, hiking, biking, camping, swimming. I also enjoy curling up with a good book, happy hour, and just about anything that gets me outside with our golden retriever, Barry.
How do you personally champion sustainability in your everyday life?
I’m admittedly not perfect but I think the biggest personal change came in 2015 when my husband and I spent a year traveling around the country in a Sprinter van camper. It made us aware of how much we consume—and waste. We discovered ways to buy products that limit plastic and packaging waste, reuse containers, and shop for groceries and prepare food in a way that limits food waste. It permanently changed our consumption habits. I also do as much as I can to support politicians and organizations who are champions for the climate and other local causes.