February 11, 2021

Six Reflections with Hanko Kiessner

Founder and CEO: Packsize International 

Founder: Leaders for Clean Air

What life experiences shaped the “where, how and why” of your charitable work?

We live in an era of rapid deterioration of our environmental and natural resources. The loss of biodiversity and climate change scare me to death. As a Utah resident, this impacts me most directly when it comes to our air quality. As soon as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will realize the critical nature of these problems. We have been distracted for too long.

In my opinion, much of this environmental deterioration is the result of our current economic system. As a business owner, it is difficult to run a company without creating a lot of social costs. The profits are capitalized, but the social and environmental costs are socialized. I believe these social and environmental costs should be captured and built into the costs of our products. It doesn’t always work to incorporate these costs, thus addressing these social and environmental costs is left to charitable work.  

This led me to consider, what can I do with Packsize?

How do you view the relationship between entrepreneurship and philanthropy?  

If we had a better system, entrepreneurship would be philanthropic. 

When I started Packsize, I wanted to start a company that minimized social expenses (pollution, travel, energy use, etc..) and put Packsize into a category that solves real-world problems for our customers. Also, I wanted to create a company that adds more benefit to society than the minimal social cost we create. 

I think we have done a really good job at this. I tell our employees, our company is philanthropic. 

"A lot of people work in a job they know is problematic and want to give back charitably as a way to compensate. My belief is that we can do both at the same time."

Who do you admire most in the social impact sector?  

Of course, I’m a bit biased. I admire Leaders for Clean Air. 

Khan Academy does amazing work, and has an amazing model. 

Also, I am a strong advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club. Biodiversity loss and climate change are the two greatest outside risks to business. These two organizations address this issue very strongly.

Could you share a local social enterprise or nonprofit doing exceptional work that is perhaps off many donor’s radar? 

Leaders for Clean Air. I don’t think we are on a lot of people’s radar.  The organization addresses a massive, local problem: air quality. Poor air quality limits outside activity and leads to dementia and a number of other health problems. This issue is something I hope our community takes more seriously moving forward.

Do you believe there is a high enough tolerance for risk in philanthropy?  

Let me preface by saying I have no research on this, this is just my opinion. I think people are giving money away too easily. Donors are not requesting metrics that help them determine the impact of their gift. The onus, to some degree, is on the nonprofit to provide this. This is why I love Leaders for Clean Air. We are able to provide the financial return associated with every dollar given. We have determined that every dollar given returns $14 in economic benefit to the state of Utah annually. 

"Donors are not requesting metrics that help them determine the impact of their gift. The onus, to some degree, is on the nonprofit to provide this."

We developed a strong metrics orientation because I come from the for-profit world and I don’t know any other way. At Packsize, we need to show our customers their savings. I wanted to model this approach with Leaders for Clean Air. I put myself in the donor’s shoes. What would they want to know?

Additionally, quantifying the impact is great for employees. They can really see and understand the benefits of the work.

How do you define success when it comes to your charitable work?   

Success is when the total benefit you create is greater than the total cost you put into it. 

Success also relates to the ratio of resources that actually drives impact.

Living in a biodiverse world with a stable climate would sure be a success too.