Dan Springer – Hope is Preserving the Earth’s Lungs (Jane Goodall Hopecast Episode #17)

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Full Transcript

Jane Goodall (00:03):

There was a time when I thought that I would spend the rest of my life at Gombe with the chimpanzees out in the rain forest, and they were the best days of my whole life. Then in 1986, there was this conference in Chicago, and the idea behind this conference was to see if chimpanzee behavior was different in different environments. At that conference, there was a session on conservation, shocking seeing videos and stills of, right across Africa, forest disappearing, chimpanzee numbers dropping, and I stayed awake for nights afterwards because there were pictures of our closest living relatives, intensely social, highly intelligent, who can live for 60 years, in medical research labs in five foot by five foot cages. And I left as some advocate, I had absolutely no idea what to do, but I knew I had to do something to try and make a difference. So that’s when it all began, in 1986.

Speaker 2 (01:29):

[Conservation Chorus]

Jane Goodall (01:30):

What is your greatest reason for hope?

Jane Goodall (01:33):

I am Jane Goodall, and this is the Hopecast. On today’s episode, I’m spending time with a man who’s a perfect example of a CEO who understands the need to use his own and his company’s resources to help heal the world: Dan Springer, CEO of DocuSign. This company has saved billions of sheets of paper, and that has saved the equivalent of a couple of million trees.

Jane Goodall (02:04):

Dan encourages his staff to volunteer in various ways to make this a better world, and he’s a generous donor to JGI as well as supporting many other worthy causes. We’ll be talking further about all of this and the factors that shaped his philanthropy. I hope you enjoy this hopeful conversation with Dan Springer.

Jane Goodall (02:32):

Dan Springer. I really am very excited to welcome you to this episode of the Hopecast. And we haven’t known each other that long, but I feel I know you pretty well. I was just trying to think when I was preparing for this conversation with you, when did we first meet in person? Do you remember?

Dan Springer (02:53):

I do. The first time we actually met in person was actually in Davos for the World Economic Forum, and I was telling everyone, if you want to go to Davos, go with Jane Goodall because you will meet everyone there, because they want to come up and introduce themselves to Jane. So that was my introduction to meeting the world, by having you by my side.

Jane Goodall (03:12):

How did you first get interested in forests? Because you’re doing such amazing things to help restore and protect forests now, so what was it that started this off for you?

Dan Springer (03:27):

There’s a life piece to that, which has always been an interest of mine. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, so an important aspect of the Pacific Northwest are the forests, and some of the most beautiful ones in the world. But I think I really got focused on forests, particularly from a conservation standpoint, was when I joined DocuSign. And one of the things that was really clear to me is the place is a special company and our employees where we were focused on our impact in our communities, broadly defined communities, and one of them is, of course, the global community. And it seemed to me just such an obvious thing where we should really apply ourselves, because our core product saves people using paper and therefore saves people from having to cut down trees. So that was sort of the genesis of what became DocuSign for Forests, was an opportunity to get our employees engaged, having a positive impact in our broadly defined community.

Jane Goodall (04:20):

Well, somebody said to me the other day, I was talking about DocuSign, and somebody said to me, “Yes, but these big tech companies doing something like DocuSign use a huge amount of energy.” How do you answer them?

Dan Springer (04:36):

Here’s how we’re thinking about it right now. So we will be carbon neutral by 2022, but this is one of the dirty little secrets of our businesses, talking about carbon neutrality. A lot of times, the bulk of it is done by buying offsets.

Dan Springer (04:51):

I don’t think there’s a way that DocuSign can ever get to zero production of carbon, we’re always going to have people doing some amount of travel, we’re going to have offices, we’re going to need some electrical components. And even if we say we moved to get all of our resources to be the most sustainable, we’re taking all the sustainable generations, we’re supporting someone else to an oil based or a carbon based electrical production. So I do think that we don’t want to lie to ourselves and say that we’re perfect, but we do want to get to that carbon neutrality, which will require some small amount of offsets for us.

Dan Springer (05:29):

We want to focus it on reducing our consumption. Interestingly, when we do our quick analysis of consumption, our data centers are actually a tiny portion of it. We’re not like some of the tech companies that have really complex data center production volumes, ours are actually very straightforward, so it’s small, it’s the third or fourth item for us.

Dan Springer (05:50):

The big things for us is we have offices and people have to get to those offices, so it’s the transportation to the offices and then the power to run the offices. And then we have travel and we have people that, pre-pandemic, used to fly around to go see customers. And while that’s a valuable thing to do, what the pandemic has taught us is we could do a lot less of that. And so those are the kinds of areas where we really see our big buckets.

Dan Springer (06:15):

And we’re going to focus on those. Of the pandemic, if there is a silver lining, and there aren’t many, has dramatically reduced our consumption, so we’re not in our offices and we’re not traveling around. So we have seen reductions.

Dan Springer (06:27):

Post pandemic, we really are putting a major focus on where we can change things for the better. We’re calling going back to better and we can be even more efficient, and then we will buy offsets for that last component that we can’t eliminate.

Dan Springer (06:40):

I think it’s really critical that companies do that and own up to both getting to a neutral number, but also being honest about what component of that is really buying offsets, which is not the same as reducing the consumption in the first place.

Jane Goodall (06:54):

Don’t you agree that the more we collaborate with different like-minded companies, NGOs, et cetera, is what’s really going to save the planet?

Dan Springer (07:05):

I absolutely do. And you know, I think one of the challenges is, there’s a construct of people finally, particularly in the United States, accepting this reality. There’s so many communities that depend on forests for their livelihoods. I think that sometimes it’s missed because these are folks that don’t really have a seat at the table, particularly in some of the third world countries where you’ve spent a great deal of time. And so I actually think this awakening that we’ve had is critical, and now the challenge is getting people to accept that knowledge and intent is great, but action is what we really need. And so I think the best thing we can do is build governments and institutions there that are strong.

Dan Springer (07:43):

One of the powerful things that we started doing recently at DocuSign is actually to send teams pre-pandemic, we were sending teams to Central America of our employees who really wanted to play a bigger part in doing institutional building for nonprofits there that are trying to protect their forests. Now we’re doing it remotely. We just did our first year where we had a remote program, we couldn’t send people there. And I think that concept of all of us taking a little bit of responsibility to support those organizations, that their hearts are in the right places, but they don’t have some of the skills that businesses have to build those organizations, and that is something I think that we can all do more of.

Jane Goodall (08:19):

So you’re basically saying that your company wants to help companies in Latin America, but these would be companies run by local people, so that it comes from within the country and not imposed from outside.

Dan Springer (08:37):

That’s the goal. These are oftentimes non-profits that we’re helping build their organization skills, but the concept is to say, we want to help you do what you do better, as opposed to, we want to tell you what to do, in your backyard.

Jane Goodall (08:53):

Yep. So we began our program, we selected a tiny group, I think there were seven local Tanzanians and Faye went into the villages, not us and asked them, “What do you think we can do to make your lives better?” And we followed their requests, so gradually they came to trust us. And that program is now in 104 villages throughout the chimp range in Tanzania. They become our partners in conservation, and that program is in six other African countries. It’s their land, it’s their future. They’re the people who matter. And you have the same concept, right?

Dan Springer (09:34):

Yeah, absolutely. And it’s fantastic because it actually sort of reminds me very much of your Roots & Shoots Program. If you think about the magic of a quote you used once that I loved was, “Think locally and act locally,” and that concept of getting people to think about what they’re doing, really, in their own community. And if we can spread that, and have everyone who they most likely care most deeply about the area closest to home. And if we can spread that with some programs that really drive that sort of entrepreneurial spirit with that heart, I think it’s fantastic. This is a 30th year celebration, and I think it’s a great model for programs. They’re difficult, they need leadership, like getting that thousand flowers blooming all over the place, I think, is a fantastic way to carry on your legacy.

Jane Goodall (10:31):

As I’m sure, you know, we began Roots & Shoots with 12 high school students in Tanzania who were concerned about not just environmental problems, but also social problems. And from that little tiny beginning with 12 students, we’re now in around 60 countries around the world, with members in kindergarten, university, everything in between. And you are taking it to one new level, by involving your staff, because we all need to be involved. The main message is, every single individual makes an impact on the planet, every single day. And because everything is interconnected, which I learned in the rainforest, the Roots & Shoots groups choose projects that make the world better for people, the animals and for the environment, because it’s all interrelated. And I think it’s because they get to choose, that it’s taken off the way it has.

Jane Goodall (11:31):

How is it working in your company?

Dan Springer (11:34):

Well, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say, obviously I agree with you, but it would be a shame not to mention to your listeners how DocuSign chose to enter the Roots & Shoots program. Several months ago, I was interviewing you for DocuSign for the Forests Initiative and you used your amazing persuasion skills to shame me into having a Roots & Shoots program in our company. I think the logic she used was, first, she said, “Don’t you think companies should do this?” And I said, “Yeah, I think they should.” Then you said, “Well, don’t you think you should get started?” My little head went down. I said, “I guess I just signed up.” And what we’re trying to do is that same model of getting a lot of individual people motivated. I’m going to be working on a program where we’re doing local plantings that have to be within a mile of your home, was sort of initiative we set.

Dan Springer (12:22):

And as you know, you’ve been to my home, I live in downtown San Francisco. So it’s not easy to find spots where you can plant. But the other thing that you pushed me to do, which I think was really important, you said, “Make sure we get people so they’re engaging their children in the programs.” As an example, one of our employees actually went with her two young girls to a small school in San Francisco and said, “Let’s launch a Roots & Shoots,” that came out of that effort from DocuSign. So it was kind of a full circle to your point, we’re now going back into schools that are discovering you and discovering your work, and they’re going to be building birdhouses and planting native species. And the fact that that has gone full circle, back into the students of the employees, that just makes me feel really powerful, that there’s this opportunity that we can see that flywheel continue to spin and spread the word.

Jane Goodall (13:12):

And I take issue with you on one thing you said. You said I shamed you. I wasn’t shaming you, I was giving. I was giving you an opportunity to feel really good about yourself.

Dan Springer (13:29):

That’s exactly the right way to think about it. And that’s, in the future, how I will.

Jane Goodall (13:34):

And so how do you think involving your employees in Roots & Shoots, how do you think that’s made a difference? Has it?

Dan Springer (13:42):

I think it has. Well, there’s two things, to be really clear. I’ve talked before about DocuSign impact, and our core mission is to get our employees excited about contributing to their community. The benefit we get from that is they feel more excited about working at a company that cares about getting them in a motivated community. And so our employees that do these programs, whether we’re sending them to central America, or we’re sending them down the street to plant a tree, they feel better about DocuSign. And we clearly see it’s a part of what drives our great culture, and when you see these DocuSign Glassdoors for where people rate their companies, we’re in the top 1520 companies out of the hundreds of thousands, now millions, that are on Glassdoor. And the reason we end up in that top tier all the time is because people say they’re really proud about the kind of company we are.

Dan Springer (14:27):

And the other thing that I think is really powerful that people might miss, we’ve actually worked with our customers, so we were planting trees with our Unilever customers in London just before the pandemic. And as I watched the folks and they’re out there in the fields and we’re planting these trees, we had a connection with those customers. You’re not leading DocuSign. This is a special place. So whether it’s Walmart or Shell, a lot of the different companies that have said to us, “Can we connect with you on these environmental initiatives? Because it makes us feel better about the relationship with a core supplier,” is also another powerful benefit. So there’s a lot of selfish or company benefits we get, because we’re leveraging something really powerful, which is just, as you said to me, inspiring people to feel good about themselves and giving them an opportunity to feel proud about what they’re doing. And that definitely yields a lot of different positive externalities that comes from it. So we’re quite pleased.

Jane Goodall (15:22):

You’re saying that your employees feel really good about planting trees or whatever it is they’re doing to volunteer, and that makes you feel good. So basically, I think that the change that’s happening is that more and more of your customers and other customers of other companies are beginning to understand that the planet’s still a mess and that we need to do something.

Dan Springer (15:50):

What’s happening now is businesses are acting and voting with their feet, the same way some enlightened consumers have. So they’re saying, my supply chain needs to get on board with these same values, and so we do think that we will become a better supplier and a more attractive supplier to our customers if they see the positive environmental impact we’re going to make. Of course, with DocuSign, again, it’s such an obvious component of thinking about helping people not use paper, not ship things in FedEx packages around the world if they don’t need to, and do it with our digital tools. So people already start off feeling positive about us, and then when they see that we’re actually not just running our business, which is sort of a carbon positive business, right, we’re taking carbon out by having people not use paper and not cut down trees.

Dan Springer (16:38):

Then on top of that, our employees are engaging in these initiatives. That makes them even more excited about working with us. And I think we now have new set of tools that we’re realizing can work in ways we didn’t realize. As an example, we had a lot of employees that we said had to come to the office every day, and if they ask why we said, that’s just the nature of this job. Then we couldn’t have anyone come to the office. Guess what we learned, some of those jobs could be just as successful, not coming to the office everyday. So as we go back to better, we’re going to have a lot of jobs that we say never need to come to the office, and some maybe only need to come a couple of days a week. And if you think about that, if you move someone from commuting into the office from five days a week to two days, you save 60% of that commute component of the carbon creation.

Dan Springer (17:23):

So I think we have to find those opportunities. I was in Australia once and I met with your team down there in Australia, I loved the group. And they talked about how, when you came to Australia, it opened up amazing opportunities to them, for engagement, for fundraising, for all sorts of activities that were super powerful, and you motivated a lot of people. But the other big thing that I think we have to realize, it’s the other things that happen on top of our own travel. And so, as an example, I actually think there’s going to be opportunities for me to travel more and actually reduce the total travel. By that I mean we had events at DocuSign where we bring people from all over the world to San Francisco. So if there were three people in San Francisco that they came to talk to, what if we just had those three people, and I was one of them, go to those places?

Dan Springer (18:08):

And so instead of having thousands of people come here to be in a big auditorium, which is exciting, and there are benefits to getting that big tent event, but it’s a huge cost from am environmental impact standpoint. So what about I get a little less lazy and I go see them in Europe or wherever they’re coming from. So we’re going to look for opportunities to do that. So we may have some people that we actually need to move around even more, in order to prevent lots and lots of people from moving around. So we’ll have to get creative, but I think the right answer is not to be too draconian in the reaction the other way to use our really good thoughtful and cognitive skills to figure out what’s the optimal way we can manage those interactions.

Jane Goodall (18:59):

How did you get to be who you are?

Dan Springer (19:02):

Well, I am hugely a product of my mom. I grew up in a single parent household and I grew up with, I like to joke, my mom and my dog, but there are two things that inspired me.

Dan Springer (19:16):

One is I wanted to be successful, but I also grew up knowing that it was really important that I could have that pride you were just talking about earlier, I could feel good about the choices that I made. And not that I haven’t made so many mistakes and there are so many things that I wish I’d never done. I’ve had to learn from my mistakes. But I think that foundation that my mother gave me was that she trusted me. She didn’t lecture me about what to do. She just said, “You’ll know what to do. Trust your instincts, trust yourself. Be disciplined and hard on yourself.” But that thing is a foundational piece that I think drove most of the good and the maybe not so good about me, but definitely drove the good aspects, was that foundation from my mom.

Jane Goodall (19:59):

So you and I were both blessed with a supportive mother.

Dan Springer (20:03):

Yes. We were.

Jane Goodall (20:04):

It makes all the difference in the world. And you know, after 60 years of research for the chimpanzees of Gombe, we can look back and we see the offspring of the supportive mothers, that’s a very important role to stress.

Dan Springer (20:22):

Having gone through the process of becoming a single parent myself, and full-time raising my own sons, I think men can be those moms too. And I think that as a society, we need to demand that. We need to demand that the men [inaudible 00:20:33]can do that too. They have to be the moms, too.

Jane Goodall (20:36):

Definitely, it can be a man. And and Chimp society too, we get males adopting orphans and saving their lives and behaving just like mothers.

Dan Springer (20:47):

So growing up, not having a lot of siblings around, I guess cousins, but they were a bit younger, my dog was my companion. She was a constant, and I also learned so much in taking care of a dog, but the dog takes care of you in ways you probably don’t even understand as a youth, maybe don’t understand as much.

Dan Springer (21:07):

I actually have a funny, but somewhat embarrassing story. I spoke at my college graduation. I went to a tiny little school, so it wasn’t a big deal, but I was the student speaker and my dog had died about just a couple of months before I graduated from college. And I talked about losing one of my best friends. I didn’t mention that it was my dog, it was a much more high-level speech because we were all leaving school.

Dan Springer (21:31):

And I said, we’re about to leave these people that we love and care for, but now we’re going out in the world and I just lost this friend. I said, one of the things I think we can do is honoring those important friends, including our pets, by thinking about the best characteristics they have and trying to emulate that in our lives. Evidently it touched a cord for some people, and a lot of people came up afterwards and asked me about it, and then years went by and people would come up and ask me about this friend. And a couple of times I might’ve mentioned that, well, that was actually my childhood dog, and some people were horribly upset with me and offended. And they said, “I cried when you told that story, and it was your dog!” But it was a funny phenomenon for me to see some people that just couldn’t see that, they didn’t understand you could have that type of relationship.

Jane Goodall (22:14):

Well, I mean, we’re not the only beings on the planet with personalities, minds and emotions.

Dan Springer (22:19):

Yeah.

Jane Goodall (22:20):

And dogs are extraordinary, and they’ve got this title, man’s best friend. They are.

Dan Springer (22:27):

Yeah.

Jane Goodall (22:27):

They’re men and women’s best friend, because they are loyal. It’s unconditional love and unconditional loyalty.

Jane Goodall (22:36):

Dan, how do you feel about the future hopeful, depressed?

Dan Springer (22:41):

Well, you know, by my nature, I’m a very optimistic person. This has been a trying year, right? It’s been a trying year in many ways, particularly in the United States, the awakening we’ve had about some of the injustice in our society in multiple levels. And if you think about what we went through, really starting about a year ago, we have a much more aggressive understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement. And then even what we’re facing in the last couple of months, this massive increase in phenomenon around Asian hate crimes. You have to ask yourself, what was underlying such that someone could incite that? On the justice side, there’s a famous MLK quote about in history, the long arc of history bends towards justice.

Jane Goodall (23:26):

Don’t you think this is almost certainly because of certain political leaders talking about this pandemic and its causes?

Dan Springer (23:35):

I think the hardest thing in the last several years in the United States has not been seeing an individual or a small number of individuals saying offensive things, but seeing the receptivity that they’ve had to those messages. So I think for us to say it’s all about one individual who made some offensive comments, no question, but I think we have to own up to the fact that there are other challenges. And I think for our broader social issues that we’re struggling with, I think there’s an underlying piece that people like me have had trouble with admitting which is income inequality. And the dramatic acceleration of our income inequality is creating a phenomenon where we’re in a society where we’re not understanding what’s happening to the other people in our society. And we get into these echo chambers where you’re just around too many people like yourself. And the danger of that is you’re just missing what’s happening for the majority of people.

New Speaker (24:29):

We have to figure out a way to address income inequality. There are people who say, “I’ve got plenty of resources, I can have a positive environment, I can buy a home in the country. I can have trees. I can have all those things. It’s not my problem that other people don’t have those resources.” I’m unabashedly a capitalist. I’m very comfortable in capitalism. Is it better economic forum than any of the others, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a lot of problems. And so while I’m supportive of maintaining a capitalistic framework, how do we work around it to make it work for everyone? I think that’s the kind of challenge, as you said, we have to acknowledge that people have their human needs and human desires, and they’re going to have to take care of their families and do those things. How do we create an environment where they can do that, in a way that’s not so damaging their own environment, as well as our global environment?

Jane Goodall (25:17):

Well, I always say, we must acknowledge that we need money to live, right? We all need some money to live. Where it goes wrong is when you live for money for its own sake, for wealth and power. And if you are in a capitalistic framework, as you are, and you’re making money, but you’re making money to make the world a better place. And that’s what I always say when I’m talking to a big audience, I always say it’s fine if you’re making money to help make the world a better place. For example, giving money to the Jane Goodall Institute. That makes everybody laugh.

Dan Springer (25:54):

Exactly. Give away the money you’re making if you’re concerned about income inequality. Don’t stop making money. Actually, keep making money, keep building great businesses and do wonderful things, do all of those things in a responsible way, actually, do more of it so you can fund the important initiatives that we have. And so there’s no shame in making money, just use it wisely. And if you do that, then you can feel good about it.

Jane Goodall (26:21):

Yup. And that’s why if we care about the future of the planet and saving the forests and the oceans and equitable wages, we have to make money to enable these things to happen.

Jane Goodall (26:35):

Well, then I’m really grateful that you came and joined this Hopecast, and I think everybody who listens will come away with a slightly different perspective about what the tech companies can do and what they should do, and what they can do as individuals to make this world a better place. So thank you for joining us and giving up your valuable time, and I hope that next time we can meet in person and hug each other without a mask!

Dan Springer (27:09):

I’ll look forward to that. And thank you so much for having me, Jane, and I’ll just say, this is always one of my highlights, to get an opportunity to spend time with you. You are truly a treasure, you’re a global treasure. And the fact that I’ve gotten to know you, it really is one of the highlights of my life. So thank you so much for the friendship, and I look forward to those future opportunities where we get to meet in person.

Jane Goodall (27:44):

We hear: “Think globally, act locally.” Don’t. If you think globally, you become filled with gloom. But if you take a little piece of this whole picture, my piece, our piece: “This is what I can do here. I’m making a difference,” and, “Hey, wow, they’re making a difference over there. And so are they, and so are they.” And so gradually the pieces get filled in, and the world is a better place, because of you.

Jane Goodall (28:22):

Feel hopeful and inspired to act with the Jane Goodall Hopecast by subscribing on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts and anywhere podcasts are found. I’m your host, Jane Goodall. The Jane Goodall Hopecast is produced by the Jane Goodall Institute. Our production partner is Frequency Media. Michelle Khouri is our Executive Producer. Enna Garkusha is our producer, and Matthew Ernest Filler is our editor and sound designer. Our music is composed and performed by Ruth Mendelson with additional violin tracks from Angie Sheer. Sound design and music composition for the Conservation Chorus is by Matthew Ernest Filler.

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About Author

Scientist. Activist. Storyteller. Icon. Jane Goodall blazed the trail and changed the world. Now, she's studying new subjects – humans! This brand-new podcast will take listeners on a one-of-a-kind journey as they learn from Dr. Goodall's extraordinary life, hear from changemaking guests from every arena, and become awed by a growing movement sparked by Jane and fueled by hope. Join us as we get curious, grow compassion, and take action to build a better world for all. As we face some of the greatest challenges to humankind and the natural world, we have a unique opportunity: the power of technology to connect and share ideas. Now is the time to galvanize people around Jane’s message of hope in action and bring big thinkers together to change hearts and minds alike. The Jane Goodall Hopecast is produced by the Jane Goodall Institute by Dan DuPont, Shawn Sweeney, and Ashley Sullivan. Our production partner is FRQNCY Media. Michelle Khouri is our executive producer, Enna Garkusha is our producer, and Matthew Ernest Filler is our editor and sound designer. Our music is composed and performed by Ruth Mendelson with additional violin tracks from Angie Shyr. Sound design and music composition for the Conservation Chorus is by Matthew Ernest Filler.