Creating approachable, entertaining content on a topic like sustainability is not easy. Not only is it a broad, catch-all term that has come to mean many things, but sustainability-related content can feel chiding and exclusionary. Levi “Save The World” Hildebrand, is a YouTube sustainability influencer taking a different approach, and he hopes to include those ordinarily outside of the conversation. His open-minded, non-judgmental take that promotes a spectrum of environmentalism — where you “don’t need to be a hero to save the planet” — has seen his videos garner over nine million views in under four years.
In this episode, we hear how Levi built his channel through his unique communication strategies and the balance he strikes between brand content and other pertinent issues. Levi acknowledges the responsibility he has to his audience as a self-proclaimed gateway drug to sustainability and talks about the measured way he handles sponsorship and content creation. We also touch on building trust, how Levi ensures he is not compromising himself for the sake of ad revenue, his privilege and the risks it has allowed him to take, and his evolving theory of change. Check out one of the below links for the full episode:
Key Points From This Episode
How to attract the audience that really needs to hear your message
When Levi’s Patagonia video took off, he didn’t mention anything about sustainability in the name. He titled it, “Is PATAGONIA Worth the Money?” because he knew that would be the first question on a lot of peoples’ minds when they were in the market for a new coat. He garnered a lot of views and attracted an audience that may not have expected to get information on sustainability and ethical brands, but they heard the message anyway. Reaching new minds and planting seeds of environmental awareness is ultimately what spreads the message.
How to stay motivated when you’re not making visible progress
Before making the Patagonia video, Levi made no money on YouTube in his first year and nothing notable the second. So how did he find the motivation to continue when most would have chalked it up to a waste of time? The secret is mindset. There’s a saying amongst musicians to always play as if there’s a live show with a packed crowd. Additionally, Levi knew that his ultimate focus was to feature individuals and ideas making the planet a better place. This is a broad focus and allowed him to go so long making content with little returns. Ultimately, when he finally hit his break, he was able to identify his niche audience and could continue to make videos with that in mind.
Why we need to move past the “all or nothing” mindset
A lot of people label things in a black & white manner, thinking, ‘well if you’re not for this, then you must be against it.’ This is divisive thinking and fails to acknowledge that there is actually a spectrum of participation for different causes. Levi admits he’s not the most sustainable person in the world, or even on the YouTube platform. However, what is important is fostering trust with his audience so that he can draw in new viewers to spread the message further — like a gateway drug to sustainability, in his words. Essentially, you don’t need to be “all in” to make meaningful change in your own way.
The responsibility that comes with doing brand deals
If you as a creator do things just to make money and somehow misguide your audience, their loss of trust in you will be far more impactful than the money you would miss out on had you not done the deal. Levi notes a time he turned down a brand deal from a mining company because it didn’t align with his channel. However, after a month of research and conversations, he realized they would be something beneficial to feature due to their mining practices and mission. He made sure that he titled the video ‘This Video is Sponsored by an Open Pit Mine’ to obviously indicate what it was about and not misguide his viewers. Though it didn’t perform as well as some other videos in views, it had a lot of valuable engagement.
Why you should use your privilege to take risks
Levi notes being a white, straight male in North America from a middle-class background as providing him an enormous safety net should he fail with his current career. He pledges 1% of revenue to 1% for the Planet, and is even considering either demonetizing his videos or donating his ad revenue to environmental causes in the next year. Basically, aside from social media careers being ‘risky,’ he takes it a step further. What motivates him is the fact that he has always felt a responsibility to do something with his privilege, and he can afford to take these risks to improve the lives of others and our planet because of this, so he does. Hopefully, more and more individuals with various types of privileges in their lives will begin to do the same as well.
“I create educational environmental content, and one of the ways that I’ve strategically positioned my channel is to appeal to people who are not necessarily already a part of the climate change conversation.” — @Levi_Hildebrand[0:02:38]
“I see myself as the gateway drug to sustainability.” — @Levi_Hildebrand [0:09:47]
“I know that I could make exclusively brand-focused content. The problem with that though, for me, is that I know that there’s only a finite number of brands that are sustainable.” — @Levi_Hildebrand [0:24:46]
“My interest in growth and becoming super famous has lessened significantly, and my interest in being able to create a community that works for not only my lifestyle but also for the people who watch has definitely taken a bigger priority in the last six to eight months.” — @Levi_Hildebrand [0:42:42]
“Something I’m excited for with this channel is my audience and I growing up together.” — @Levi_Hildebrand[0:46:10]
“The whole point of not being a hero is you got to recognize what you can do and live within that because otherwise you just get burnt out. Come on. Who wants to live a life where you’re just like constantly policing yourself?” — @Levi_Hildebrand [0:49:16]
Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode
Benjamin Von Wong
Benjamin Von Wong on Instagram
The Unforgettable Campaigns
Levi Hildebrand on YouTube
Levi Hildebrand on Instagram
Levi Hildebrand on Twitter
‘Is PATAGONIA Worth The Money?’
Nouveau Monde Graphite
‘This Video is Sponsored by an Open Pit Mine.’
‘Why are Birkenstocks SO Popular?’
1% for the Planet