Member Profile: Justin Cadelago

Justin Cadelago Managing Director, US & Global Head of Partnerships at media nonprofit Imagine5

Justin’s career has been defined by building and scaling media companies, technology platforms, and consumer brands via content, partnerships, storytelling, and commerce. He was the youngest executive to be recognized as one of Variety Magazine’s Dealmakers Elite New York for his media and entertainment work before cofounding Bookshlf in 2019, a media curation platform for organizing and sharing digital content acquired by Faves.

After becoming “obsessed, in a good way,” about climate change during the pandemic, Justin now works at the intersection of storytelling and climate action, overseeing global partnerships and stewarding the U.S. footprint of global environmental media nonprofit Imagine5.

Ahead of his April 24 session at CANOPY for Climate Week, Justin talks about reframing the narrative, climate optimism, and why he wishes more celebs would speak up on climate change.

You joined Imagine5 in January 2023. Tell us a little about the company, its evolution, and its work in Europe and the U.S.

Imagine5 is a global environmental media nonprofit. Through print, online journalism, and multimedia storytelling, we inspire hope and optimism about climate action to help people live more sustainable lifestyles.

Imagine5 began as a philanthropic foundation founded by a single-family office in Copenhagen and Amsterdam around four years ago, providing grants to various organizations while producing original content. Over the last couple of years, it has evolved to look and feel much more like a contemporary media organization and content publisher. After we started to tell stories in the U.S. and our audience here grew, the U.S. arm was established in 2022. I was hired to help run it.

I saw the content on Imagine5’s website and thought, “Wow.” Is high-level editorial and visual production essential to how Imagine5 accomplishes its goals?

Absolutely. In my opinion, climate storytelling and communications haven’t emphasized high-quality visual storytelling enough. Our industry has been driven by data and complicated scientific vocabulary for decades. While these are important and informative to many, they’re often incomprehensible to the layman, so audiences become disengaged and apathetic. The same goes for doom and gloom media coverage. 

Imagine5 takes a different approach, emphasizing a high-quality visual aesthetic coupled with our optimistic, positive-skewing editorial lens to tell stories that inspire hope and optimism via print journalism, digital journalism, newsletters, and our social media channels: Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

When you tell accessible stories that are hopeful and beautiful, center change makers and solutions, and meet people where they’re comfortable, they will be much more receptive. 

Who do you typically partner with to share your message?

We focus on partnering with content creators —creatives, storytellers, and thought leaders who have amassed a sizable following on social media by building expertise in a specific topic. We might produce a series on sustainable fashion or eco-travel and find collaborators and partners in those categories who share in our collective mission, putting content out into the world together that will inspire and empower people to make positive changes.

For example, plant-based, low-waste chef Max La Manna has built a massive audience online by teaching people about the benefits of low-waste cooking and eating seasonal plant-based produce. As an organization, we can come together to amplify our collective mission because there’s a lot of overlap in what Imagine5 and Max talk about. 

An example of a partnership we collaborated with Max to develop a series that entertains and educates people by creating an episodic cooking series on plant-based, low-waste recipes called In the Kitchen with Max La Manna,  meeting them in the kitchen where they’re thinking about their food choices and cooking nutritious, tasty dishes.

Tell us about two recent projects.

We recently interviewed David Byrne of the Talking Heads. In addition to being a musical genius, David believes in the power of solutions-oriented storytelling and shared some inspiring ideas about how people can affect change. You can watch that conversation here.

Another recent story I loved was about the Oscar’s viewing party by indigenous educator Kianna Pete. She talks about how The Oscar-nominated movie Killers of the Flower Moon centers the Osage, an Indigenous tribal nation in Oklahoma, but has impacted Indigenous peoples worldwide.

What does a typical day look like for you related to your roles and responsibilities at Imagine5? 

My work combines many disciplines across media, from content development to production, media strategy, and partnerships. Imagine5 produces content for various channels in the form of short-form video, photo shoots, and editorial journalism. Once we’ve produced a story, we decide how to best amplify it across various channels to maximize our impact and growth.

I have dual roles. One is as Managing Director of the United States, where I’m focused on growing our brand in the U.S., creating credibility, and building our reputation through storytelling. I collaborate with our team abroad in Europe and here in the U.S., managing our U.S. social media presence, video production, ambassadors, and partnerships while overseeing a network of freelance creatives and storytellers. Collectively, we’ll decide what subjects we want to feature, what stories we want to tell, and how those stories should come to life. 

I also oversee our global partnerships. We collaborate with organizations, creators, and other nonprofits to amplify our collective mission, grow our brand, and maximize our impact. A typical day in this role might include deciding what partners we want to collaborate with, negotiating and architecting the partnership, developing the narrative strategy, or being on set producing a project. 

Wearing both hats, I’m always thinking about impact: how to maximize a story’s visibility, how a given story will impact our audience, and how, after discovering the story, people can make changes in their day-to-day lives. 

Why do you focus on inspiring and influencing individuals rather than large organizations or governmental policy?

As primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall once said, “Change starts from within.” We believe that solving the climate crisis starts with individual action. Helping people to understand how to live more sustainably will create a domino effect. It certainly is not and should not only be the responsibility of individuals, but I can speak from personal experience: once you start to take accountability and ownership over your own life, you feel more inclined to participate in collective movements. 

I believe that if you’re fortunate to be in the position to do so, you should. Systemic movements, like protests and turning out to vote, can start with simple changes like choosing a plant-based diet, reducing food waste, or taking public transportation instead of driving.

What does success look like for Imagine5?

Success for us is equal parts growth and impact. 

Every year, we put out an impact survey across our channels to measure our impact so that we have data to support how the stories we tell influence people’s lives. In our December 2023 survey, we asked, “Do individual actions matter?” and 92 percent of the respondents said they did. Eighty-seven percent said they intended to change their behavior over the next six months, and 88 percent said Imagine5 had influenced them. It’s great motivation to continue doing the work that we do. 

However, as a business, we must demonstrate that our stories resonate with audiences. We quantify that by measuring growth across our media channels and community membership. In that capacity, we measure success by social media audience growth, newsletter subscribers, website traffic, print magazine sales, and membership program contributions.  

Can you share something new you’re currently working on?

Yes! We tell stories through journalism and short-form video which we know can empower change, but the next step is activating that change by providing the tools and resources to help people live more sustainably. An inspiring article about a person solving food waste might inspire someone to reduce their own waste but not tactically inform them how to go about accomplishing that—for example, teaching them how to learn to cook with the ingredients that they already have in their fridge.

This summer, Imagine5 will produce a series of toolkits around specific subjects to complement our content. For example, if we tell a story about food waste, we will also provide our audience with tools and resources to reduce their food waste. If we tell a story about sustainable fashion, we might share a toolkit to teach them how to shop vintage or secondhand or create a capsule collection. 

Are there any obstacles to your work that you wish could be removed?

The obstacles around climate communications are driven by decades of misinformation, political weaponization, and shaming, but I see this as an opportunity. 

As someone who, for 30+ years, didn’t consider himself an environmentalist, I think a lot about how to meet people where they’re comfortable—how to reframe the narrative around making sustainable choices feel like a benefit, not a compromise. 

We believe that by telling stories that merge culture with sustainability, we can engage people who otherwise would have felt alienated. There is an untapped opportunity to authentically integrate solutions-oriented storytelling with themes like fashion, sports, entertainment, food, and music to empower more people to champion the causes they care about in the climate conversation. 

Additionally, we need to amplify these stories and solutions on the biggest platform possible, and one of those platforms is celebrity culture. As a society, we know the impact a celebrity can have when they speak up on social and political issues, so I’m optimistic that climate solutions and sustainability will become more dominant themes in mainstream entertainment and popular culture over the next few years. 

How does your membership at CANOPY support you in your work? 

Our team has a membership at CANOPY Jackson Square for all full-time employees and additional team members who visit the space frequently. Our membership gives us access to all CANOPY locations, which is useful for in-person and virtual meetings; our employees living in the South Bay can work at CANOPY Menlo Park

I love it here—the Jackson Square shared office is gorgeous. As a creative person, I need to be in a beautifully designed space close to visually interesting neighborhood locations so I’m constantly inspired. The staff is super thoughtful; many of my office colleagues have become friends. 

Sustainability is also one of CANOPY’s pillars—it’s one of the few coworking spaces that’s also a B Corp—so we’re aligned regarding operations and event programming. Next week, I’m cohosting an event for kids about the cosmos and protecting Earth on April 25 with Nat Geo Astrobiologist Julia DeMarines, which is exciting.

What single piece of advice do you like to give to someone who wants to enter your field? 

Every job is a climate job.

What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve ever received?

“If you want to, you will.”

Do you have a film, book, or podcast you’d like to recommend?

Too many to count! 

On Climate Solutions, Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming edited by Paul Hawken; his follow-up Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation; and Braiding Sweetgrass Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer.  

On food, Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe,  The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollen, How Not to Die by Michael Greger, M.D., and Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. These books changed the way I think about the global food system and my personal relationship with food. 

On personal growth, I love The Rich Roll Podcast, a masterclass in personal and professional development from ultra-athlete, wellness evangelist, and bestselling author Rich Roll. Rich delves deep with the world’s brightest and most thought-provoking thought leaders to educate, inspire, and empower you to unleash your best, most authentic self.

On creativity, The Creative Act: A Way of Being, by Rick Rubin and The War of Art by Stepehn Pressfield

On business, I’ve recently been loving  The Town with Matthew Belloni, which is an inside look into the business of Hollywood: the convergence of entertainment and media, the streaming wars, and deal-making. 

On life, gratitude and perspective, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by Jean-Dominique Bauby

How do you spend your time outside the office in S.F. Bay Area?

I’m on a never-ending pursuit to find creative inspiration. When I’m in the city, you might find me at an art gallery, a museum, a used bookstore, or a vintage shop.

Since moving back to S.F. from NYC, I’ve been spending a lot of time reconnecting with nature. I am an avid runner, a marathoner, and an ultramarathoner, so on the weekends you can probably find me trail running in the Marin Headlands. 

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You can follow Justin on Instagram and LinkedIn. You can also follow Imagine5 via its website, Imagine5.com, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. You can sign up for Imagine5’s newsletter here.

Sign up for Justin’s April 24th Earth Celebration “Space In Your Face!” here