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Social Impact Heroes: Julia Jackson of Grounded, is helping to identify scalable climate change solutions and bring them to the forefront of public awareness

…While thawing permafrost might not be something you hear about every day, it’s having a drastic impact on our planet. Scientists estimate that frozen permafrost holds almost twice the amount of carbon currently in the atmosphere. The release of this carbon would be detrimental to our planet.

As a part of my series about Social Impact Heroes, I had the pleasure to interview Julia Jackson. Julia, a second-generation proprietor of Jackson Family Wines, has dedicated her life to the environment on a global scale. She launched the Grounded Foundation and Summit in 2018 with the intention to make a significant difference in the world by identifying scalable climate change solutions and bringing them to the forefront of public awareness. She has a thriving history of transformative programs and awards, including honors from the Global Green organization, and was the 2019 commencement speaker for the Culinary Institute of America.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’m a second generation proprietor of Jackson Family Wines, and I come from a family of farmers. The environment has been of deep importance throughout my life; my family’s business depends on a symbiotic relationship to the land to produce wine, and our love and understanding of it has made us successful. I grew up not only feeling a connection to the environment, but understanding the importance of taking steps to protect it.

Nature is staggeringly beautiful — in its appearance, of course, but also in the stunning ways it functions. Growing up in California, I have had the incredible gift of living with easy access to mountains, oceans, deserts, to live among the deep biodiversity we are lucky to have. I have never taken that for granted. As a young girl, I was drawn to learn about the environment. As my knowledge grew, and I became more aware of the damage we are causing, I knew I needed to do as much as I possibly could to address this global crisis. Every year, we are seeing the increasingly devastating impact of global warming: In 2017, deadly wildfires unlike anything I had seen before raged through my community. We have had so much rain in California this year already causing extreme flooding and evacuations in Sonoma County. The impact of climate change is world-wide. That’s why I launched Grounded, a nonprofit dedicated to accelerating scalable solutions to climate change and increasing awareness around this urgent issue.

I like to say the inspiration for Grounded is personal as much as it is global. This isn’t just about my personal experience, but the threat to humanity as a whole.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

When my team and I decided to launch Grounded, it was an ambitious goal. We aimed to create a global event featuring some of the world’s most well-respected climate change experts and innovators in just ten months, which is a very short runway to plan an event of this magnitude.

As we were nearing the summit, I found myself overwhelmed at times by the immense pressure to have it be a success. There were some people who didn’t believe it was possible, who were underestimating our capabilities and questioning my youth and lack of experience, and this made me doubt myself and whether or not we could actually pull it off within the compressed timeline. I then headed to Davos to meet with earth scientists at the World Economic Forum. As I waited in the airport, I looked over and saw a woman I have deeply admired for a very long time: Jane Goodall. Her work changed the way we think about animal intelligence, and she is a fierce advocate for the environment. We said hello, and something clicked for me. Jane Goodall is someone who, despite the odds, never gave up. She persisted, and in doing so, gave a voice to an entire species and her work shaped our universal understanding of what it is to be human.

Motivated by this encounter, I boarded my flight and a few days later I had the pleasure of meeting Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate activist who has organized climate strikes for hundreds of thousands of children and students across the world, and recently received a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for her work. Connecting with Greta, even for a short time, and hearing her say the words “thank you for the work you’re doing,” not only reinvigorated me but reminded me why I started Grounded.

This series of events — meeting both the world’s most beloved primatologist and fiercest climate change activist- gave me renewed energy to move confidently toward our goal. In March 2019, we went on to launch what several attendees shared was “one of the most unique and motivating summits” they’d attended, and our post-event survey showed that 90% of attendees want to attend in 2020.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When we were just starting and were preparing to launch the website, we found a designer and started building out a site — but our visions were not aligned. For a few weeks, we went back and forth sending notes and ideas to the team, before realizing that we were not going to get the results we were looking for. Finally, one night my COO, JJ, and I decided to take on coding ourselves, even though we had never coded before. We laugh now at the thought of him coding, working 9 hours through the night, and me micromanaging his technique even though I had no experience with what he was doing. There were a few key lessons gained from this process. We should have realized when we were up at four in the morning trying to learn to code that we had taken some big steps in the wrong direction. In all seriousness, it was a good lesson to make sure to find the right people for the right jobs and, although we were a scrappy team, that everything works most effectively when people are operating within their wheelhouse. I can happily say that we learned our lesson and since then, we have only worked on the website in daylight hours — and we leave the coding to the experts.

Can you describe how your organization is making a significant social impact?

Our organization is providing a platform to showcase innovative solutions to fundamentally shift the trajectory of climate change. This year, our plan is to address the urgent issues of melting ice in the Arctic and rapidly thawing permafrost that is currently storing twice the amount of carbon in our atmosphere.

Our inaugural Grounded Summit in March convened scientists, activists, world leaders, business leaders and more to share solutions to the current crisis and serve as a platform for the innovators working on tangible solutions. Nikita Zimov, who was recently featured in 60 Minutes, spoke about his effort to slow the thawing of the Siberian permafrost by bringing back grazing animals to a nature reserve called Pleistocene Park. Another incredible innovator, Calla Rose Ostrander of The Marin Carbon Project, shared more about their scalable carbon farming model. We actually just produced a video with The Years Project featuring their work — and it’s receiving incredible response and reach. It was at 6 million views, the last time I checked. It really shows that the focus on solutions, and not just the problem, is motivating and powerful.

At the summit, it was inspiring to hear from many brilliant environmental leaders that are prioritizing a living planet. The Grounded ecosystem left inspired to work together toward tangible implementation and change. I believe that getting solutions further on the radar of the masses is a critical step in working together to restore ecological balance and reframe our mindset to be solutions oriented.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. Demand action from world leaders. We must continue to hold those in power accountable for taking action before the damage of climate change is irreversible. We must continue to galvanize the public, the private sector, policy makers, and NGOs so we are taking this on from all angles and making this a global priority. Climate change cannot wait.
  2. Minimize your carbon footprint wherever you can. Compost. Buy your food from local producers. Opt for a reusable water bottle instead of plastic. Take steps to reduce food waste. Never stop educating yourself on solutions that address this issue. There are so many steps you can make in your daily life that will be part of the time-critical need for solutions.
  3. Support brands and organizations that are taking steps to become more carbon-neutral. A little can go a long way here. By choosing to buy from brands that are producing eco-friendly products or making an effort to become more proactive about their environmental impact, you are using your power as a consumer to help improve the state of our planet.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To me, leadership means dreaming big and holding yourself accountable to that vision, in ways that motivate your team to work towards a common goal. It means giving credit when it is due, being humble, encouraging creative and innovative ways of operating and checking your ego at the door. It’s critical to listen to diverse perspectives and ideas to inform your path forward and decision processes, while simultaneously honoring your intuition. One of my advisory board members shared with me post event, “You’re a hummingbird, because if hummingbirds understood physics, they wouldn’t be able to fly — you just keep flying.” That has stayed with me, because I do believe strong leadership requires making things happen even if they seem impossible.

A book that I like to abide by, and just gave to my leadership team, is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. It delves into the self-limiting beliefs that keep us from reaching our full potential, and it’s a really valuable resource for both personal and professional life. The “four agreements” are as follows:

  • Be impeccable with your word.
  • Don’t take anything personally.
  • Don’t make assumptions.
  • Always do your best.

I highly recommend this book for everyone, whether you are managing a team or looking to live a more enriching life.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

There are so many things that come to mind. First, that there’s nothing wrong with being a perfectionist. The word perfectionism gets a bad reputation, it can feel unachievable or unrealistic to aim for “perfect.” I think of it differently. Having high standards can be quite motivating and it informs how my team and I function. Perfection is subjective, you create your own version of it. It’s powerful to set ambitious, or even seemingly “impossible” goals, and to hold yourself to those high standards to get there. Finding your personal balance of a detail-focus and ambitious big picture goal will ultimately push you to greatness.

Trust your gut instinct. It’s easy to doubt yourself, especially when taking risks and facing new challenges. But whenever I have not followed my intuition, it’s always turned out that my gut was right. We are all capable of tapping into our intuitive side, and it’s one of our most powerful resources. I wish someone had told me earlier to trust that ability and listen to it to help guide my decisions.

Don’t burn yourself out. That’s easier said than done, but you have to make sure to carve out time to care for yourself. When I am intensely focused on something, I can forget to eat or do the most basic things, like prioritize sleep. I wish someone had told me earlier to proactively and intensely invest in self care — we’re only at our best when we are at a strong baseline of functioning. Take time to slow down when you need to.

Happiness is a conscious choice; choose your thoughts wisely. Working in the environmental space is overwhelming, it’s a tall order. But you have to be able to see the optimism to stay on mission and keep going. I truly believe that optimism and hope, despite the odds and with reckless abandon, is what will allow us to address the climate crisis with the energy we need. Your thoughts really impact you — pay attention to them.

Finally, choose a team that shares the same core mission as you do — who really ultimately cares about the cause. It’s often said that you are only as strong as your team, and it’s true. It’s vital to surround yourself with passionate individuals who bring diverse voices and skill sets to the table. I have been so lucky to build the Grounded team to where it is today, they come from unique backgrounds and bring such powerful energy and insights to our work, all with the guiding connection to the importance of our mission.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think in the immediate there are two areas I wish everyone would rally behind: the melting of the Arctic ice caps and thawing permafrost. These regions are critical to maintaining global ecosystems and are melting at overwhelming rates. I’m especially concerned about the threat on the coasts and the millions of people who will be displaced if we do not take action on this front. Additionally, while thawing permafrost might not be something you hear about every day, it’s having a drastic impact on our planet. Scientists estimate that frozen permafrost holds almost twice the amount of carbon currently in the atmosphere. The release of this carbon would be detrimental to our planet: ground would become unstable, we’d see great harm to natural ecosystems and the release of a devastating excess of emissions into the atmosphere. We need permafrost to remain frozen for our planet to maintain environmental health. There are currently innovative solutions out there for both of these issues — and it would be world-changing if a global movement started to preserve and restore Arctic health.

In addition to Nikita Zimbov and his permafrost solution I previously shared, Dr. Leslie Field, Founder & CEO of Ice911 and one of our speakers at Grounded, is doing groundbreaking work around restoring ice in the Arctic with reflective glass microspheres. Whenever I feel overwhelmed about our climate crisis, I remember that there are people dedicating their lives to finding real, scalable solutions that can make a critical impact if implemented globally. I am an impatient optimist. I believe in the strength and power of humans, and I do think we have the capacity not just for sustaining, but regenerating the Earth. If we could get all world leaders, and all people, motivated to support these incredible solutions, we would be able to heal our planet.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars.” This Oscar Wilde quote, which I know is a bit cliché, has always been one I have loved, and is especially relevant as I work on Grounded. Whenever I start to feel like climate change is something we won’t be able to fix, I come back to it. It reminds us that ultimately, you’ll never go wrong if you work toward achieving a big dream. Life is not linear, you may not end up exactly where you projected; that’s the beauty of progress. It takes courage to step outside of the conventional ways of doing things, to use innovation and creativity to reach a high bar and be confident enough to jump. When you do, even if you don’t end up on the moon, you will end up somewhere worthwhile.

Another life lesson quote that I come back to again and again is one by Emporer Marcus Aurelius, “What we do now echoes for eternity.” It’s an over 2000-year-old quote and still modernly relevant. It reminds me that it’s bigger than the day-to-day, and that each choice we make creates ripples and echoes for generations. It’s helpful to think about that larger perspective, especially when working on something that impacts every single person — and will for years to come.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

One person who I’m really inspired by right now is Greta Thunberg.

If you haven’t read about her speech at Davos, I highly recommend checking it out. One thing Greta mentioned in that speech in particular struck a chord with me: “Adults keep saying: ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.”

To hear a teenager speak with this amount of conviction around climate change — and the potential end of humankind — is not only inspiring, but telling. Many of today’s Gen Z’ers and millennials, including myself, grew up hearing the terms “global warming” and “climate change” almost on a daily basis. We know that climate change cannot wait for our generation’s children and grandchildren to find a solution. We don’t have that time; we need to confront it now.

Greta has really been such an effective voice around the urgency of climate change, and I hope one day to spend some more time with her face-to-face to share ideas around how we can continue to demand a better future from our leaders.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow Grounded on Instagram and Twitter @GroundedSummit, and on Facebook at facebook.com/GroundedOrg/.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!