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Julia Jackson of Grounded: “Make impact like your life depends on it because it does”

Make impact like your life depends on it because it does. There is nothing more powerful than educating yourself about the environment and using your voice. Knowledge is power, so read as many environmental books as you can get your hands on. Make reading exciting, create a book club with your friends or even listen […]

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Make impact like your life depends on it because it does. There is nothing more powerful than educating yourself about the environment and using your voice. Knowledge is power, so read as many environmental books as you can get your hands on. Make reading exciting, create a book club with your friends or even listen to the book on audio. Start a climate solutions book club or community. Remember that you are powerful and you can make a difference no matter how small.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julia Jackson, Founder & CEO, Grounded.

Julia Jackson, a second-generation proprietor of Jackson Family Wines, has dedicated he life to the environment on a global scale. Raised on the family’s mountain vineyards in Sonoma County, she has long held a deep respect for nature and sees herself as a custodian of the land. Deeply impacted by the California wildfires, Julia moved from being an environmental philanthropist to a climate change activist.

In 2018, she founded Grounded, a nonprofit organization to identify and accelerate the most impactful solutions to ensure a livable planet. Its intention is to align people and the planet through shared learning, innovative solutions and cross-industry collaboration.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

I grew up on a ranch. I was raised in Sonoma County, California and worked in my family’s wine business. Vineyards, of course, are entirely reliant on the climate. I’ve always been sensitive to climate and the cycles of nature because they influence when we plant, when we harvest, when we pick, when the chutes come up. Growing up, I was taught by my father to be a steward of the land and to give back what you take, and to live in reciprocity with our natural world.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

We are trying to increase the sense of urgency people feel to solve the climate crisis, and then offer solutions that can be scaled quickly.

According to science, we have just seven years until we’re past the point of no return on global temperature rise. I understand it feels hopeless, but inside of this hopelessness, I have found purpose. Grounded.org is an expression of that purpose — an organization with the mission to bring together climate solutionists, unify siloed environmental efforts and build a united front with tactical plans and roadmaps that center around more action and less talk. Currently less than 2% of all philanthropic giving is going towards environmental causes. If we don’t have a planet than all other philanthropic causes will seek to exist.

To us, more action and less talk means that communities around the world are aware of the climate crisis and are demanding the solutions being implemented. Action means more money is going towards the environment, not only towards philanthropic capital but also micro-donations from citizens across the globe. Action means that “ecocide,” the criminalizing of biodiversity destruction, has been recognized on the global stage as a solution to stop the reckless destruction of our planet. Action means that indigenous communities are not just protected through legislative reform, but also action means we are listening to, abiding by and implementing their centuries-old stewardship and knowledge to help conserve the last pristine intact ecosystems of our planet which draw down carbon.

Grounded is supporting something developed by a partner of ours, One Earth, called the Global Safety Net — it’s the first comprehensive global-scale analysis of terrestrial areas essential for biodiversity and climate resilience, totaling 50.4% of the Earth’s land. What it shows is that indigenous land overlaps extensively with the Global Safety Net. Action on climate world means preserving our biodiversity globally and placing the preservation of indigenous lands front and center.

Lastly, governments need to dramatically up their Paris Agreement commitments. Very few countries are on track to meet the goals set in Paris. In fact, only 2 countries are on target to stay reach 1.5 degrees Celsius, Morocco and Gambia. Action on climate means that governments no longer just talk but are really abiding by mass reductions for carbon emissions and joining Morocco and Gambia in their efforts.

That’s the immediate change we’re seeking.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

Just after college, my father passed away from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I was desperate for answers. I remember going into a bookstore and buying a lot of books on cancer. What I found was shocking: Every single book I read was about environmental toxicity — about the link between our internal state of health and the environment and how we treat our environment and all the carcinogens and toxins and pesticides and heavy metals that we’re exposed to every day and how it builds up in our system.

That was a real wake-up call.

Then I came across another book that changed everything for me. The book was Drawdown and the author was Paul Hawken, American environmentalist and entrepreneur. Drawdown puts forth 100 solutions to reverse the climate crisis, a constructive and optimistic departure from the doom and gloom that typically accompanies discourse around the climate.

Until I read Drawdown, it felt so overwhelming of a problem. What I loved about Paul is that he showed the possibilities of digesting this crisis into actionable solutions that seemed doable and can be implemented today.

As I was learning, and absorbing this, the wildfires came. It was the Tubbs fire in Northern California, where I lived, in October 2017 that set me on this path. I remember the scene of destruction as we evacuated the family ranch in Sonoma. I remember driving down the freeway and it looked like a scene out of an apocalypse movie. The hospital was on fire. There was fire on the freeway. I couldn’t breathe. It was raining ash. I remember having a moment of thinking, “We’re really heading off a cliff faster than I realized.”

Out of that experience I had the “aha moment.” My idea was to connect and mobilize the many climate groups around the globe. Moments later, staying with a friend, I started frantically mapping out what would become Grounded, which was born from a huge sense of urgency inside of me living the climate crisis firsthand.

The name of the organization reflects how one needs to be grounded internally and connected with nature, listening to the laws of the natural world and recognizing we are inherently nature.

Ultimately my home was destroyed in the 2019 fires and I lost everything in that fire. For the thousands of people displaced or even killed, the fires underscore a pretty stark reality: the climate crisis isn’t coming; it’s here. This is the future of our planet and it’s hanging in the balance right now and it’s up to us if we would like to have a livable future or not.

Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

I was fortunate because I was in a position where I could truly throw all of myself into something. I took a sabbatical and moved fast — I spent hours cold calling climate solutionists and scientists to learn more about the climate emergency we’re dealing with. I read a lot about various topics related to climate solutions and realized that I was in a unique position to de-silo these efforts and bring everyone to the same table. Everyone in the climate space is doing great work, but they’re all working in their own worlds and competing for a small slice of the pie in terms of funding.

My best advice is to survey the landscape; call and lean on people you trust; and just go for it. If you feel a fire ignited deep within your core, listen to that calling and inner voice.

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

A lot of interesting and serendipitous things have happened to me since launching Grounded. I truly believe everything happens for a reason. I remember meeting my dear friend, an Otomi-Toltec elder, Mindahi Bastida at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco and inviting him to speak at our inaugural solutions-focused Grounded Summit. Mindahi brought his friend an Arhuaco elder Ñankua Chaparro to attend the summit and performed a blessing on me in private. I felt truly honored to receive this blessing.

I’ve also had the honor of meeting and learning from other incredible indigenous leaders such as Nemonte Nenquimo and her husband Mitch Anderson, who cofounded the Indigenous-led nonprofit organization Ceibo Alliance. Nemonte is the first female president of the Waorani organization of Pastaza province and one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Indigenous peoples like Mindahi and Nemonte have a critical role to play in challenging and transforming systems and structures that have caused immense human suffering and environmental damage. They are the world’s first line of defense against deforestation and global temperature rise. But that role will only be possible if they are supported to preserve their cultures and protect the forests on which those cultures depend.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

Absolutely. I have an unlikely collection of amazing mentors who have helped guide me on my environmentalism journey. Some of these people include Mindahi Bastida, an Otomi-Toltec elder and close friend. Ken Kitatani, who is a Shinto Priest and close friend. Tom Feegel who is the CEO of EO Products who is teaching me about team building and leadership. My Transcendental Meditation Teacher, Laurent Valosek. My friend, the amazing environmentalist Paul Hawken. Lastly, Cristiana Fragola, who has been empowering me to recognize my inner strength and resilience.

A story I have about Paul Hawken is that I fan-girled on him because his book Drawdown was the best solutions focused piece of writing I’d ever read. I tried to get him to autograph my book. He took one look at the book and handed me his business card and I handed him mine. Fast forward, he sends me an email asking for my office address and the next week I receive 15 copies of Drawdown with a note saying “I’ll trade these Drawdowns in exchange for your copy because your copy is the most well-read Drawdown I’ve ever seen and I would like to frame it.”

I think I read that book 3 times. Paul and I became friends soon after, and to this day, his work deeply speaks to me and moves me to my core.

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

Yes. Firstly, it is time to divest from fossil fuels. Annually as a globe, we are spewing out 40 billion tons of CO2 per year and rising. These gases are being trapped in the atmosphere causing the planet to warm at a very fast rate. We are all deeply invested in fossil fuels, whether we recognize it or not. It’s time to really evaluate where your money goes from who you bank with to the food you consume and the clothing you wear. The world’s largest investment banks have provided funding of more than 700bn dollars to fossil fuel companies since the Paris Agreement.

Secondly, we need to put many more Indigenous Peoples in leadership positions across the globe. My climate colleagues and I would feel better sleeping at night if we knew that there were more Indigenous Peoples leading efforts towards reversing the crisis, as they know how to live with the earth and not from the earth.

As I said, our indigenous communities are quite literally our last line of defense for survival. Many people separate the climate crisis and biodiversity collapse, but the truth is that they are deeply intertwined. If we don’t preserve the last pristine intact ecosystems and empower the communities that protect them, we are all set to face the consequences. Indigenous Peoples make up less than 5 percent of the global population, yet they inhabit 80 percent of the most biodiverse regions. There is a reason for this. They live with values of honor, respect, recited to city and love of the planet. As much as we are in a climate crisis, we are in a moral crisis where we are treating the planet with widespread sociopathic and parasitic actions. Indigenous values are being lost in modern society. They have long practiced land management and conservation methods that scientists now say are crucial solutions for the climate crisis and enriching biodiversity.

Finally, funders, donors and all citizens need to step up, committing more to solutionists across the globe. A shocking but very real statistic is that 2% of all philanthropy goes to environmental causes, and that’s nowhere near enough to match the scale of the crisis. If we don’t have a planet than all other philanthropy will cease to exist.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

I’m honestly not sure I believe in our current profitability model anymore. Our economic models are extractive, destructive and are wiping out all life on earth. I believe in Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics philosophy that does not cause our species to potentially become extinct. I also don’t like the word “sustainability” because we are sustaining ourselves off a cliff. We should not congratulate companies who are doing “less bad,” and sliding by with a reduction mindset, reducing their carbon and “sustaining” bad and destructive behaviors.

We need to regenerate, replenish and heal the earth. The companies that are doing this are primarily local and abiding by circular economy and doughnut economic models. I’m going to say something not very popular: we must consume less. We don’t need more stuff, more plastic, more clothing, more this and more that. What losing everything in the fires taught me is that material possessions don’t matter, our collective livelihood and survival does.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Make impact like your life depends on it because it does. There is nothing more powerful than educating yourself about the environment and using your voice. Knowledge is power, so read as many environmental books as you can get your hands on. Make reading exciting, create a book club with your friends or even listen to the book on audio. Start a climate solutions book club or community. Remember that you are powerful and you can make a difference no matter how small.

Also, start learning about the land you inhabit and the local tribes that either inhabited the land before you or live in your community. Befriend an indigenous community member, take them to lunch, ask them questions, listen to them and heed to their advice on how to make a positive impact on our planet. Their knowledge is so powerful and must be honored and recognized. This crisis is not just about young people, it’s about everyone. We have a ticking clock to save the planet from the worst impacts of the climate crisis. This is the most urgent calling of our time. No one can sit this out.

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

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

For me, getting into a flow state has involved commitment to my own personal growth and evolution. This means taking a look within and developing tools that help you find peace in the present moment.

I’ve overcome a lot of challenges in my life, including losing my home to the Kincaid fire. I also used to live in the future and dwell in the past with a lot of fear pertaining to the climate crisis and what will happen to us all within the next 10 years. Each experience has made me dive deeper within, only to emerge stronger, more resilient and committed to the task at hand. My respite comes from practicing Transcendental Meditation daily and one of my greatest teachers is nature. Combining meditation and spending more time in nature helps me go within.

I believe everything is energy, and when you’re in a grounded place, that energy reverberates strongly and is a powerful tool for manifesting your highest potential and impact on the world. Don’t look outside for answers, your intuition always knows if you’re quiet enough to listen.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can sign up at Grounded.org Or you can learn more at @GroundedOrg on Facebook, @Grounded_Org on Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram, or follow me on Instagram, @juliakjackson

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