Conversation with Jena Thompson

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The Fund worked with the Philadelphia Eagles and the State of Pennsylvania to restore the Eagles Forest at Neshaminy State Park near Philadelphia.  Dubbed the The Fund plants only native seedlings to restore the park's natural ecosystem.

Jena Thompson oversees The Conservation Fund’s Go ZeroSM program,  an innovative climate change initiative that has generated significant support from individuals, organizations and Fortune 500 businesses.

Prior to overseeing Go Zero, Jena led the marketing and communications division of The Conservation Fund – building overall brand and messaging strategies that positioned the organization as the nation’s top-rated environmental charity.

She has also worked as a conservation associate for Resources Law Group in California and director of international sales and marketing for Austin Logistics, a private financial services software firm in Austin, Texas.

Jena holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Texas and enjoys scuba diving, travel, and the outdoors.

What is The Conservation Fund?

A top-ranked environmental nonprofit, The Conservation Fund makes conservation its business. By partnering with government, corporate and community leaders across the country, the Fund protects America’s land and water legacy – our natural and cultural heritage – for future generations. Since 1985, we have worked with our partners to safeguard more than six million acres including wild havens, working landscapes and historic places.

Our approach is market-based, lean and entrepreneurial.  Our highly skilled staff brings vision and bottom-line discipline to every conservation opportunity. With four stars from Charity Navigator and an A+ from the American Institute of Philanthropy, the Fund directs 97% of spending to conservation programs and just 1% to fundraising.

How did you become involved?

In short, I stalked them.  I was in Austin working in international sales for a financial services firm, when a friend recommended I learn a bit more about The Conservation Fund.  I was looking for a group with vision, leadership and integrity – and in the Fund I found all three.  Unfortunately those qualities didn’t come with a phone, desk or a computer. After several months of pleading with the Fund’s Texas state director, we sealed the deal over a cup of coffee at the local taco shop, secured a donated desk and a used computer, and set up shop in our office on 6th Street in Austin. Six years later, I have worked across all aspects of the Fund, from researching timber proposals and directing marketing and communications programs, to working with Fortune 500 corporations on solutions for climate change.

Your role is Director of the Go Zero project. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

Go ZeroSM was developed to help address two of our world’s most pressing environmental challenges – habitat loss and climate change.  We work with individuals, corporations, and even entire communities to measure their carbon dioxide emissions, learn helpful ways to reduce those emissions, and then offset the remainder by planting trees in protected forests across the U.S.

Since our first carbon sequestration project in 2000, support from our climate change partners has enabled the Fund to restore nearly 20,000 acres of forestlands and plant 6 million trees. Over their lifetime, these trees will trap an estimated 8 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Building on this success, we launched Go Zero in 2005 as a simple way to engage new partners to restore some of the planet’s most vulnerable forestlands. Today, thanks to a partner list that includes Dell (via its Plant a Tree and Plant a Forest for Me programs), Delta, Gaiam, The North Face, U-Haul, Universal Studios and thousands of individuals, Go Zero has restored 1,250 acres with 377,000 trees that will trap nearly 500,000 tons of carbon dioxide over next 100 years.

Where do the trees go?

For the past several years, The Conservation Fund’s reforestation efforts have been focused on the Lower Mississippi River Delta – an area along the U.S. Gulf-Coast that has lost millions of acres of bottomland hardwood forest over the last century. Each Go Zero grove is protected and managed by a state or federal resource agency, planted with native species, monitored and verified. Visit our website to view the full list of project locations.

Why do you think offsets are scrutinized?

In the U.S., offsets undergo scrutiny because the voluntary market here lacks consistent standards and accountability.

Yet this is quickly changing. Over the past 12 months, the voluntary carbon markets have become fertile ground for the development of protocols, standards and certification programs designed to ensure rigor and quality at various levels in the supply chain.

Second, critics sometimes compare offsets to indulgences. However, there is no evidence to show that individuals pollute more because they can offset their carbon emissions; if anything, we’ve seen that consumers and companies are becoming more environmentally aware and they believe in conservation values.  Americans have demonstrated that they are clearly concerned about the environment and have shown their concern at the polls and with their pocketbook – by buying green products, going on green vacations, living in eco-friendly homes, and putting the environment on the ballot.

Can offsets really make a difference? 

There is no silver bullet solution to climate change. The Conservation Fund encourages individuals and companies to first reduce their carbon emissions as much as possible.  In addition-particularly in the voluntary, U.S. market, forest-based carbon offsets have a valuable role to play.

The World Bank estimates that 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by deforestation. In the Lower Mississippi River Alluvial Valley alone, more than 20 million acres of native forestland have been cleared in the last century.  20 million acres.

The Conservation Fund’s work to restore once-forested, currently unproductive agricultural lands is a recognized, proven and relatively inexpensive way to sequester carbon dioxide while filtering our water, providing flood control, restoring wildlife habitat and enhancing public recreation areas for this generation and the next.

For a full list of the Fund’s offset criteria and Go Zero principles, visit: http://www.conservationfund.org/gozero/faqs.

Ten years from now, what will you look back and say you achieved?

In ten years,

Thousands of acres of newly restored forestland will act as spongy filters to clean vital fresh water for communities along the Gulf of Mexico – those hit so hard by the storms of 2005.

Our largest groves, planted in 2000 along the lower Mississippi River Delta, will be nearly 30 feet tall, providing home to nesting bald eagles, and peregrine falcons, and shelter for the Louisiana black bear.

We will have engaged hundreds of thousands of individuals in conservation and restoration – hundreds of thousands who just three years ago, had never heard of a carbon footprint or a carbon offset.

We’ll have changed the world. This is the ReGeneration, after all, isn’t it?

About the Author: Todd D