We are excited to announce one of the newest members to the NCX team, Chief Sustainability Officer, Dr. Jennifer Jenkins!
Dr. Jenkins brings more than 20 years of experience working in government, academia and the private sector in forestry and the climate. She holds a Ph.D. in ecosystem science and natural resources from the University of New Hampshire, a Master of Business Administration from the RH Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, a Master of Forest Science from Yale University, and a Bachelor of Arts in biology and environmental studies from Dartmouth College.
Dr. Jenkins is no stranger to conversations about climate change, carbon flows, and healthy forests. Forests and climate have been her passion since she was a graduate student and then a researcher at the Forest Service. In 2007, along with former Vice President Al Gore, she was part of the IPCC team of scientists that won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work on climate.
Prior to her role at NCX, Dr. Jenkins served for more than five years as Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer at Enviva, the world’s largest producer of sustainable wood pellets. At Enviva, she led overall efforts to improve Enviva’s sourcing practices, including development and deployment of Enviva’s Responsible Sourcing Policy, as well as its innovative Track & Trace® technology for monitoring, tracking and reporting on exactly where all Enviva’s wood is sourced. She also led the development and implementation of Enviva’s Net-Zero commitment, announced in February 2021.
I speak for everyone at NCX when I say we couldn’t be more excited to have her on the team. Jen brings experience and knowledge with her that will elevate our thinking and our team as NCX continues to break new ground on climate solutions.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Jenkins (or Jen as I call her) and discuss how she came to be a leader in the sustainability space.
Q: What inspired you to work in the environmental field?
I have always loved being outside. Even as a kid, I had a great affinity for hiking, camping, rock climbing and kayaking, wading in streams and looking at rocks -- all the things that you can do outside. So when I was in high school, I joined a program at school where instead of playing traditional after-school sports such as field hockey or soccer, you could go rock climbing and kayaking along the Potomac River. For me, that was transformative. I was able to get outside every day with friends and other classmates, and blow off some steam that way.
I spent summers hiking and camping as much as I could all throughout high school, and my very first job was as a whitewater raft guide on the Shenandoah River. If anybody from DC remembers Hudson Trail Outfitters (at Metro Center and Tenley), working there was my first retail job. I was selling hiking boots and backpacks to people like me who lived in the city.
So as long as I can remember, I’ve always had an affinity for the natural world (as my mom would say). I haven't been able to get out as much as I would like since having kids, but I’ll get back to it before too long.
Q: What is the most difficult challenge you have experienced during your career?
The most important thing for me has always been knowing that my work will matter. I want the effort I’m putting in to actually have the potential to change an important outcome, and make a difference for people and the planet. So I want to have the opportunity to participate actively in decision making around a project, and I’m really happy being part of a team that is doing something that I feel is important and meaningful.
So I would say the biggest challenges I've run into have been when I’ve found myself in situations where my team was blocked from influencing real change, or when the decisions being made were more political than science-based, or when somehow it became clear that the hard work I was doing might not have an influence on an outcome. That was always the hardest thing.
Q: Those of us in forest carbon all learn about the “Jenkins Equations.” Our team was so excited to learn that you are the “Jenkins” in that name! Can you tell us about your work on the “Jenkins Equations”?
My PhD dissertation at the University of New Hampshire was funded by the USDA Forest Service Northern Global Change program. After graduation, I went to work for the Forest Service in that Program, which is where I eventually developed the “Jenkins Equations.” At USDA, they had just started to recognize the importance of inventory data for forest carbon estimation, and so they were just beginning to realize the amazing power of the FIA data for research purposes outside the Agency.
USDA had published their very first FIA-based carbon numbers, but they were beginning to realize that the methods were based on volume, and each region of the Forest Service was using its own methods. So, you could cross a state line, and all of a sudden, your numbers would change, not because there was a legitimate difference in carbon, but because the methods were different from state to state.
The methods were inconsistent, so we needed one consistent way to estimate biomass at the national scale, no matter where you were in the country. My colleague and I, Dave Chojnacky, searched the published literature and found every single reference that we could find that had ever been published, that related tree diameter (DBH) to biomass. Over 2,700 equations that we found were published, eventually, by the USDA Forest Service in a General Technical Report.
Dave and I put all of those equations into an Excel spreadsheet and used a meta-analysis technique to condense and evaporate all the equations into one consistent approach for each species group. We wrote the paper and got it published, and the Jenkins Equations were born! I’m still stunned by the amount of traction they’ve gotten – the Forest Service still uses them as the foundation for their carbon estimation approach. And the Component Ratio Method we invented seems to have been adopted by others as a good way to go. Who knew!
Q: Why did you decide to join the NCX team?
I think NCX is building something revolutionary. NCX is changing the game around carbon on the landscape, and influencing how the carbon market operates, and I think that is going to make a very big difference for the climate. I'm very mission-driven, and the truth is that as a human society we don't have a lot of time. NCX is leading the voluntary carbon market as it scales its influence, and I’m excited to help the team make an even bigger difference.
I also love the intentional culture that NCX is building. I think the collaboration and communication amongst the team are second to none, and I am thrilled to be a part of that as well. I have been incredibly impressed so far by the quality of the dialogue and the commitment of the team to our work on climate action, and I could not be happier to be here. I am grateful for the opportunity!
Q: Can you tell me about your work on the initial IPCC guidelines?
The IPCC is a really interesting group. It is an international group of scientists, each of whom is appointed by their respective government. Everything they do is achieved by consensus, so all the scientists in the room have an opportunity to comment on every document that's in the volume to which they are contributing. So you can be absolutely sure -- when an IPCC report comes out -- that it is essentially the international scientific consensus on that topic. The IPCC is famous for being super conservative and that makes sense, given that their conclusions must be agreed upon by every scientist present. That also means that their conclusions are incredibly robust.
In the early 2000s, when I was working with the USDA on the forest carbon inventory methods, the US Government nominated me as an expert in the IPCC process for developing the Greenhouse Gas Inventory Guidelines for countries. Because I was one of only two scientists in that group with experience in urban systems, I led development of the chapters on how to quantify greenhouse gas (GHG) sources and sinks in “Settlements and Other Land” in the IPCC GHG guidelines in the 2006 version, helping develop the methodological guidelines for greenhouse gas inventories at the country level. These guidelines are used by countries to build the National Inventory Report submissions that are required of Parties by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Q: What do you see for the future of forest carbon markets?
I think the future looks bright for forest carbon markets, certainly in the short term, as we are building the energy and societal transition that we need in order to achieve net-zero. I think forest carbon is going to be an important part of that near-term solution. I don't know what forest carbon markets will look like in the distant future, and I don't know if anybody does. But I do think the future is bright, especially as companies accelerate their commitment to net-zero and I think that the demand for the product that we're creating is only going to grow.
Q: What has changed about forest carbon projects since you’ve been in this space?
When I began working on forest carbon in the late 1990s, there was a lot of enthusiasm about carbon offsets and that kept up for almost a decade. But then when the Waxman Markey Bill went down in flames in 2009, people kind of forgot about carbon markets for a while. But now, they're back. We're all busy resurrecting–in a way–all of the old paradigms around forest carbon that we had in the mid-90s and early 2000s. But this time, with urgency.
So I think we're finally going to get it done this time. I think there's a lot of interest now in forest carbon in a way there wasn't in the first go around. And I think the commitments that companies are making to net-zero and the realization that the public now has around the urgency and the importance of the problem are actually bringing forest carbon projects back to the forefront.
Q: What are a couple of key lessons you learned while developing and implementing Enviva’s sustainability strategy?
I think one of the biggest lessons that we learned at Enviva, around building our sustainability strategy, was how important it was to talk about it, transparently and openly, so that our stakeholders knew what we were doing. We didn’t necessarily need them to agree with us -- we just needed to share our perspective so that people knew where we stood. There would always be detractors, and of course those detractors wouldn’t support us, but we had to be the ones to drive our strategy, not our critics.
No matter what our business, we're always influencing other people--influencing them to support what we do, to buy what we're selling, to pay attention to us and for an opinion (hopefully positive!) about us--so that we can continue to do the good work we do and make the impact we're making. You have to be able to talk about your work, to share your triumphs and your challenges, in a way that people understand, and in a way that is, you know, transparent and reflects who you are.
I think Enviva got that right. I think they do a really good job of communicating transparently about their sustainability strategy. But that was a big lesson I took home. It’s absolutely critical to communicate your strategy early and often, because somebody is always listening. And if they’re not listening today, they're going to dig in eventually.
I also think with respect to communicating about sustainability -- and not with respect to any one firm -- if you're doing something innovative, you’re likely to have critics. But if you’re open, authentic, and transparent, and you listen to your stakeholders and tell them exactly what you stand for, you’re going to be able to win friends, influencing people more than you would if you just withdrew from public scrutiny to avoid attention. But that means that you, as a firm, must know exactly what you stand for. And I think NCX is getting that right too.