Featured Thought Leader: Jackson Hinkle

After one (busy) year, we checked in with The Ecology Center Water Ambassador Jackson Hinkle.

Featured Thought Leader: Jackson Hinkle
Jackson Hinkle of Team Zissou

What started out as an adventure club, certainly turned into an adventure, just not the one high school senior Jackson Hinkle expected. After Hinkle and his friends invited classmates to the kickoff meeting for an adventure club on their Instagram accounts, 300 students showed up. They were expecting maybe thirty. “At that moment I knew something big could come of it and I didn’t want to waste that energy.” From that initial meeting, Team Zissou Environmental Organization was formed — and it’s quickly turned into a national movement. Currently comprised of eight chapters across the nation, Hinkle, through Team Zissou, has set his sights on eliminating single-use plastics in schools and communities, as well as tackling other environmental issues.

We first met Jackson a few months after Team Zissou formed, in the winter of ‘16-’17, when Jackson and three of his classmates from San Clemente High School, volunteered their time at The Ecology Center. Here, Hinkle got real-life experience at a nonprofit, as well as inspiration and tactical advice on how to run a successful campaign through our Water Effect initiative. His passion and knowledge earned him a spot on our Water Ambassador program.

Team Zissou’s first campaign took place on World Water Day 2017. The club utilized powerful images to educate fellow students about water conversation; as well as reusable water bottle giveaways and a pledge station where students could pledge to avoid single-use plastics and to turn the faucet off while brushing their teeth. After World Water Day, Team Zissou kicked off their long-standing initiative, Plastic Free SC. The initiative not only aims to raise money for FloWater fountains across the school district but also to get local businesses to stop selling single-use plastic water bottles.

Working under the mentorship of Jonathan Zaidman, The Ecology Center’s Regional Expansion Manager, proved very helpful for Team Zissou, “We FaceTimed with Jonathan a lot to talk to him about his campaign to allow students to bike on campus at SDSU. They were met with a lot of resistance but eventually won.” And in many ways, Team Zissou is taking the same tact, taking on issues that question traditional approaches — in their case, traditional approaches to consumption.

This January, the Capistrano Unified School District, at the behest of Hinkle and Team Zissou, are running a week-long pilot program which will test the profitability of a plastic-free water bottle option. In place of plastic water bottles, four high schools will sell Just Water, a company which was started by fellow teen activist and Hinkle’s friend, Jaden Smith. Just Water comes in a paper-based bottle and features a plant-based cap; made with 82% renewable resources, they cut down emissions (compared to conventional plastic bottles) by 74%. If sales go well in the four schools, the district has agreed to get rid of plastic water bottles, selling Just Water instead, in all 64 schools.

It’s clear Jackson is an inspiration to his peers, teachers, and adults alike. But what inspires him? “When I see kids getting politically engaged, that inspires me the most.” From starting Team Zissou at his own high school to growing it to eight chapters across the nation, Jackson has picked up some valuable lessons along the way. Key to his success? Communication. “Any organization, campaign or cause works way more fluidly if you become friends with who you’re working with. There’s a clear pattern of connection and communication and the work that is done. But above all else, I’ve learned it’s super important to be persistent and remember why you’re doing what you’re doing.”

What does the future look like for someone like Jackson? “I want to be President. I try to preface that with the fact that I want to be someone who makes a lot of positive change in the world. That’s just the most powerful way to do it.”

It’s easy to use the phrase “wise beyond his years” to describe Jackson, but that belies the fact that kids like Jackson are true leaders in this world; proving again and again that age is just a number and that the future we want is — age be damned —everyone’s responsibility.

Want to keep up with Jackson Hinkle and Team Zissou? Follow them on Instagram @teamzissouglobal.