Disciplined leadership in advancing sustainability


For more than three decades, Julia has been supporting teams, building networks, advising projects, and writing research reports that have helped to lead the way on urban sustainability. Within her sustainability consulting practice, Julia has sought a balance between long-term and short-term projects and between project development and knowledge capture. She enjoys opportunities to collaborate with other experts, both old friends and new acquaintances, on consulting projects.

Julia has had several path-breaking long-term consulting projects. For five years, Julia served as the co-founder and Managing Director of the Urban Sustainability Directors Network. The Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) is a renowned network of local government professionals from cities across the United States and Canada that enables 140 sustainability directors and their staff to share best practices and accelerate the application of good ideas across North America. Other long-term projects include advisor and staff to Partners for Places, advisor on the development and implementation of the Chicago Climate Action Plan (City of Chicago) and circuit rider and thought partner on the Grand Victoria Foundation’s Communityworks initiative.

Short-term project examples include a business plan for the Center for Shared Use Mobility; a scan for the Health and Environmental Funders Network on Green Chemistry and Economic Development Opportunities; a Concept Paper for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs Task Force Series, Embracing the Future: The Midwest and a New National Energy Policy; an evaluation of earth stewardship activities for the board of Faith in Place; and a lessons learned report for the Surdna Foundation’s Livability and Smart Growth program.

For the first 16 years of her career, Julia Parzen held both public and private sector positions that prepared her to launch JP Consulting and bring real and significant value to sustainable development program design, network development, project management and evaluation. Starting from her most recent past organizational position, Julia was a foundation program officer for conservation and employment (The Joyce Foundation); a triple bottom line entrepreneur (co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Working Assets Money Fund); and a leader in state government energy financing (Deputy Director of Office of Policy, Planning, and Research, Department of Business and Economic Development, State of California) and federal government economic assistance programs (Acting Branch Chief of Industrial Analysis, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).

Julia honed her teaching and coaching skills as faculty for courses and design studios on development finance, industrial policy, and financial innovation at UC Berkeley. While serving as an adjunct faculty member at the UIC Center for Urban Economic Development, she co-authored with Michael Kieschnick her first book Credit Where It is Due: Development Banking for Communities (Temple University Press, 1990). She also co-edited Enterprising Women with Sara Gould (OECD, 1990); co-authored Financing Transit Oriented Development with Abby Siegel, a chapter in The New Transit Town: Best Practices in Transit-Oriented Development, edited by Hank Dittmar and Gloria Ohland (Island Press, 2004); and co-authored The Guide to Greening Cities with Sadhu Johnston and Steve Nicholas (Island Press, 2013).

She has served as the board chair of Working Assets, Muir Investment Trust, Center for Neighborhood Technology, I-Go Car Sharing, Delta Institute, Newberger Hillel Center at the University of Chicago, and Akiba-Schechter Jewish Day School. She also has been a board member for Sand County Venture Fund and Anawim Fund of the Midwest. Leveraging her Junior Achievement experience (she was the first president of the first JA depository institution), she co-founded Girls Mean Business, an entrepreneurship program for girls.

Julia has an MBA in Finance from the University of Chicago and a BA in Chinese Economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She graduated Summa Cum Laude, with Highest Honors, Bronze Tablet, and Phi Beta Kappa. Her husband is a pediatric infectious disease specialist and community health innovator. Her older son is a jazz musician. Her younger son is working toward a career in health.