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    Q&A: Nature Conservancy’s Mark Tercek Talks Philly, Nature’s Fortune & Green Business (and FREE Giveaway!)

    Nature's Fortune by Mark Tercek CEO Nature ConservancyAlthough there’s many passionate workers out there, companies aren’t always in line with environmental goals.

    Mark Tercek, President & CEO of the Nature Conservancy is coming to the Free Library tomorrow to discuss his book Nature’s Fortune: How Business & Society Thrive by Investing in Nature. One of the chapters highlights Philadelphia as the poster child of “Green Infrastructure”, and how the city’s Green Cities Clean Waters storm water management is using natural systems instead of engineered ‘grey’ solutions.

    Catch Mark at the Free Library of Philadelphia tomorrow (May 22) at noon it’s a free event that doesn’t require tickets.

    Want to enter to win a FREE copy of Nature’s Fortune? Leave a comment below (and make sure to like us on Facebook) and you’ll be entered to win! Contest ends EOD Friday 5/24.

    We chatted with author Mark Tercek about Nature’s Fortune, “grey-green” companies and when the environment struck a chord with him.

    5 Questions with the Nature Conservancy’s Mark Tercek

    Green Philly Blog: How did you transition from Goldman Sachs to The Nature Conservancy?


    Mark R. Tercek; President and Chief Executive Officer of The Nature Conservancy
    Mark Tercek, President & CEO, Nature Conservancy

    Mark Tercek: While I was working on Wall Street, I started asking the same questions about ecology as my MBA training had taught me to apply to corporate finance: What is nature’s value? Who invests in it, when and why? What rates of return can an investment in nature produce? When is protecting nature a good investment? Isn’t conservation really about building natural capital?

    I was on the verge of leaving Goldman Sachs in 2005, but then-CEO Henry M. Paulson, a committed conservationist (who would later serve as Treasury Secretary under President George W. Bush) persuaded me to stay on to build an environmental effort for the firm.

    Our idea was simple: it made great commercial sense to employ a group of environmental experts to explore business opportunities for Goldman Sachs. Our primary motivation was not philanthropy or corporate social responsibility, important as those are, but purely business.

    We pursued opportunities that produced two kinds of benefits: good commercial results for Goldman Sachs and good environmental outcomes. The more we pursued these win-win opportunities, the more we found.

    As we pursued these environmental initiatives, we began to collaborate with environmental non-profit organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the World Resources Institute, Resources for the Future and others. I became excited about the world of environmental organizations and how they might productively partner with the private sector.

    The Nature Conservancy seemed to be a perfect fit for me.  A 60-year-old organization with some 4000 staff members pursuing conservation in all 50 states and 35 countries around the world, The Nature Conservancy has a reputation for getting things done in a pragmatic, science-based, and no-nonsense style.  The Nature Conservancy reminded me of an investment bank –– but one whose client was nature itself.  I thought TNC was the ideal organization to champion the idea of natural capital, putting a value on nature as an asset.

    GPB: Have you always had an environmentalist’s spirit – a natural appreciation and love for nature?

    Mark Tercek: Not exactly. I grew up a city boy in a working class neighborhood of Cleveland. It wasn’t until later—as a parent and businessman—that I started to focus on environmental issues. My wife and I went out of our way to get our kids outdoors, and the more we learned about nature, the more enthusiastic we became about protecting it. Likewise, as a banker, I knew that there was a strong business case to be made for why investing in nature is the smart thing for companies, governments and individuals to do.

    GPB: Tell us about Nature’s Fortune.

    Mark Tercek: I spend a lot of my professional time traveling and talking to all kinds of people, many who have not thought much about The Nature Conservancy or its mission. Writing a book seemed to be an avenue to reach more people faster.

    But more specifically, I wanted to reach people who may not have that visceral love of nature that many of us share.  And I wanted to reach those who think the conservation of nature is a bit of a luxury item.  Yes, let’s conserve nature, but after we’ve paid for everything else. I want to flip that perception. Nature is really the underpinning of human wellbeing. It ought to come first.  It’s what our most vulnerable people depend on most.

    I want people to begin to understand that economic progress and human vitality can only come from a healthy natural world. Nature is the asset on which our economies, our sustenance, livelihoods and our ways of life depend—whether we dwell in a hut on the Serengeti or in a Manhattan condo. Therefore, we need to invest in our natural capital, our lands and waters, if future economic security is to follow. That investment is essential, not a luxury.

    GPB: Some of the environmental ‘examples’ in the book are Coca Cola and Dow Chemical, who also make some questionable ‘green’ decisions (i.e. GMOs/Prop 37, chemical testing, etc.) What is your philosophy on companies who are making some strides although other business models may not be up to ‘green’ environmental standards?

    Mark Tercek: Nothing is free from risk.  Critics sometimes challenge me –– “Are you sure working with business will produce environmental benefits?”  Of course I’m not sure.  But I believe we should try.  If other organizations have alternative strategies, I say that’s great too.  Let’s see what works best.  We need more environmental strategies, and we need to pursue them with vigor and confidence as well as a receptivity to critiques and ideas about how to improve them.

    Thinking about the value of nature leads to other ways of thinking familiar to business analysts. For example, concepts such as maximize returns, invest in your assets, manage your risks, diversify, and promote innovation are the common parlance of business and banking. These are rarely applied to nature, but they should be.

    Viewing nature through these basic business principles focuses more attention on the benefits of conservation. You may not become a conservationist, but you will realize that conservation – protection of nature — is a central and important driver of economic activity, every bit as important as manufacturing, finance, agriculture and so on.

    My experience as an environmentalist at Goldman Sachs revealed new possibilities, but I recognize that relationships with businesses can be complicated and risky for environmental organizations. Hard core environmentalists can be quick to criticize organizations such as The Nature Conservancy when they build alliances with companies.  They sometimes see such collaborations as consorting with the enemy.  Nevertheless, in my view, seizing the opportunity to work with companies as they pursue environmental strategies to strengthen their business provides the chance to create significant conservation gains.

    Companies can be good partners for environmentalists in other ways as well. Large businesses control huge amounts of natural resources, often more than governments. Contrary to popular opinion, companies can be better at making long-term plans for those resources than governments, which often get hamstrung by political divides and the short-term thinking driven by the next election cycle. Companies that have short time-horizons and neglect long-term planning and investing generally lose out in the marketplace. Most companies also do a good job of dealing with reality.  For example, they tend to accept rather than deny the conclusions of science; otherwise, again, they get punished in the marketplace.  

    There are exceptions – some bad actors in the business community seek to exploit loopholes, break regulations or mislead the public – usually in misguided pursuit of short-term gain.  But in an era of increasing transparency, more companies understand that it is ultimately going to be in their own best interest to follow the rules and to try to do the right thing.  They also increasingly understand that investments in nature can produce big financial returns.

    GPB: What is the one thing you hope readers will take away from your book?

    Mark Tercek: That the environmental world is not black and white. The complex challenges we face force us to reimagine the types of partners and relationships that will be necessary to balance the needs of people and nature. This can be difficult terrain for conservationists. For instance, we’re all aware that companies pollute. Many have huge environmental footprints. But they can also be surprisingly constructive allies when we work together to change their practices. Helping businesses, governments and individuals understand the value of nature has the potential to create big conservation gains.

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    Julie Hancher

    About Julie Hancher

    Julie Hancher is Editor-in-Chief of Green Philly, sharing her expertise of all things sustainable in the city of brotherly love. She enjoys long walks in the park with local beer and greening her travels, cooking & cat, Sir Floofus Drake.

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