"It was a trip to Costa Rica that really opened my eyes to the growing threats to nature."
My Perfect Adventure
Corporate giants like the Dow Chemical Company or the Coca-Cola Company might seem like surprising allies for eco activists. Their businesses have left huge environmental footprints, for sure, but that's why one of the world's biggest conservation groups, The Nature Conservancy, wants to collaborate with them: to help them change their ways in a bid to reduce their impact on natural resources.
Once known as "nature's real estate agent," the Conservancy first built a reputation for its focus on buying land in order to preserve it, with about 119 million acres of land and 5,000 miles of rivers under its protection globally. Among its conservation projects, the group has worked to reduce deforestation in the Amazon, restore oyster reefs in the Gulf of Mexico, and launch water funds in Latin America. But after expanding its reach over the past 15 years, with projects in all 50 states and 35 other countries, the Conservancy is also expanding its agenda these days by engaging with industrial giants, including Dow Chemical and Coca-Cola, along with its more traditional allies such as indigenous groups, non-profit organizations, and governments.
The Conservancy has fielded some criticism for working closely with corporate polluters but says failing to do so means missing a major opportunity to promote sustainable business practices and raise money for conservation projects. In Dow’s case, the Conservancy is sending scientists to evaluate the chemical company’s facilities around the world—determining the extent to which Dow depends on its land and water assets, and coming up with strategies to best preserve this “natural capital.” As an example, Bloomberg reported that the Conservancy was encouraging Dow to consider enhancing coastal marshlands, rather than building concrete floodwalls through them, to naturally protect its facilities in Texas from hurricanes.
At the helm of these efforts to demonstrate the value of nature is Mark Tercek, the Conservancy’s president and chief executive. A self-described “city boy” from Cleveland, Tercek is a Wall Street businessman turned eco activist who joined the green group in 2008 after working as a managing director at Goldman Sachs, where he helped the firm develop its own environmental strategy.
Here, Tercek tells us about the time he ran alongside lions in Kenya, how he first became passionate about conservation, and why good people skills will help us save the planet.
Describe your perfect day, from dawn 'til dusk. Where would you be, who would you meet, and what would you do?
A perfect day for me would take place somewhere that reminds me why I go to work every day: to protect nature. Maybe I’d hike on a beautiful beach or go diving in marine waters teeming with fish and healthy coral reefs. I'd love to go back to Isla Espiritu Santo, between Baja California and mainland Mexico. The Nature Conservancy worked with the Mexican government to ensure the island's permanent protection. It's home to an incredible number of whales, sea lions, seals, fish, turtles, and migratory birds. The landscape is stunning.
Or maybe I’d climb a mountain to get a good view of a gorgeous and well-protected ecosystem. I love Western Montana's Northern Rockies. A few years ago, TNC raised nearly half a billion dollars from public and private partners to buy 310,000 acres of Montana forestlands that were threatened by subdivision and development. Because the lands are distributed in a checkerboard fashion, the deal effectively connected millions of acres of pristine wilderness. I had to visit the area often as we worked on this huge deal. It's really inspiring to stand on a mountaintop there and see protected lands as far as the horizon in every direction.
Of course I’d be delighted if my wife, Amy, and our four kids could be with me, maybe my dog, Taz, too. I've always tried to get my kids away from television and computer screens and into nature. In fact, it was a family visit to the Costa Rican rainforest that first got me interested in switching careers and getting into the conservation business.