CEO of World's Largest Conservation Organization Urges Students to Invest in Nature
February 21, 2013
During his recent visit as Middlebury’s 2013 Global Environmentalist in Residence, Mark Tercek, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy, challenged Middlebury students to forge unexpected alliances for the benefit of the environment. “Don’t jump to conclusions too quickly, and don’t see the world in black and white,” he said, encouraging future advocates to communicate across long-standing business-environmentalist divides.
Tercek also urged his audience to harness the power of economic arguments: “We need more people to care—on a dollars and cents basis—about nature.”
Exploring the concepts laid out in his forthcoming book Nature’s Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature, Tercek discussed the necessity of gaining support for the idea of “natural capital,” valuing nature for its own sake as well as for the services it provides for people, such as clean air and water, productive soils, and a stable climate.
By cooperating with an organization like TNC, a company’s investment in this “green infrastructure” can pay tangible dividends. Drawing on his own experiences negotiating with large companies and governments from Iowa to Ecuador to China, Tercek offered examples of productive collaborations between politicians, businesspeople, and environmentalists. As he noted, “You’ve got to get these strange bedfellows talking to one another.”
Tercek’s own strong financial background makes him well equipped to open the ecological dialogue with big business, having spent 25 years heading various units for Goldman Sachs.
Only after becoming a parent did he grow increasingly interested in nature and the environment, reflecting, “I think we all have to be able to look our kids in the eye and say, ‘Are we doing everything we can?’ Because the stakes are high.”
Tercek found an outlet for his commitment to conservation when he was selected to develop an environmental strategy for Goldman Sachs. Since 2008, he has served as leader of TNC, the world largest conservation organization. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently appointed Tercek to serve on the New York State 2100 Commission, which was created in the wake of Superstorm Sandy to advise the governor and the state on how to make the state’s infrastructure more resilient to future storms.
He is also a member of other boards and councils, including Resources for the Future, the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, the Commission on Climate and Tropical Forests, and the Council on Foreign Relations.
A Natural Connection
Tercek began his residency in conversation with environmental faculty and staff, envisioning our future of education for environment and sustainability in the 21st century, an ongoing discussion being undertaken by the Franklin Environmental Center. Over the course of his two-day stay at Middlebury, from February 21 to 22, he also attended classes and contributed to an hour-long roundtable discussion, via videoconference, with students and faculty at the Monterey Institute for International Studies. On the second day, he addressed a standing-room-only audience of more than 150 attendees in McCardell Bicentennial Hall and participated in a question-and-answer session with students.
According to Nan Jenks-Jay, dean of Environmental Affairs at Middlebury, “During Mark Tercek’s Global Residency with the Franklin Environmental Center, he was fully engaged in the intellectual life of the College and shared invaluable insights with our students—future conservation leaders.”
Luke Elder ’13, an environmental studies/conservation biology major who worked for the Conservancy on Martha’s Vineyard last summer, attended the lecture and found Mark “intelligent, down to earth, and incredibly friendly” and was struck by his call for environmentalists to work across the aisle, to find bipartisan solutions to environmental problems. Evan Deutsch ’12.5, echoed the sentiment: “Mark effectively bridged the gap between business-savvy and a genuine care for the environment. I particularly appreciated his point about the need to collaborate with the ‘other team’ instead of just preaching to the choir. He is a prime example of someone who uses their business acumen to effect positive change with ingenuity.”
Tercek’s visit carries on a rich tradition of partnership between Middlebury and The Nature Conservancy. Many Middlebury students have gained practical experience working with TNC on curricular projects as well as internships. Currently, students in the Environmental Studies senior seminar are working with TNC examining how to coordinate responses to trans-boundary environmental issues across state and national lines. Middlebury graduates have gone on to serve TNC as scientists and program officers, chapter directors, trustees, and volunteers, joining the ranks of more than a million TNC members, with chapters representing all 50 states and 35 countries.
New Internship Opportunities
At Tercek’s culminating Thursday talk, Jenks-Jay announced a new milestone in the relationship between Middlebury College and The Nature Conservancy: the creation of two new TNC internships for Middlebury students. Funded by the Clarence and Anne Dillon Dunwalke Trust, each internship will provide $10,000 for a student to spend 10 weeks over the summer working with TNC. Thanks to the vision of Mark Collins ’79, trustee of the Dunwalke Trust, the students will receive professional skill training. They will work with TNC mentors as part of the TNC’s GLOBE—Growing Leaders on Behalf of the Environment—internship program which will be available to students for the next several years.
As Tercek expressed, “We need smart leaders that can take our movement forward and get a lot done, and I’m counting on Middlebury and all its talent to be those leaders.”