An environmental journey, as told through books

The Quick Rundown:

Every day it seems more people want to join the environmental movement. This is great news. My advice? The journey of 1000 miles begins with a few good books. I note below those that had the biggest impact on my personal trajectory, and I hope you’ll share yours so we can all go further together.

A Humble Beginner (With a Lot to be Humble About)

When I joined the Nature Conservancy in 2008, I expected a steep learning curve. I had been working on environmental matters for a few years on Wall Street, so I wasn’t an absolute neophyte. But leading the world’s biggest conservation NGO would demand much more. So I did everything I could to learn as much as possible, including preparing very carefully for all my meetings. …

The Bezos Earth Fund May Be Just What NGOs Need to Reach the Next Level

The Quick Rundown:

The Instigator champions private sector environmental leadership. But we also believe that NGOs are critical players. For NGOs to achieve their full potential, they need two things. First, they need more and better funding. Otherwise, NGOs take the “lean and mean” concept too far. Second, NGOs need to offer greater disclosure so that their performance can be better understood. The Bezos Earth Fund can address both of these needs.

(Full disclosure: I served as CEO of The Nature Conservancy — an Earth Fund grantee — from 2008 to 2019.)

Last week, I wrote that I was excited about Jeff Bezos’s initial Earth Fund grants. Looks like I might be in the minority. Or maybe it’s a silent majority. Either way, the Twittersphere was ablaze, and it wasn’t exactly praising his decisions about where to allocate capital. What I read was surprising to me for two reasons. First, the criticisms were pretty weak. Criticism is valid and important. But we can and should do better. Second, they reveal a lack of appreciation of NGOs as capable and important organizations. …

What Environmental Philanthropists Can Learn From Wall Street Investors

The Quick Rundown:

The Instigator champions private sector-led environmental strategies. We also argue that better environmental outcomes are achieved when business collaborates with non-profit organizations. Environmental NGOs need to be well-funded to perform at the highest level. Let’s explore what philanthropists can learn from the way Wall Street investors allocate capital.

A couple of weeks ago, Jeff Bezos announced the first recipients from his eponymous Earth Fund. The grants totaled nearly $800 million distributed across 16 nonprofit groups, including The Nature Conservancy, which I once led. …

The Quick Rundown:

Patagonia is a case study that demonstrates two big things. First, smart and ambitious environmental initiatives pay off. And second, although it takes some creativity, courage, and hard work, most companies can do this.

When you’re in the conservation business, you can’t ignore money. Conservation is a capital intensive undertaking. Rather than ignore funding, you need to leverage it to your advantage.

Right after I joined The Nature Conservancy, we signed a deal to buy some 300,000 acres of pristine land in Montana. It was a fantastic deal. The land was gorgeous. All of the species that had thrived in the area when Lewis and Clark visited were still there! Plus, we had to do the deal — there were no other conservation buyers. If we didn’t step up, it would likely go to a developer who would once again pave paradise to put up a parking lot. …

The Quick Rundown:

Companies and investors are starting to make big things happen — and fast — to address the climate challenge. The private sector is investing in climate solutions, mobilizing talent, innovating, committing to GHG emission reductions, and better climate disclosure. This is just what we need for climate progress. But one large, talented and influential sector can and should be doing more: private equity.

How to Win Friends and Influence People

As my fellow Dale Carnegie acolytes know, salesmanship is a key success factor for building a bigger environmental coalition. More on that in a moment. …

The Quick Rundown.

It’s been a tough week. We could all use some leadership right now. The Instigator usually focuses on organizational strategies — how companies, investors, and NGOs can tackle environmental challenges. But personal strategies matter too. To achieve the change we seek, we need more people across society to step up, get outside their silos, think big, and devise personal engagement plans that will work in the real world. The best way to do this is to start now, play to your strengths, and find ways to reinvent yourself.

Think Big

In 2016, I was speaking in front of a huge audience at the Paris climate convention. And I’ll let you in on a secret. …

There’s much we can learn from the USCAP experience in 2008.

The Quick Rundown:

Most business leaders today say they favor strong climate legislation — the kind that works both for the environment and the economy. But talk, as they say, is cheap. We need these business leaders to walk their talk. We can learn from the lessons of USCAP’s near success in 2008. We showed then that business leaders can lobby effectively for climate policy. …

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Photo by Geran de Klerk on Unsplash

Today, society grapples with numerous and difficult crises — racial discrimination, socioeconomic inequities, COVID, climate change, and many others. People yearn for — and are now demanding — more conscientious, responsible, inclusive and long-term oriented leadership. People don’t just look to the government for such leadership. They also expect that the business community will step up, do much more, and make a real difference addressing these crises. And they want this to happen now.

All CEOs and management teams should be looking for opportunities to demonstrate how they will make important contributions to society that go far beyond business as usual. Yes, well-run companies should and will get their houses in order so that they comply with ESG checklists. …

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Photo by lo lo on Unsplash

This blog series focuses on scaling and accelerating the protection of nature. One way environmental non-profit organizations (NGOS) can do this is by raising capital from investors to “lever up” the valuable gifts provided by philanthropists. And of course another way is to just raise more donations. The environmental community — both the users and providers of capital — can learn a lot by studying how this is done on Wall Street.

Let’s take a quick look at how private sector fundraising works. This isn’t a perfect analogy for NGOs. Making profits and doing good are obviously not the same thing. …

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I just read Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire, by Harvard Business Professor Rebecca Henderson, which came out in April. I loved it and wanted to share some thoughts.

In Reimagining Capitalism, Henderson persuasively argues that business can (and should) step up and take bold action right now to save the world. I’ve made similar arguments myself over the years, as have many leaders and activists whom I admire very much. But I think Henderson takes the argument to a higher level, using facts, rigorous analysis, and a clear-eyed assessment of all the challenges and opportunities involved to state its case. It’s the kind of thorough examination that you’d expect from a HBS Professor.

The book is especially timely right now, as society struggles with the COVID-19 crisis and rightly worries about other crises that lurk around the corner. People yearn for leadership that can move us forward in a positive way. Business will have a big role to play if we want to tackle these upcoming challenges successfully. …


Mark Tercek

Former CEO of The Nature Conservancy CEO. “Nature’s Fortune” author. Family man, yogi, ice climber, vegan.

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