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What Will You Do To Accelerate Environmental Progress in 2021?

You Need a Game Plan to Make a Real Difference.

The Quick Rundown:

The Instigator primarily focuses on environmental strategies for organizations. But individuals are integral to our cause too. This week, we focus on personal strategies for achieving environmental progress. 

2020 was a dismal year by most measures. And the first few weeks of 2021 haven’t been any better. But I’m an optimist and can’t help but see positive opportunities for environmental gains. I’m also pragmatic, and I know that nothing happens without a concerted effort and a detailed plan. So think of me as your coach. To win this game, we each need to develop and commit to our own personal environmental game plan. I want to encourage all Instigators to make this year one when we’re off the sidelines and in the game. Go team! 

Happy New Year

There is reason to believe that 2021 can be a very good year for environmental progress. Positive momentum is underway on Capitol Hill, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Main Street, and across NGOs. Here’s a sampling of positive indicators: 

  • Voters elected a new President who campaigned on climate.
  • Congress passed a bipartisan stimulus package with a great energy bill.
  • VCs are backing more exciting new climate tech startups than ever before.
  • Leading corporations are making truly bold climate commitments.
  • ESG funds are getting huge inflows of new investor dollars and outperforming the market.
  • Polling indicates more citizens understand the issue and support action. 

To take full advantage of this momentum, we need more highly engaged environmentalists. Readers of this newsletter are great supporters of environmental progress. Thank you. You’re doing more than most. But with a crisis of this magnitude, good intention and interest won’t get the job done. We all need to be agents of change. This isn’t as easy as it sounds.  

I played football in high school and college. I remember admiring how my coaches could make our team better than it initially seemed we could be. Like all smart coaches, they did this by helping each of us identify and strengthen our comparative advantage and then designing plays that drew on those unique abilities. And of course, they deployed us as a team in ways that lined up with opportunities on the field.  

I also spent much of my career in the private sector. In business, when you want to achieve something—especially if it’s something ambitious—you don’t just talk about it or simply declare a goal. You come up with a series of moves designed to achieve success. You allocate resources to drive these activities. You determine milestones to measure progress.  You review results, rethink the next moves as appropriate, and iterate. You get feedback from colleagues to ensure you’re viewing things objectively.  And you keep the team focused and on track. 

So how exactly does one go about saving the planet? Same. You leverage your comparative advantage and devise a concrete game plan. You can start small—for most people, this cannot be a full-time commitment, and that’s okay. Strategies can (and should) be tailored to your strengths, resources, and time. And they will evolve as your life does. So let’s share our plans.

I’ll go first. 

I’ve been through this twice. The first time was when I left Goldman Sachs in mid-2008 and found my way to The Nature Conservancy. The second time, more recently, was when I left TNC in mid-2019. Both times I knew I wanted to keep working on achieving environmental progress. But what exactly would be the best way for me to do this? It wasn’t obvious. 

I’ve watched and helped others try to make transitions like this too. It takes work—and sometimes trial and error too—to figure this out. 

For my most recent transition, I did a lot of groundwork before making a decision. For example, I   

  • did a lot of careful thinking and reflection; 
  • talked with friends and mentors and got great advice and feedback;   
  • watched what others were doing and how they were accomplishing important outcomes;   
  • tried to identify where the big opportunities are right now and which ones might best align with me.  

And after all that, I concluded that I would draw on my two big professional experiences (24 years at Goldman Sachs, 11 years at TNC) and be a champion for private sector-led environmental initiatives.  

How will I do this?

I plan to persuade business leaders in my network and beyond to be bolder and more ambitious about tackling the environmental opportunities they face. I’ll explain that it’s not just the right thing for them to do, but that it also makes business sense. I’ll encourage environmental NGOs whom I advise to help the private sector on this front, and I’ll urge philanthropists to support them. I’ll also volunteer with NGOs directly. I’ll invest in innovative climate tech startups. And I’ll keep writing about all of this in The Instigator to spread the word and to get your feedback.

I’m not saying mine is the only or even best strategy. I’m just saying this is the best one for me. It fits my experience, skills, and temperament. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll revise my game plan as appropriate. I welcome your feedback.

So What Should You Do?

That’s for you to decide. But as your coach, I can help map the field and identify some of the key opportunities for progress in 2021. We can do this by looking at four important constituencies—policymakers, business leaders, investors, and environmental NGOs—and how we might be able to draw on our skills and resources, engage with these parties, and improve the odds for big environmental gains.

You can then think about where your comparative advantage can make the greatest difference. 

  1. Make America Green Again 

Most environmentalists view government policy as the most important lever for progress. We need the right regulations, incentives, R&D programs, and more.  We’ve lost ground here over the past four years. We need to get back on track ASAP.

There is recent good news of course. Our new president recognizes the urgency. Congress is funding clean energy. And of course, the Democrats won the Senate!

But we also know that the progress we seek won’t come easy. We need progress at every level of the political system—local, municipal, state, and federal.  Where might you fit best?  

Get Out the Vote. I used to always end my speeches by urging everyone to vote and work on getting out the vote. These efforts work! Voter turnout in the November election was the highest in decades. That was great. Democracy is a participatory sport. There will be another election around the corner so this remains a priority. This is an easy entry point for many to engage.

Grow the Coalition. Next, we need to win over centrists who thus far have resisted supporting environmental initiatives. I think many of these individuals are ready to engage. They are not our enemy; they’re our target audience. Let’s get them on our side and build a majority political coalition for progress.

People on the climate sidelines are increasingly getting it. They see how our federal government has mostly bungled the pandemic with tragic consequences. They don’t want that to happen when it comes to the environment. They see the extreme weather events that wreak so much damage. They see business leaders whom they admire setting their companies on more positive trajectories. They’re hearing about climate from their kids. They should hear from us too. Let’s reach out to them and instead of criticizing or mocking them, engage them in genuine dialogue. Let’s get to know these voters and vice versa and make them comfortable on our team. Dialogue with fellow citizens is an under-utilized climate strategy. 

To take advantage of this opportunity, we need to master three things:

  1. building relationships and dialogue with people who hold different views;  
  2. explaining climate change basics in a straightforward manner; and
  3. staying current on likely federal or state policy actions. 

Some of my more cynical friends in DC call me naive. They say “Come on, Mark. You’re never going to win over climate deniers or the extreme right.” They might be correct. But we don’t have to win over the extremists. We just need a majority on our side. I think that’s doable.  

All of this takes some work and preparation. See The Index below for some good resources. 

Push Policy Makers. Let’s also invest more in dialogue (and pressure) with our elected officials. I saw firsthand in my work at TNC how much policymakers really do listen to their voters. But they need to hear from more of us and hear from us more often.

You might be surprised by how many opportunities you have here. A few years into my role as TNC’s CEO, one of our volunteers suggested we borrow a page from an NGO in another field and organize a lobbying day on Capitol Hill. (After all, that’s what the Hill is for — peaceful debate and advocacy on important, substantive issues.) Every year thereafter hundreds of TNC trustees—representing every one of the 50 states and both parties—visited Washington for “Capitol Hill Day.” We were usually able to meet with every one of our Senators and Congresspeople. We trained and rehearsed the day before so that all of us were on message and firm about what we were seeking. This effort was powerful and resulted in important legislative wins, even in the Trump era. (See LWCF.)  The trustees loved the day. They learned a lot, enjoyed getting to know each other, and of course were pleased to help make progress happen on a first-hand basis. It felt like we were on a sports team supporting one another effectively to win our game. And it all happened because one volunteer suggested that we do it and hundreds more signed up.  You should pursue opportunities like this.

2. Good to Great

The best corporate environmental leaders did a great job in 2020 (see here and here). Thank you CEOs and management teams who prioritized environmental problem-solving. Thank you employees and shareholders for encouraging your companies to do this. 

Now it’s time for other companies who have lagged behind to step up and follow the leaders’ example. It’s frustrating that many businesspeople have dragged their feet, but we’re likely now at a tipping point. Too many CEOs have been timid, too focused on short-term financial results, or just unsure what to do on the environmental front. But they now know they need to act soon. All of you who are executives, employees, customers, and shareholders can change this.  You have a lot of clout. Please use it.  

People underestimate their agency. Consider this scenario: As I write this newsletter, private equity firm TPG just announced with some fanfare a new climate-focused fund.  Say you’re a young and hard-working up-and-coming private equity dealmaker at TPG. How do you plan to stand out and succeed?  

Do you plan to outwork your peers? That’s not likely—everybody already works 24/7.  

Are you going to find investment opportunities that everyone else misses? Good luck.  

How about instead bringing to your bosses’ attention the biggest opportunity to come along in a very long time—much more ambitious than a climate fund? Why not volunteer to work on an effort to get all of the firm’s investments organized to meet long-term net-zero goals. See here for my ideas on how best to do this. 

3. Show Me the Money

Many Wall Street commentators have discussed how the stock market and the real economy seemingly diverged over the past year. It surprised me too.

What didn’t surprise me was how financial markets soared in the areas of ESG, clean tech, green bonds, and other environmentally positive investment opportunities. Solving big problems—and they don’t get bigger than climate—makes business sense. Investors now get this.

So how do we take full advantage of this development? We push for more.  Individual investors can reallocate their capital to ESG funds. Professional investors can tell CEOs you want to see more focus on environmental problem-solving. You can ask for greater disclosure about environmental risks and opportunities.  Applaud good steps in these areas. CEOs and fellow executives listen to their investors. Don’t be shy. Speak up.  

4. We are Volunteers of America

As we’ve discussed here before, NGOs are the essential workers of the environmental movement. They do critical work.

They also provide great opportunities for folks who care about nature to engage, get work done, learn more, make friends, and generally take their environmental skillset to the next level.

This past weekend I spent a few hours at Bull Run Mountain in Virginia with Joe Villari who leads the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. VOF is a fantastic organization doing great work protecting the beautiful outdoor landscapes they control. But their team is very small. I asked Joe how they were able to get so much done?  His answer was simple— volunteers. Volunteers repair trails, remove invasive species, provide engineering services, and so on. Joe told me that these volunteers love doing this work. They’re working on a mission they love, they’re learning about ecosystems, they’re enjoying the good feeling of being part of the solution. I’ve seen volunteers who start on this kind of local and hands-on basis go on to develop more ambitious and far-reaching initiatives. One step leads to others. The smart thing they do is they get off the sidelines and into the game.

The opportunities are abundant and the conditions are ripe for making big progress. Ready to jump in? 

Let’s Hold Each Other Accountable 

There is a lot of talk in environmental circles about holding leaders and organizations accountable. We want to make sure they walk their talk and do what they promise. This makes sense; is noble even. But let’s do first things first. Before we start telling other people what they should do, how about we lead by example. Much like corporate management subjects their plans (and themselves) to 360-degree reviews, let’s present our game plans and seek out feedback. Let’s figure out what we will each do and then, let’s make sure we do it. It’s game time. Comment below and let me know your personal game plan.

Treehuggers, Please Meet the Barbarians at the Gate

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. It got me thinking about how the richest man in the world — one who built his fortune on data, metrics, and shrewd allocations of capital — might structure these new relationships. 

Now, I don’t know anything more than the public about the specifics of Bezos’s funding, but I do have experience being on the receiving end of philanthropic investments from my time at TNC. And I can say that, after spending most of my career in the business world, what I saw surprised me. 

A Strange Start 

Back in 2008, I was a brand new and eager non-profit CEO. Recognizing that our big donors were some of our most important partners, one of my first orders of business was a round of courtesy calls, beginning with a prestigious foundation that had been supporting us for years.

I did my homework beforehand. I was ready to discuss in detail each of the grants the foundation had provided to us throughout our partnership. I knew what had gone well on their projects, what hadn’t, the reasons for both, and what we had learned. And looking ahead, I was ready to present several new projects we thought the foundation might want to support. This will be fun, I thought. I was excited to represent my new organization.

I arrived early for my 11:00 am meeting and waited patiently in the beautifully appointed reception area.  

At 11:30 — still waiting — I started getting restless. A nice young person asked if I’d like a cappuccino or latte. Okay. But what about my meeting?

At about 11:45, the same nice young person offered me a tour of the foundation’s brand new LEED-certified headquarters building. Fine. We had a pleasant tour. And yes, the building was beautiful. But so what? Anybody willing and able to spend enough money could do this. 

At 12:15 I called my office. I asked my assistant to tell my next appointment that I’d be late. I was way behind schedule now.  

At about 12:30, I was finally ushered into the foundation CEO’s fancy office. Game time. I was ready to go. 

But, as you’ve probably sensed by now, things didn’t go according to plan. 

The CEO quickly introduced himself (with no apology for the late start) and launched into a monologue about how the foundation focused on metrics, accountability, and rigorous measurement.

“We’re all about achieving results,” he told me. “Great,” I responded. After all, I had come prepared. 

I wanted to jump in and explain that my team had done well on the projects the foundation had funded. Not perfectly, of course. But we had mostly accomplished everything we had promised. And where we fell short, we tried to figure out why so we’d be better going forward. But the monologue continued. 

“How about asking some questions about the projects you funded?  Hold me accountable.  Ask for some metrics if that’s what you like,” I thought. But before I could vocalize anything along these lines, another young person came in to inform the CEO that it was time for the next meeting. Sorry, time’s up. I was ushered out.

The foundation had invested tens of millions of dollars in our programs. The CEO told me that the organization’s top priority is ensuring they achieve measurable results.  But he didn’t spare a moment for questions or dialogue about any of that. 

“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not on Wall Street anymore,” I thought to myself on the way out the door.  

Kinder and Wiser Masters of the Universe?

When I was at Goldman Sachs, one of my jobs was running the IPO and follow-on equity offering business. (We called this business unit “Equity Capital Markets.”)  

Before every IPO, we’d organize a “roadshow.” The company’s CEO and CFO would spend two full weeks on the road with us, meeting with institutional investors every day from early in the morning all the way through drinks and dinner.  

When we first told them this was how it’s done, the CEOs usually balked. “Can’t do it.  I’m too busy,” they’d say.  

“Sorry,” I’d explain. “It’s mandatory. But two things you should know.  

“First, these investors are really smart. They’ll be prepared. They know your competitors inside and out. You’ll be impressed. Be ready to answer many tough questions.   

“Second, you only have to do this once. Afterward, your investors want you to be focused on running your company, not traveling and taking meetings with them. They want results.”  

The CEOs almost always ended up enjoying the roadshow. Yes, the investors were brash, sometimes impertinent, very young, and occasionally even rude. But they knew their stuff. Answering their questions was challenging. You could learn a lot through the back and forth. And nobody’s time was ever wasted, that’s for sure.  

One CEO even said to me, “Spending time with smart investors like this will help me run my company better.” Exactly, I thought.

One of These Things is Not Like the Other 

Everybody knows Wall Street doesn’t always get capital allocations right. (See: Enron, 2008 financial crisis, Theranos, WeWork, etc). But broadly speaking, things usually go pretty well.  

Enormous sums flow from capital providers (investors) to capital users (companies). Audited financial reports keep investors informed and facilitate comparisons and analyses. Analysts, journalists, and daily stock price quotes help everyone stay up-to-date. CEOs and management teams focus on running their organizations, not fundraising. More capital flows to better performers and better terms. Companies raise capital for “general corporate purposes,” which gives them the discretion to spend the funding where they think they can earn the highest return on investment. 

In the philanthropic world, it doesn’t work like that. I acknowledge it’s not as easy.  Financial reporting doesn’t capture the most important information about outcomes and impact for NGOs. There are no “equity capital market” banking teams organizing roadshows. There are no (or very few) analysts appraising the NGOs. No stock prices, no Wall Street Journal, or Jim Cramer on CNBC.

I also want to acknowledge and emphasize that professionals in the philanthropic world (usually working at foundations) are smart, dedicated, hard-working, and very good people. I enjoy working with them, and I’ll always be grateful for everything they do to support NGOs and to make the world a better place.  

But still… I think professional philanthropists can learn a lot from their Wall Street counterparts. It will make them better partners to the organizations they support, and they’ll get more accomplished.

A Few Ideas from Wall Street for Philanthropists 

Obviously, this is too complex of a topic for me to fully cover in a single email missive.  But it’s worthy of exploration and ongoing discussion, so I’ll make my contribution by noting a few practices that I think can make a positive difference. I know I would have appreciated the following approaches back when I was a CEO of a big NGO.

  1. Do the work, analyze results, make comparisons. Investors pay close attention to all of the companies in any sector where they invest. They know who’s doing what, where the innovations and breakthroughs are happening, and where their portfolio companies face risks or have big opportunities. This lets them see things that management teams sometimes miss.
  2. Ask management teams to explain their plans, identify desired outcomes, and provide specific milestones for the period ahead. Sounds obvious, I know. But this takes some discipline. This is where holding management accountable makes a lot of sense. All you have to do is follow up. When things go counter to plan, ask why. If management teams regularly miss their plans (or worse, drop their plans), get a new management team.
  3. Provide capital for what companies call “general corporate purposes” (known as “unrestricted funding” in NGO parlance). Please don’t use the term “overhead”  —  it’s offensive. When great companies invest in training, marketing, HR, R&D, information systems, and other technology — and the best companies invest huge sums in these areas — nobody calls it “overhead.” These investments are what enable great performance. It’s just as true for NGOs.
  4. Don’t micromanage. Even though investors pay extremely close attention to their companies, they don’t usually tell management or staff what to do. Resist the urge to dream up your own projects. Don’t ask NGOs to compete for the assignment to execute your initiatives. Rather, support great organizations in their efforts to achieve their mission and goals.
  5. Respect the management team’s time. NGO CEOs are always on the road fundraising. They joke about it with one another. I felt like my IPO roadshow continued every business day for the entire 11 years I worked for TNC. This is crazy. NGO CEOs have complex organizations to run. But they need your capital and will keep selling until you persuade them to stop. Agree on a set number of meetings per year. Do meetings by Zoom as much as possible. Provide your capital in a smaller number of much bigger grants. 
  6. Learn from for-profit investors. The analogy is imperfect but there is a lot to learn here.  Visit Fidelity or T Rowe Price and watch their investment teams in action. Add some of their executives to your boards. Read Warren Buffet’s annual reports.

A Donor in Buffet’s Clothing 

It’s not just about what foundations and their leadership can do for the NGOs. It’s also about what they can expect from NGOs and how to keep them accountable. Some philanthropic leaders get this right. I especially admired how one foundation CEO worked very hard to get to know me, my organization, our projects, and our marketplace when I was running TNC. It really felt like she was a long-term strategic partner.

I told her she reminded me of Warren Buffet back when he was a big investor in the Washington Post and worked very closely with the paper’s publisher Kay Graham. He knew everything he could know about the Post, its market, the competition, and the challenges that Graham faced. And he did everything he could to help her and the company succeed. (You can read about all of this in Graham’s superb memoir or in this great biography of Buffett. Both are great books for investors or donors to study.)

Here are a few of the things this leader did to be a smart and supportive backer of TNC.

  1. She visited TNC headquarters at least once per year. As I recall, no other foundation CEO visited me even once during my 11 years at the organization. If you’re investing tens of millions of dollars every year in an organization (as this foundation was doing), it should be a no-brainer to visit annually, kick the tires, check out the CEO, and see how she/he interacts with the team, right?
  2. She attended some of my board meetings as a guest and met with some board members privately. Again, common sense, right? Find out what’s on the board’s mind, see how they view the CEO, get a firsthand sense of what drives the organization.
  3. She required a one-on-one conversation with me before the foundation approved any grants.  She and her team knew I wasn’t writing up the proposals and wouldn’t always be hands-on with the projects. But if the proposals were important enough for her foundation to fund, then they were also important enough for me to explain why I viewed the projects as critical.
  4. She funded a special CEO project every year.  We’re not talking about a lot of dollars here. But the foundation funded a small grant annually for a project that otherwise probably wouldn’t happen. I still had to submit an official proposal.  The foundation CEO and I would always have a one-on-one conversation about my proposal before it was approved. And it wasn’t always approved. This practice was a great relationship builder and led to some strong new programs. It was also a smart way for the foundation CEO to see how I think. And, after a few years, depending on how these new projects went, it was also a good way to see if my ideas are any good. 
  5. She worked very hard and traveled extensively. I thought I worked hard as CEO.  TNC does projects in all 50 states and in another 70 countries. It felt like I traveled nonstop to visit them all.  But this foundation CEO visited more TNC projects than I did.  She always arrived very well briefed. And by the time she left, she had met with the full TNC team, most of our partners, had asked countless questions (no monologues!) and knew the work inside-out. There’s no substitute for hard work.
  6. She always asked us to list our greatest funding needs. She recognized that we were in the best position to identify the needs and opportunities unique to us, as well as to prioritize among them.
  7. She did so much more. I could go on and on here. The main thing is she and her team did everything they could to get to know us, our projects, and our people.  They were tough, demanding, and critical when things went wrong or we didn’t know our stuff. But it always felt like they were on our side, and together we achieved some great outcomes.

The private sector gets a lot of flack from the advocacy and nonprofit world. Some of it is well deserved, but some of it also feels reflexive and absolute. I think we should value progress over perfection and embrace more actors who have smart ideas and are willing to do their part. 

Jeff Bezos and his Earth Fund are already drawing a ton of criticism for thus far choosing to partner with  “mainstream” climate organizations, rather than experimental ones. I’ll have more to say about that next week. But for now, I’m just glad these organizations are getting much needed financial support, and I hope the fund’s management nurtures and holds those organizations to account the way they would any division of Amazon.  

Nature’s Banker

The EconomistMark Tercek might seem an unlikely boss of the Nature Conservancy, a big American green group. He spent little time outdoors in his youth and then a quarter of a century working for an investment bank. He has probably worn sandals from time to time; he is not known to have worn a beard. Yet this is apposite. Mr Tercek is at the forefront of a new, businesslike sort of environmentalism, which is changing the way companies and governments view nature.

It typically involves putting a valuation on the useful things that nature does, such as the provision of clean water by a spring or flood protection provided by a forest. Once the value of such “ecosystem services” is established, it can be included in business plans. Thus, New York City’s planners established that, to address their polluted water supply, they could either spend $8 billion to build a giant water treatment plant or $1.5 billion on planting trees and otherwise improving the Catskills watershed. At a stroke, they had a business case for tree-hugging.

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Marc Gunther’s Review: The Business Case for Nature

The value of nature is astonishing when you stop and think about it. Marshes protect coastlands. Urban trees clean the air. Forests provide timber. Oceans give us seafood. Snow-capped mountains store drinking water. Some might say nature is priceless.

Not Mark Tercek, the former investment banker at Goldman Sachs who became CEO of The Nature Conservancy in 2008. His new book, Nature’s Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature (Basic Books, 2013), argues that nature provides enormous economic benefits to society, business and consumers, and that, if we can figure out how to value and pay for those benefits, we can slow down and even reverse the degradation of nature that threatens our well-being.

It’s an important and potentially controversial argument, as Tercek acknowledges. While the 20th-century conservation was all about protecting nature from people, Tercek and some of his allies in the environmental movement would like the future to be about protecting nature for people. If nothing else, he argues, recognizing the economic value of nature will expand the base of the environmentalist beyond the white, college-educated and relatively affluent folk, the backpackers and hikers and birdwatchers at its core.

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Nature’s Fortune featured in Thomas Friedman’s NYT column

NYTIn his Sunday New York Times column, Tom Friedman writes about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and includes a reference to Nature’s Fortune.

From Friedman’s column:

“Finally, the president could make up for Keystone by introducing into the public discourse the concept of “natural infrastructure,” argues Mark Tercek, the president and chief executive of The Nature Conservancy, and the co-author of “Nature’s Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature.”

“’Forests, wetlands and other ecosystems are nature’s infrastructure for controlling floods, supplying water, and doing other things we need to adapt to climate change,” Tercek wrote in an e-mail. “Before Hurricane Sandy, Cape May, N.J., had the foresight to restore its dunes and wetlands to provide storm protection and wildlife habitat. When Sandy struck, Cape May was spared the damage that neighboring towns suffered.'”

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Tree-Hitter Tercek Channels Goldman at Nature Conservancy

BloombergOn the day in May 2008 when Mark Tercek, a managing director at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), got a cell-phone call from a headhunter informing him that he’d likely gotten the job of running the Nature Conservancy, he was so excited that he backed his Jeep Grand Cherokeeinto a tree, shattering the back window. Anxious that gouging a tree might be a bad omen, he jumped out to see how bad it was. To his relief, he’d done far more damage to his vehicle than the tree.

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Outside Magazine Power List

Outside MagazineYes, Ted Turner owns two ­million acres in North America. Kris and Doug Tompkins have protected more than two million in Chile. But the world’s largest, wealthiest conservation organization, TNC, has preserved some 119 million acres (count ’em!) in more than 30 countries. Since taking the reins in 2008, Mark Tercek, 54, a former Goldman Sachs managing director who headed its Environmental Strategy Group and Center for Environmental Markets, has weathered a recession that saw TNC’s war chest dip by more than $257 million; spearheaded the conservancy’s expansion into Africa; and cut funding from foundering programs in places like Panama and Guatemala to emphasize big-idea initiatives like an international water fund and a program that gives indigenous people a say in local conservation. He also brought discipline to the organization following a 2003 Washington Post investigation that led to an IRS audit. In meetings, he’s known for repeating (and repeating) his mantra, “Focus like a laser.”

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Natural Causes

WSJNearly two years ago, Mark Tercek left his job as a managing director at Goldman Sachs to attend to an ecosystem devoted to another kind of green: the Nature Conservancy. TNC, which watches over 119 million acres of land in more than 30 countries, has a significantly different culture from the one he’d dominated on Wall Street. While conducting his first organization-wide online meeting in 2008, Tercek swigged from a Poland Spring water bottle. The next day, he was greeted by half a dozen welcome gifts from colleagues in the form of reusable water containers. “Not so good to be the brand-new head of the biggest conservation organization and drinking out of a plastic water bottle,” he says.

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