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The Nature Conservancy CEO On Entrepreneurship For The Environment

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

When Mark Tercek took the reigns as CEO of The Nature Conservancy in 2008 he brought a new perspective. As a Managing Director at Goldman Sachs, Tercek’s career evolved into a focus on sustainability, recognizing the vast economic value of nature and the ability of business to actually contribute profitably to the health of the planet.

In Tercek’s book, Nature’s Fortune, How Business and Society Thrive in Nature, he explains how his experiences at Goldman Sachs and at TNC prove that protecting the environment makes economic sense. For example, he called attention to a shift in attitude at CocaCola, noting that in 2002 water was not listed as an important input in its annual report and by 2012, water had become a key focus. CocaCola has adopted a policy of “replenishment,” with the goal of creating ecological means of returning as much water to the environment as the company uses. Not to be outdone, Pepsi has promised to become “water positive.” Tercek explains the economics that have driven the shift and how preserving and restoring the natural environment can be much more affordable than “gray infrastructure,” man-made remedies like levies, dikes and sea walls.

On Monday, February 3, 2014 at 3:00 Eastern, Tercek will join me for a live discussion about the role of business and entrepreneurs–and others–in the effort to protect the environment and turn back climate change.


Mark Tercek, CEO of the Nature Conservancy (Photo credit: Fortune Live Media)

Tune in here and listen while you work.

According to a Nature Conservancy Magazine article about Tercek, first sought to leave Goldman Sachs in 2005 to pursue work focused on the environment, but Chairman Henry Paulson convinced him to stay by inviting him to form a new group, the Goldman Sachs’ Environmental Strategy Group, where he could work on his passion. When the opportunity came up, however, to head The Nature Conservancy in 2008, he jumped at the chance.

Tercek attributes his desire to work for the preservation of the environment to his role as a parent. “I want to be able to look my kids in the eye,” he says, “and tell them I did all I could to leave the world a better place.”

Before beginning his 24 years at Goldman, Tercek completed an MBA at Harvard after earning a BA at Williams College.

This interview is part of a series that will examine what can be accomplished in the fight to solve the world’s biggest challenges within the next thirty years. The solution to every big problem also presents opportunities entrepreneurs will exploit to change the world. From this series of interviews, a book, working title: Thirty Years to Peace, will emerge.


Please help me continue this conversation below, on Twitter or on my personal website.

Thirty Years To Peace

The world is filled with suffering, so much so that we often assume not only that this is how things have always been but that this is how they must always be.

Photo credit: art_es_anna / / CC BY

Forgive me for saying this, but I’m not buying it. It will be hard. It will take money. It will take commitment. It will take passion. But we can change things in one single generation. Thirty years is all that it should take to eliminate many of the world’s biggest problems.

For the last few hundred years most things in the world have been improving observably, not only in terms of generational time, but much faster. In my lifetime we have put a man on the moon and put the computing power that did it into our pockets (which we largely use to share photos of our food with everyone we know).

Not only do we in the developed world have smart phones, but almost every person on earth now has a cell phone. The very next upgrade cycle for phones in the developing world will give them smart phones with the same technology you’ve got in your pocket right now—if you haven’t upgraded your phone in the last 18 months.

The world is online. The entire world. A poor kid in Kenya can now go online using her phone and learn how to become a doctor. Or how to make a more effective IED.

While the progress of technology has extended access to the world’s entire knowledge base to virtually every living human, there are still nearly one billion people who are hungry and starvation continues to be a major cause of death. Well over one billion people live on less than $1.25 per day—the standard definition of extreme poverty.

Millions will die this year of diseases like cancer, malaria, AIDS, tuberculosis, polio and countless other diseases. We already know how to prevent the spread of many of these.

There are tens of millions of young people, predominantly girls, who are not being educated. More people are subjected to slavery today than at any time in the history of the world.

Never before have we had better tools, smarter people and more opportunity to fix what is wrong in the world than we have today. The opportunity is right before us.

Beginning now and for the next several months, I will be interviewing dozens of the world thought leaders about the potential for us to solve big world problems in the next 30 years. I hope—I pray—that I am not overly optimistic in assuming that the world’s brightest minds will lay out for us a path that will allow us to solve big problems.

With each one, I will explore the limits of what we can accomplish, how far we can go toward ending or eliminating one or more of the problems that cause so much human suffering today. Then I will seek to elicit from these brilliant minds the requirements for success. We’ll evaluate the money required, the public policies needed, the attitudes and values that we must adopt in order to bring about the goal.

Together, we will seek to identify the career opportunities for people who want to play a role in this historic effort to solve these problems. We’ll consider the role of entrepreneurs and business in bringing about the changes we hope to see. Finally, we’ll look at what each one of can do, should do, frankly must do in order to make the kind of progress that is needed.

As we review these big problems, I’m confident we’ll find opportunities for everyone to have an impact. And the ultimate outcome of this fight to change the world can and should be peace. World Peace.

Photo credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video / / CC BY

When we are fighting for human rights, the end of poverty, the promotion of literacy, health and prosperity, we can’t help but enhance the sense of abundance required to end battles for scarce resources dressed up as ethnic warring.

In the end, I will produce a book, think of it as a handbook, for us to use to guide our collective efforts to make peace achievable by ending so much unnecessary suffering. For now, I’m calling this book, Thirty Years To Peace.

Please tune in for these interviews. I’ll post them here at and most will also be available at Subscribe to my blog to be sure you never miss one. Share this post and the future interviews with your friends.

Together, everyone working together, we can do this. Are you in?

For Forbes this morning I visited with Jack Andraka, the genius teenager who created a new device to diagnose pancreatic cancer. Just watch one minute of this video. Jack is amazing!

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