Today’s SXSW Eco keynote talked about crossing boundaries to find practical solutions. Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy, told his personal story of moving from Wall Street to a job in environmentalism – a move spurred by vacations in nature with his kids. Tercek focused on four key constituencies the environmental movement has to reach in order to take a stronghold in the United States.
Connecting nature to people
Tercek touted a recent decision by voters in Iowa as a great example of reaching out to everyday people. The Nature Conservancy pushed for a new sales tax, which was eventually approved by 66% of voters in Iowa, for conservation and flood plain development. Tercek said The Nature Conservancy was able to push conservation goals by focusing on an issue incredibly important to Iowans – flooding. Tercek said mainstream Americans get it when they have to pay attention to the issue and understand conservation is a high-return investment.
Connecting nature to companies
Tercek said environmentalists are suspicious of business, with good reason. But he said companies with big environmental footprints are ideal companies to work with because it could lead to big impacts. The Nature Conservancy recently worked with BP to change BP’s drilling patterns in Colorado and Wyoming. Instead of drilling in sensitive areas, BP moved to another area with less environmental sensitivity. Tercek believes partnerships like that can lead to more relationships with big business that could have major impacts.
Connecting nature to the government
Tercek said government has always been essential to conservation. He said there must be smart policy, and government has to understand the infrastructure of nature. The Nature Conservancy helped get climate legislation passed in the House before chaos ensued in Washington. Tercek said he’s disappointed the bill didn’t take effect, but said this shows things are possible in Washington.
Connecting nature to young people
Getting kids out in nature is becoming less and less common. Young people today spend 33% less time outdoors than the previous generation. Tercek said The Nature Conservancy believes reaching young people is fundamental to its success in the future. The Nature Conservancy has a program called LEAF – which takes kids from urban settings into nature during summers. Data show more than half of the LEAF participants go on to college and major in sciences or environmental studies.
In closing, Tercek repeated his theme: working with strange bedfellows and crossing boundaries oftentimes leads to the biggest impacts.