Mark Tereck from The Nature Conservancy recently published the book, “Nature’s Fortune – How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature.” He stop by University of Pennsylvania to talk about his story and how Nature is truly a Fortune for us. Nature is interesting, it often provide more than it needs and because of this, Mark believe that nature is currently undervalued and that by speaking about environmental down into dollars and cents, he hopes to increase the value of nature and increase public awareness.
Mark’s path in the environmental sector is quite unique. He didn’t start on the environmental path until relatively late. After working in Goldman Sachs for 24 years, he had the opportunity to lead TNC to help the organization by providing a different perspective. So why would TNC hire a business person?
The environmental sector is great. Things gets done mostly by these large think tank and research based non-profits. The impacts of the environmental sector are strong and their influence in business, government, and local community is something that most people undermine. Non-profits such as TNC are founded based on donation. It is amazing how much money is provided for these organizations and there are a lot. People donate to non-profits for various reasons. People who want to see their local stream cleaned will donate to an organization that can help clean up the stream. People who want to help reduce deforestation will donate to organizations that work in the forestry industry.
But are these environmental non-profits doing all that they can? Maybe, but can they do more? Yes. Mark believes that the current situation with environmental non-profit has a strategy based on research and based on philanthropy. TNC hired Mark seven years ago because they believe that it is time to look at the environmental issues from a different perspective. TNC has an annual budget of 6 million dollars and as a non-profit, it is hard to start at the beginning of the year with zero dollars.
Environmental non-profits not only need new strategy but also need more talent and more resource. Talent and resource all need money. A newly graduate student who has the option to either join a non-profit or a private company will often choose the private company because private company can give the individual more.
Nature also needs a new slogan. The slogan that we need to protect the environment for our future generation may draw some attentions, but it will not get enough action to occur. Mark believes that by placing a dollar value on nature, people will not only pay attention but they will be willing to do something about it.
Mark gave one example, which is also in his book, on water management in Quito Ecuador. TNC propose to the water company in Quito who wants to clean up its water quality and manage flooding to build green infrastructures instead of gray infrastructure. TNC approach the company through a business case and not a philanthropic case. The term that Mark use is venture philanthropy. TNC and the water company started with just cleaning upstream water source, they planted more trees to slow down the runoff, and they created a protected area upstream and go the agriculture sector upstream to support the cause. Soon after, private sectors ranging from beverage industry to consumer goods joined the cause because they saw the returns on the investment.