Missions and Niches, Part 1

The Nature Conservancy is a global NGO that operates in all 50 states and about 35 countries.  It emphasizes science-based, collaborative and often market-oriented solutions to conservation issues, with a deep respect for local interests, including those of native populations.  I find this approach attractive. 

But TNC’s pragmatic approach is not without controversy.  In Nature’s Fortune (Basic Books 2013), the CEO of The Nature Conservancy, Mark Tercek, acknowledges that “hardcore environmentalists can be quick to criticize organizations such as TNC when they build alliances with companies.  They sometimes see such collaborations as consorting with the enemy.”

More recently, the New Yorker ran a major profile on Mark and his role in shaping the modern vision of The Nature Conservancy.  Nonsubscribers to the magazine can read an excerpt of the article, titled Green is Good, online here.  The title is obviously a play on words, and the subtitle confirms it:  “The Nature Conservancy wants to persuade big business to save the environment.”  Needless to say, this engendered a certain amount of spirited discussion among environmental strategists.

Mark Tercek addressed these issues in a TNC blog co-authored with the organization’s chief scientist, Peter Kareiva.  You can read it here.  In the blog, Mark and Peter outline a range of traditional and more contemporary strategies by which TNC seeks to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends.  They argue that new approaches are needed to supplement traditional strategies such as land acquisition, easements and the like because the threats have evolved.  For example, they point out that "securing those ‘last great places’ (as our old motto had it) will be to no avail if climate change renders them obsolete.”

My new blog series, Missions and Niches, will explore issues relating to conservation strategies and the broad spectrum of activity across which various environmental organizations operate.  To get things started, let me share with you the comment that I posted at TNC's blog a couple of weeks ago in response to Mark and Peter’s piece:

“As one of the very largest global organizations dedicated to protecting the environment, on a scale with many governments, it is appropriate that TNC think big and operate in ways that can have huge impacts.  This will often mean investing in projects that are nuanced, that involve market-based business solutions and/or public partnerships, that balance competing interests in order to be effective, and that may not be as popularly charismatic as some alternatives.  TNC’s strong science roots will help sort out the best places to make these enormous bets.  

“Fortunately, TNC is not alone.  There is a broad range of conservation NGOs, and each can find its appropriate niche on the spectrum that includes legislation and lobbying, regulations and policy initiatives on public lands, investment partnerships and market-based solutions in the private sector, engagement, advocacy and activism at local and personal levels, etc.  Some of these are 'traditional' NGO approaches, some are not.  But not everyone can, or necessarily should, follow the same model.  

“TNC is uniquely positioned for large-scale, science-based projects at the scale that Mark and Peter describe, and should pursue them aggressively.  Other NGOs can best operate in different spheres of activity.  Let’s celebrate the diversity of approaches and maximize effectiveness for all of them.”