Brainstorm Green

Mark Tercek on small changes that make a big difference

November 5, 2013: 2:12 PM ET

"If more people had vegetarian or vegan diets, especially in the developed world, the environmental impact would be significant," says the Nature Conservancy CEO.

131105135335-mark-tercek-620xaFORTUNE -- Mark Tercek is president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy, an organization dedicated to protecting environmental resources and mitigating threats to conservation. He is the co-author of the best-seller Nature's Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature. Before joining The Nature Conservancy five years ago, he was a partner and managing director of Goldman Sachs where he worked for 24 years. A past speaker at Fortune Brainstorm Green, we asked him 10 questions about his mission to promote sustainability as well as his personal goals. Read on to find out about his outlook on alternative energy, his quirky habit, and his impressive marathon time.

Fortune's annual Brainstorm Green conference brings together individuals who strive to build a sustainable future across various industries. In this weekly feature, we shine a spotlight on an attendee to offer their personal insight on business, environmentalism, and entrepreneurship.

1. What alternative energy projects are you most excited about?

I'm excited about opportunity to build more environmentally friendly dams. Hydropower investments are rapidly growing; the world has reached only the halfway point of global hydropower development. While it's certainly good to have clean carbon-free energy, dams can also be very damaging to the environment. The Nature Conservancy is using science to help dam companies make dams with less impact on the environment. I'm excited about the possibilities new partnerships can bring to the table.

2. What green business or person do you admire most? Why?

One group of business people I admire is the industrial leaders of Monterrey, Mexico. I was delighted to visit the city recently to help kick off the Monterrey Water Fund, which TNC is proud to be involved in. Virtually every business and business leader of Monterrey is voluntarily coming together to invest in nature to protect their water supply and also improve flood and drought protection.

3. What is one goal that you would like to accomplish during your lifetime?

My lifetime goal was to run a sub-three-hour marathon. I've concluded it's not going to happen. I ran six marathons with times under 3:10 -- not bad. I always presumed that if I trained harder I could eventually meet my goal. Unfortunately, I overlooked the fact that I would age. Now, I'm trying to come up with a new goal.

4. What daily steps do you take to promote sustainability?

My family does what we can to lead a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle. We recognize that we have a lot of room for improvement. On the personal front, I'm a committed vegan for various reasons. If more people had vegetarian or vegan diets, especially in the developed world, the environmental impact would be significant. I sometimes wonder if environmentalists should make a bigger fuss over simple diet changes.

5. What do you do to live a balanced life?

First, my job is quite demanding, and work meetings and events seem to creep into everything. Rather than think of it as a work/life balance, I try to integrate the two. As much as possible, I get my family engaged and interested in the projects and work we do at TNC.  Even though I have a busy schedule, I'm a big believer in getting enough sleep. I try to exercise daily and meditate. I also enjoy reading, listening to music, and being active with tennis, biking, yoga, and skiing.

6. What was the last book you read?

Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie.

7. What was the most important thing you learned in school?

The best thing I learned in school was simply to keep learning and to be humble. One of the great things about my job at TNC, as my colleagues will tell you, is that I still have so much to learn. It's fun for me to slowly make some progress on a steep learning curve.

8. What was your first job?

I was a paperboy. I delivered the Cleveland Plain Dealer every morning before 6:30 a.m. for 365 days a year between 1968 and 1971. I endured the stifling summer heat and brutal Cleveland winters on my route, but it was a great experience.

9. What is one unique or quirky habit that you have?

I'm a recovering Blackberry addict. In fact, I wrote an entire chapter of my recent book Nature's Fortune on my Blackberry, because it was easier for me than using my computer. I'm trying to overcome this addiction and use a smartphone, but I'm not sure how long I can take it. I'm in serious withdrawal.

10. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

I wish I had the superpower to make our elected officials on Capitol Hill make all the policy choices that I believe are no-brainers, like a carbon tax and immigration reform.

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