When I asked our global sustainability director how I could learn about natural capital and natural infrastructure, she recommended I read Nature’s Fortune, written by the CEO of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Mark Tercek.
When I read in the introduction that he’d majored in English and then lived and taught in Japan like I did, I was hooked. We English majors who’ve been called gaijin have to stick together! I was fascinated to learn about his pathway into sustainability…he came into it through the back door, with a business background at Goldman Sachs, where he created a sustainability business and began partnering with TNC and other environmental nonprofits and exploring ways to make conservation profitable. "I was a late bloomer but protecting nature became my cause and my passion."
Tercek has transformed TNC into an organization that collaborates with business instead of fighting against business. As he says, "Hard-core 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." But Tercek saw opportunity in working with businesses, because they "control huge amounts of natural resources, often more than governments." Companies are often quicker to act than government, especially as increasing numbers of businesses realize how dependent they are on natural resources and how critical they are for their survival. "The bigger the company's footprint, the bigger the opportunity for the company to reduce its impact on the environment by changing its behavior."
Nature's Fortune is jam-packed with illuminating examples of how the world's natural resources can be put to work, preserving the environment and the supply of these resources. In case study after case study, Tercek explains how cities, counties, states, and businesses are realizing how investing in green infrastructure is the best investment they can make.
For example, back in 1996, Dow Chemical Company's facility in Seadrift, Texas needed to increase its water treatment capacity...the logical (engineering) option would be to pour concrete and build a plant, at the tune of $40 million. But an innovative engineer proposed building a wetland instead, a solution that cost a mere $1.4 million. Now the wetland treats 5 million gallons of water per day, but it also provides habitat for wildlife. Environmentalists can fault Dow as a multinational chemical company, but the fact is that these multinational companies have enormous environmental footprints. When they take steps to reduce these footprints, it benefits us all. When companies invest creatively in nature instead of building traditional infrastructure, they reap many opportunities beyond just saving money. They protect the natural resources they rely on for their business.
Or take the case of Louisiana, where floods from climate change pose increasing threats. Scientists and engineers are realizing the value of floodplains, which have been replaced with hard-constructed levies, dams, and floodwalls. But nature's own resource, floodplains (flat lands near rivers where water can overflow) relieve pressure on levee systems, reduce flood risks, and filter agricultural runoff. Hard structures alone, as we saw during Hurricane Sandy or Hurricane Katrina, are often not enough to stop rising water and can actually make flooding worse for communities downstream.
A 2009 Harvard Business Review article concluded that "the current economic system has placed enormous pressure on the planet...traditional approaches to business will collapse, and companies will need to develop innovative solutions." Further, "failure to have a culture of sustainability is quickly becoming a source of competitive disadvantage. The argument about sustainability is over."
While Tercek encourages cooperation and collaboration with businesses to protect the environment, he also appreciates the value of environmental organizations that prefer to work as watchdogs on business, commenting that the pressure they place on business partnerships results in better transparency and more successful approaches to protect nature.
I recommend this book as an excellent overview of how natural infrastructure can help organizations conserve resources, save money, and create more reliable, sustainable solutions to our changing world. ...more
This was my summer light read; I took it with me to Florida in August.
It was a psychological thriller about a troubled, hard-to-believe protagonist and psychopaths in her life. Perhaps too many coincidences and unlikely events, but if you can suspend belief, it's worth a read.
Aaron Hartzler grew up in an extremely conservative, religious home, where just disagreeing with his parents was tantamount to being seduced by Satan. For example, one day the young, fashion-conscious Aaron wanted to go to church without wearing socks with his Sperry Topsiders (because that's what you do). His father commanded him to put socks on, and Aaron resisted...and thus ensued a huge power struggle, with his father pouring on the guilt and shame...over a lack of socks.
I had to laugh when I read that Aaron got in trouble at his conservative Christian school for singing a Sandi Patty song! She was popular back when I hung out with some evangelical Christians in college, but apparently she fell from grace after she got divorced and had an affair.
Aaron is gay, but as a child he didn't know that. He felt himself drawn to fashion, theater, and music...and he also felt himself desperately torn between wanting to please his parents and wanting to express himself, in spite of his strict evangelical upbringing.
I found myself getting really annoyed with his parents, who on one occasion told Aaron he couldn't be in his school play because he had pop music tapes in his car (or some such extreme infringement of their rules). The book ends before Aaron comes out to his parents, so we don't learn how they reacted to the news...but follow-up research indicates he's still in touch with them, so that's good.
My book group enjoyed this book, and many commented on how Aaron deeply loved his parents in spite of their deep religiosity and their strict demands on him.
Patrick Ness and Jim Kay collaborated on this illustrated novel based on an idea by novelist Siobhan Dowd, who died of breast cancer. As Ness said in his author's note, "She had the characters, a premise, and a beginning. What she didn't have, unfortunately, was time."
A Monster Calls refers to the visits in young Conor's bedroom. Conor's mother is battling cancer, and as he and his family members struggle to adjust to her worsening condition, a huge yew tree outside of his bedroom comes to life and tells him a series of stories. "Stories are wild creatures," the monster said. "When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?"
The monster is the only creature who's listening to Conor and speaking to him honestly. His father arrives from the U.S. for an incredibly brief visit and has created a new family where Conor doesn't have a place, and his parents skirt around the fact that his mother is dying. He's sent to stay with his grandmother, who is overly strict and controlling and doesn't seem to appreciate him. His classmates either bully him or pity him because of his sick mom. The monster's the only one who understands the fear and rage inside of his head.
My book group debated whether the monster was real or if it was all in Conor's head. I disagreed with a few others; I believe the monster was real. This is, after all, a young adult fantasy novel. The monster teaches Conor things no one else could. And helps him get in touch with feelings that he didn't know he had. We had an interesting conversation about the way our culture handles illness and dying, both in the U.S. and the UK, where the novel is based. People in the UK are much more likely to tamp down feelings and suppress them, and therapy is often not considered to be necessary. Stiff upper lip and all that!
A Monster Calls is a beautiful tale of loss and love. ...more