A Conversation With Brian McPeek, COO of the Nature Conservancy

McPeek-Post.jpg Brian McPeek spent several years with the Nature Conservancy -- working as the deputy director of the Conservancy's Colorado program and then the regional managing director for North America -- before rising to the rank of chief operating officer. In his role as COO, McPeek works closely with the Conservancy's CEO to manage all major organizational initiatives and oversees marketing, philanthropy, and conservation divisions. Before joining the Conservancy, McPeek worked with McKinsey & Company, where he advised start-ups and Fortune 500 companies on corporate strategy.

Here, McPeek discusses why efforts to integrate the value of nature into our economy can transform the way we all do business; why people consistently underestimate how nature affects their life in the city; and why he's frustrated by the idea that nature is fragile.

What do you say when people ask you, 'What do you do?'

I love that I can tell people that I save the lands and waters that we all need to survive. There's nothing better than coming back to that at the end of the day.

What new idea or innovation is having the most significant impact on the sustainability world?

Efforts to integrate the value of nature into our economy have the power to transform both the conservation world and the way that we all do business. There's value in the way that reducing runoff from our lawns can help provide a good catch for fishermen hundreds of miles away, and in the way that clean air keeps workers healthier and reduces the productivity lost to sick days. This value of nature needs to be captured on the balance sheets of corporations and governments.

What's something that most people just don't understand about your area of expertise?

People consistently underestimate how nature affects their life in the city. For millions of Americans, the water that comes out of their tap originates in a river where conservationists are working to keep the water clean. Nature is all around us, wherever we live, and it's affected by the choices that we make every day.

What's an emerging trend that you think will shake up the sustainability world?

Conservation groups are increasingly looking at how their work affects people, and partnering with development groups like Oxfam in the Gulf of Mexico, or Pathfinder International in Africa to create solutions that provide opportunities for people while conserving the places and wildlife that these people depend upon.

What's a sustainability trend that you wish would go away?

I'm frustrated by this idea that nature is fragile. Nature is really resilient and restoration works. Species like the bald eagle have come back from the brink of extinction, and places like the South Pacific Islands where nuclear weapons were tested are now important habitat. We shouldn't underestimate nature's ability to fight its way back with a little help from all of us.

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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