Mark Tercek in conversation with Joel Makower

I first met Mark Tercek several years ago when he headed Goldman Sachs' environmental strategy, a capstone to more than two decades as an investment banker heading various business units for the company. This was pre-economic meltdown — Tercek fortuitously left the firm in 2008 just ahead of the crash — and Goldman still was seen as a pillar of the economy. As such, the fact that Goldman had a Center for Environmental Markets, which Tercek ran, was a bit of a phenomenon.

Tercek left Goldman to become president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy, where he has worked to meld his financial and markets savvy to lead TNC into a new era of protecting natural capital. This means working with companies — mining companies, chemical companies, consumer products companies and more — in innovative ways to demonstrate the opportunities for business in protecting natural capital. TNC’s 2011 partnership with Dow is one great example. Along the way, Tercek has become an articulate, inspiring and enthusiastic speaker on the topic.

Tercek, along with science and environmental writer Jonathan Adams, has just published Nature’s Fortune, a book on business and natural capital (read excerpt here). On the occasion of the book’s publication, I talked with Tercek about the book, his work and the future of business and natural capital. The following has been edited for clarity and length.

Joel Makower: Tell me about the conversation with business around natural capital that you’ve seen taking place over the past year, post-Rio.

Mark Tercek: I would say, Joel — and I say this in the book — it’s not like the ideas are new. Academics have been writing about this stuff for a long time. What is new and is exciting is we’re taking theory and making it actionable. And that’s really important because the environmental movement and all the environmental nonprofits, one way or another, we need new strategies that will allow us to get more done bigger and faster.

I say that with real respect for all the environmental organizations because I know them all well. But though we win lots of battles, we could say we’re not winning the war. We need new strategies to get more done, to build more allies, to have better financial support.

Photo of Tercek by Stuart Isett / Fortune Brainstorm

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