Our Virtual Series that kicked off in November of 2020 brought together business and conservation leaders from across Texas to discuss topics such as collaboration and innovation in conservation. Conservation Wranglers from 2017-2019 also discussed their projects, lessons learned, and progress as a starting point for the panels. We’re happy to share all of four of these engaging conversations below.
In It Together – The Future of Conservation
The future of conservation is collaboration — collaboration between business and conservation communities such that conservation is not a separate project, group, or conversation but part of our DNA. Conservation must be part of who we are — as citizens, family members, leaders, entrepreneurs, humans. It is collaboration that yields innovation and returns that positively shape our resources, health, and economy.
Collaboration produces better results — more innovative solutions, deeply engaged team members, higher loyalty and morale. Research shows that teams working collaboratively stick to the task 64 percent longer than those in solitary endeavors, report higher engagement levels, cite lower fatigue levels, and have a higher success rate. Collaborative conservation spanning business, landowners, communities, and natural resource organizations yield similar positive results.
Home to seven of the 15 fastest growing cities in the U.S., Texas’ population has increased over 48% in the last decade alone. With this mass urbanization, less than 1% of Texans are landowners and there’s a diminished connection to nature and our natural resources. As Texas develops, it’s critical that conservation and business work together to create innovative spaces, practices, and leaders to care for our natural resources, prosperity, and health for generations to come.
Texas is bountiful – enjoying the world’s 10th largest GDP, 29 million citizens, and 10 diverse ecoregions. Reimagining how we bring our plentiful resources together to deliver innovative places, resilient landscapes and natural resources, equitable access, and economic opportunities is a future that will benefit every Texan at work, at play, and at home.
By Joni Carswell, CEO and President of Texan by Nature Originally published on May 14, 2019 in The Catalyst
Environmental solutions will come as citizens — all citizens — make conservation a part of their daily life and decision-making process.
I dream of a future where non-profit groups focused on conservation are no longer needed. It’s a future where all citizens, all leaders embody a conservation ethos where conservation is simply a part of every decision and action. But, what will it take to get there?
The future of conservation is collaboration — specifically, collaboration between business and conservation communities such that conservation is not a separate project, group, or conversation but part of our DNA. Part of who we are — who we are as citizens, family members, leaders, entrepreneurs, humans. Reaching this point requires thinking and acting differently than we have before. It requires working together in ways that, at first, might not seem natural.
It’s become generally accepted in leadership circles that collaboration produces better results – more innovative solutions, deeply engaged team members, and higher loyalty and morale. Research shows that teams working collaboratively stick to the task 64 percent longer than solitary endeavors, report higher engagement levels, cite lower fatigue levels, and have a higher success rate.
The future of conservation is collaboration — specifically, collaboration between business and conservation communities such that conservation is not a separate project, group, or conversation but part of our DNA.
The Mutual Benefits of Collaboration
Why is collaboration the future of conservation? Because we need to experience the success that research shows for collaboration. Because we have experts working separately in business and conservation who can achieve much different results when working together. Because regulation lags innovation — we can’t wait for someone to tell us to do it and the result won’t be as beneficial. Because we spend more than 65 percent of waking hours at work, and industrial, transportation, agricultural, and commercial sectors use 80 percent of energy consumed in the United States, and 84 percent of water annually. Because the demand for resources continues to grow.
As world population grows at 1.1 percent annually, we’re on track to reach 10 billion people by 2055, up from 7.6 billion people in 2018. With this growth, we can expect and must prepare for more pressure on open spaces and natural resources. This growth creates greater demand for resources and goods while also creating greater demand for natural environments. In grappling with the outcomes of population growth, the goals of conservation and business often seem at odds.
While business seeks to utilize resources and provide goods and services to maximize profits, conservation can be viewed as an effort to set aside resources, potentially slowing economic growth. On the surface, this seems like a no-win situation. Constantly pitting business against conservation is a losing strategy for the future. It is increasingly clear that economic growth can be aligned with conservation interests in a way that keeps, and even improves, our open spaces and availability of natural resources.
Businesses have very good reason to collaborate and conserve: Company value, brand affinity, employee recruitment, retention and productivity, and cost savings are all associated with conservation efforts. These efforts result in measurable bottom-line benefit.
Businesses have very good reason to collaborate and conserve: Company value, brand affinity, employee recruitment, retention and productivity, and cost savings are all associated with conservation efforts.
Research and annual reports support this, showing that businesses partnering with or leading conservation efforts benefit from conservation in terms of employee health and productivity, natural resource impact, and overall profits — a positive Return on Conservation. Examples of this type of collaboration span industries as well as public and private sectors.
Collaboration at Work
An oil and gas company might not be the first example that comes to mind when contemplating conservation. However, Pioneer Natural Resources has embraced its role in being an environmental steward. [Editor’s Note: Pioneer Natural Resources is a Bush Center donor.] The company collaborates internally and externally to achieve results such as reducing freshwater usage in its oil and gas exploration by more than 27 percent and reducing its pad site and other land usage footprint by more than 80 percent.
Pioneer Natural Resources has assigned some of their brightest engineers to innovate on water usage and conservation. The company also has partnered with conservation-focused non-profits like Texas Trees Foundation and the Texas Playa Conservation Initiative to create tree canopies on elementary school campuses and restore playas in the Texas Panhandle that recharge the Ogallala Aquifer. The business cites employee engagement, reduced costs, and community stability as long-term benefits of its collaborative conservation efforts.
Dell Technologies has found that using recycled materials is not only good for the environment but also good for the bottom line. The organization is embracing a circular economic model — trying to keep materials in use for as long as possible — maximizing the company’s value and reducing waste. Dell estimates that consumers throw away $60 million in gold and silver annually by not recycling their phones.
The gold recycling process Dell uses does 99 percent less environmental damage than mining operations and reduces the overall cost of materials for their products. In addition to using recycled gold, Dell is incorporating reclaimed carbon fiber from the aerospace industry as well as recycled content plastic.
Dell has big goals for renewable energy usage, waste diversion, and recycled materials sourcing. They’re using some of the sharpest minds in technology to collaborate with sustainability and conservation experts to benefit their profitability while conserving our natural resources.
A more public example of collaboration involves Texas’ Tarrant Regional Water District in partnership with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, North Texas Municipal Water District, and the John Bunker Sands Wetland Center (in partnership with the Rosewood Corporation) working together with Alan Plummer Associates to create an innovative and sustainable approach for water reuse.
This water reuse occurs due to the development of constructed wetlands, which filter water naturally. This is nature being used as it was intended. Combined, the projects create over 4,000 acres of wetland habitat, provide a reliable water supply for more than 3.8 million people in North Texas, and offer countless education and recreation opportunities.
These examples highlight the opportunity for innovation and the need for collaboration to drive conservation efforts and impact. Depending solely on individuals, conservation organizations, or regulatory entities does not yield the results that collaborative efforts can achieve.
Depending solely on individuals, conservation organizations, or regulatory entities does not yield the results that collaborative efforts can achieve.
Like businesses, conservation organizations can benefit greatly from collaboration. Business partners offer a new way of looking at an issue, expertise in a variety of functions, potential funding, and volunteer labor to complete projects. Focusing on science-based initiatives that yield measurable results and looking to businesses as true partners in the conservation journey is the future.
We must push both conservation and business leaders to think deeply on how we view, resolve, and measure our projects and impact. We must expand our view of conservation to be part of how we most effectively do business, how we live, and how we play. We must look at the ideal combination of setting aside, educating, restoring, accessing, enjoying, and regenerating.
Conservation of our natural resources and a sustainable future lie in the collaborative hands of both our conservation and business leaders. Our long-term economic growth and health depend on it.
Texan by Nature CEO, Joni Carswell, recently headlined a discussion about the importance of conserving our land and our oceans at the Bush Center. Jim Connaughton, who served as Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality under President Bush joined her, and EarthX Board Chair Lynn McBee served as moderator. The program coincided with the unveiling of a significant update of the oceans exhibit in the permanent collection of the George W. Bush Presidential Museum. Watch the full event below.
By Joni Carswell, Texan by Nature’s CEO & President
Recently I had the opportunity to speak about how women are innovating and leading at the Women of Innovation event at Dallas Startup Week 2020. Below you’ll find the audio version of my presentation along with the 10 lessons I’ve learned on my innovation journey, which I shared in this session.
1. Embrace Your Background
Little did I know that my journey would come full circle when I started my career in consulting and bounced from Georgia to Mexico to Florida to Canada to California and to Illinois before coming back to Texas. I’ve ended up drawing on my roots as a farmer’s daughter, a principal’s daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, an entrepreneur, a workforce grunt, a CEO – each experience has informed my knowledge base and shaped how I see problems, generate solutions, develop teams, and view my role in innovation. Recently, there’s been a movement for people to bring their whole selves to work. I have to agree – embracing all parts of your journey opens doors and ways of thinking that you might not even imagine.
2. Be Flexible and Adapt (Be Open to What the World Brings)
I moved around a lot at the beginning of my career. Sometimes I owned that choice. Sometimes I did not. My first day of work out of Texas A&M was an icy January day in Atlanta. The office was closed, but I went in not knowing what else to do. It turns out one of the partners was present. I did my HR paperwork, slid it under the appropriate door, and was on a plane for Central Mexico to help out on a project by 9 PM that evening. I was there for six weeks. It turned out to be an incredible experience, learning about communication systems, sewing floor operations, and enjoying the local culture. I look at that experience and laugh because it was the perfect beginning push to jumping into the unknown. As you iterate or look to improve any process, product, or organization, you’re always taking in new data and information. Be flexible in thinking and adapt to new situations and information. I subscribe to the ‘fail fast and move on’ philosophy – flexibility and adaptation are key in doing this well.
3. Be Present, Observe, and Think – Ask “What if?”
I shared my experience in this blog about shamefully failing at answering what I had observed while time cycling for a project. I’ve never forgotten the lesson. No matter how monotonous, no matter how small the task, be present – there are always ways to improve, to innovate. You just have to look for them. Be present. Observe. Think. How can this be better? What if this constraint weren’t in place? What if I brought a different partner to the table? What if these assumptions are wrong? This is something I think is vital in every. single. role. The value and innovation that one thinking team member can bring is immeasurable. It’s exponential if the entire team is present, thinking, and asking what if.
No matter how monotonous, no matter how small the task, be present – there are always ways to improve, to innovate.
4. Identify Your Weakness
Oh, the weaknesses. Sometimes I think age is a blessing because you become so much more comfortable with identifying and sharing your failings. I see many innovators and entrepreneurs feel that they have to be good at everything. I’ve found that a more powerful place for me is to understand my weakness. Identifying my weakness has helped me develop where I can and evolve as a leader. It has helped me build balanced teams. Whether in the case of going to business school to learn marketing and finance or more recently in building the team at Texan by Nature, identifying areas of need and putting a plan together to address these have resulted in efficient, effective leaders for Texan by Nature and for our partners.
5. Build Your Network – Collaborate
As an introvert, network building is not easy or first nature for me. It takes time and purpose. However, it’s critically important in expanding perspective and keeping abreast of trends, opportunities, and important information. A mentor of mine recently pointed out that new entrepreneurs claim ‘stealth mode’ while seasoned ones are out talking to as many people as they can so that they can fail fast and adapt (thank you, network!). I approach network building through the lens of collaboration and learning. Studies show that collaborative efforts are more successful and fulfilling. We certainly see that in our work at Texan by Nature daily. I did not do a great job of network building until I went to business school. Even then, it was something that took work for me. Focusing on shared areas of interest like the outdoors, triathlon, travel, entrepreneurship, and leadership helped me start conversations and build deeper relationships that have resulted in collaboration years later. My network is 100% responsible for opening the doors to the CEO roles I’ve held.
6. Know Your Metrics – Stand By Them
Knowing my data has helped me at every point in my career. Whether in negotiating salary, creating deal terms for a funding round, developing market outlook, analyzing team workload – knowing the metrics and being comfortable with how they were developed has changed conversations and outcomes. Knowing my metrics, sources, and frameworks have given me something objective to stand in subjective spaces. I’ve been heckled and questioned to the point of discomfort, but being steadfast in the data changed the course of dialogue. Being able to succinctly walk through the business case for a project or organization has made the difference in closing the deal for me. Every single role I’ve held has required me to know the metrics and be confident enough in them to put my reputation and success on them.
7. Step Up – Ready or Not
At some point, if not many points on your innovation journey, you’ll be tapped to do something different or bigger than what you may have imagined for yourself. If it pulls at your soul and your passion, say yes. Do not doubt yourself out of the opportunity. You will learn. You will grow. You will identify your weaknesses and rise to the occasion. Some people call this fake it ‘til you make it. I say that if you’ve been tapped to do something, someone sees that you can do it and you can. Don’t think of all the reasons you can’t. Step up and embrace the challenge. Your journey has prepared you in a way that is 100% unique to you. If passion and soul are calling, you’re entering the sweet spot for innovation. Was I ready to run a technology company – maybe. Boy did I learn a lot! Was I ready to run a conservation nonprofit with limited conservation and zero nonprofit experience? Some would say no. Our success over the last three years says yes. Step up!
I say that if you’ve been tapped to do something, someone sees that you can do it and you can. Don’t think of all the reasons you can’t. Step up and embrace the challenge.
8. Be Vulnerable and Optimistic
For me, vulnerability is another one that came with age….and failure. A year into my tech CEO role, I was given six months to raise a round of funding.For the first three months, I kept the situation mainly to myself. I was having dozens of conversations and getting ZERO bites. As a leader who cares deeply for her team, I decided I needed to let the team know the full extent of the situation so that they could line up jobs if we went under. It was a lesson in vulnerability that has shaped me forevermore. As my deadline approached, I kept having potential funder conversations but it became clear that I would not close a deal in time. I worked with my investor and wrote the client letter to shut down the company. It was the single, most humbling experience of my career. When I shared it with the investor, he asked what the current prospects were and said he was comfortable with bridging for one more month. During this time, I kept talking to interested funders and was deeply touched by my team and partners sticking with me. I ended up bringing on the perfect investor for where we were and we never looked back (or sent that letter). During this time, something a sales leader said to me stuck deeply, “the fun doesn’t start until they’ve said no at least three times.” Talk about relentless optimism. Vulnerability and optimism kept the company afloat and team in place during our darkest, most uncertain days.
9. Self Reflect and Let. It. Go.
Two points here. Always self reflect. How are things going? What could be better? Are you still the best person for the role? Is the feedback you’ve received accurate? Do you need to change? When I decided to take the Texan by Nature role, my investor and I had a conversation about self-reflection and the need for leaders to self check whether they are still the right leader for the role. Honestly, I was expecting him to be annoyed with my reflection – he’s an incredibly successful serial entrepreneur, always powering forward. Instead, he shared that he had the same thoughts regularly and would be worried if I wasn’t asking myself these questions because it could indicate that I was immature and out of touch in my leadership. Self reflect. Second point – let it go. Once you’ve reflected and made your decision. Once you’ve truly heard feedback. Take what is useful for your journey and organization, make necessary changes, and let the rest go. This is for all leaders, but particularly those who take things personally and vacillate endlessly. It’s not good for you and it’s not good for your team. I’ve been told I’m too intense. That I work too hard and have misguided beliefs around that. I have found that softening some of those tendencies helps me succeed, however, these characteristics are also a reason for where I am today. Ten years ago I would have had the feedback stuck on repeat and thought of every reason it was wrong. Today, I self reflect and acknowledge it, change what I can and need, and let the rest go. The time and emotion freed with this action have been game-changing.
Today, I self reflect and acknowledge it, change what I can and need, and let the rest go. The time and emotion freed with this action have been game-changing.
10. Own Your Journey, Own Your Voice, Own Your Contribution
My journey is perhaps interesting in some ways, boring in others. It is, however, mine. I am truly the only person in the world with my accumulation of experiences, good and bad. I find this freeing. When I looked at my path from this perspective and began sharing more of myself and ideas, doors began opening and new opportunities for innovation appeared. You have an equally unique and freeing path. Owning your journey is just the first step. Giving the journey air time and recognizing its contribution to your perspective and creativity is a gift that grows as it is nurtured. Own and enjoy it.
These are a few of my lessons learned (so far). I encourage each of you to think through your journey and assess what you have learned that can be applied moving forward. Something you may not have shared or embraced. This is your niche. This is where you will see the world differently. This is what will keep you on your own personal path to innovation. So embrace it. Bring your journey. Bring your soul. Bring your passion. Bring your grit. Be your own brand of badass. I can’t wait to see the results for you, for Texas, for the world!