Leadership Lessons from our National Parks

Oct 28, 2016 11:30 AM ET

Imagine you could learn about management, conflict resolution, and decision-making in complex systems while spending time with leading sustainability professionals in one of the wildest places in America? Well that’s what the Corporate Eco-Forum’s (CEF) Sustainability Leadership Program is all about.

When I first heard about this opportunity through NRG’s employee newsletter, I was intrigued. After speaking with previous participants of the program and reading more about CEF, I was compelled to apply. Fast-forward, my successful submission compared the similarities and differences between multi-stakeholder decisions in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem and at NRG, and posed the hypothesis that only the collaboration and joint development of a vision would pave the path for a sustainable future.

In mid-August, eight representatives from CEF’s member companies (e.g. Dow, Salesforce, and UPS, etc.) and I arrived in Cody, WY. Arthur Middleton, a distinguished wild-life ecology professor welcomed us and provided us an overview of the region’s long history of diverse land uses, as well as the human-wildlife and stakeholder conflicts it has produced. Shortly after, we hopped on horses and rode 17 miles into the backcountry on the fringes of the Yellowstone National Park to experience what he was talking about first-hand.

Yellowstone is America’s oldest National Park. Millions of people each year are drawn to its beauty and the wild animals roaming its land. People come to see the bears, elk, buffalo, and wolves. However, there are no physical borders that demarcate the park from its surrounding lands, and the animals go back and forth between the two. Outside the park, they are not seen with the same excitement. There, wild fauna often poses dangers to humans and livestock, can spread disease, and creates competition over grazing land – all of which can impact local communities and economic activity.

Greg, one of the rangers we met, told us about a bear that had come to his farm just a few miles outside of the park and eaten all of his Turkeys. Since bears usually come back to where they find food, the Department of Fish and Game set out a snare (type of trap) to capture and relocate the bear. He showed us the tree the snare was attached to - all torn up - to demonstrate the sheer force those animals have. Greg understands first-hand the dangers of farming in this area, and believes that we must find ways to coexist with wild animals.

But not all folks working and living in the area have the same perspective. Since the reintroduction of wolves to the park in 1995 and concerted efforts to protect the grizzlies, their numbers have risen significantly. In fact, they are so numerous now that they are looking for additional territory and sources of food ever further away, leading – as in Greg’s case - to unwanted contact with civilization. As a result, some argue that the best way to protect the animals and minimize conflict would be to delist them and limit their population by allowing a certain number to be hunted each year.

It’s a complex issue. Each person we talked to had a different point of view and their interests were sometimes at odds. Yet, every single person spoke with deep respect about other stakeholders and understood that his or her interests weren’t the only ones.

I believe that much of Yellowstone’s conservation success can be attributed to this respect and empathy different stakeholders have for each other. Any discussion with the goal to create viable solutions will recognize diverse needs and go beyond narrow interests or short-term objectives, requiring us to understand and respect all sides.

I think this holds true both for the management of Yellowstone and a large, diverse company like NRG. Anytime you’re in a scenario with multiple stakeholders and assorted interests, there may be times where individual priorities seem contradictory. At NRG, we are aiming to provide affordable and reliable power, transitioning towards cleaner and more renewable sources of generation, while providing economic value to shareholders. Similarly, in Yellowstone, the management of large carnivores, elk, migration corridors, has to be balanced and reconciled with recreational and economic activities.

The prerequisite to identify common ground and provide a space for stakeholders to jointly shape pathways for a sustainable future is to come together and build trust among those working towards a solution. And that is only possible if we can understand all parties and respect their opinions. 


Gregor Hintler is a Senior Analyst with NRG Business Solution’s Strategy team. He focuses on developing growth strategies and business plans for new markets and products. Prior to joining NRG, he wor...

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