President, Natural Resources Defense Council
Inspired in college by Earth Day and a passion for the wilderness areas of the Adirondacks, Frances Beinecke earned a master’s degree from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and went to work for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Starting as an intern, she held several leadership positions and then took time off for her young family. She returned in 1990 and became Executive Director in 1998 and then President, until her retirement in 2014.
Beinecke proved that you don’t have to be a lawyer to manage a group of hard-charging lawyers and together with John Adams, her predecessor as president, oversaw the growth of NRDC’s membership to over a million people. As a leader, her focus is to recruit and support the best possible staff and “to give people a lot of room” to be leaders themselves. She regards law as fundamental to NRDC and points with pride to the many precedent-setting cases won by the organization in the seventies and eighties. The organization is known for its consistent and sustained advocacy for strong environmental safeguards over the years, even as the politics go up and down. As she puts it, NRDC is “dug in for the long term.”
Beinecke built a strong program on international issues including climate change and long-neglected problems of ocean pollution and fisheries management. Under her leadership, NRDC has established a staff in China to assist in developing stronger environmental law and enforcement in that critical country. She was an active participant on the multi-sector Commission on Sustainable Development in the Clinton Administration and credits it with improving communication and understanding, though too little in the comprehensive report was implemented. President Obama appointed her to serve on the National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. She is optimistic that young people entering the field will bring new answers and will broaden the audience and the support for environmental protection. Since her retirement in 2014, she remains active as an ambassador for NRDC and as a board member or advisor to environmental programs at Yale and many conservation organizations.