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Beinecke, Frances - President of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Career, Sidelights

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Born Frances Gillespie Beinecke, c. 1960, in Summit, New Jersey; daughter of William S. Beinecke (former executive) and Elizabeth Barrett Gillespie; married Paul Elston (co-founder of the New York League of Conservation Voters); children: three daughters. Education: Yale College, B.A., 1971; Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, M.S., 1974.

Addresses: Home —Dodgewood Rd, Bronx, NY 10471. Office —Natural Resources Defense Council, 40 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011.

Career

Interned on forestry issues at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), 1973; advocate, NRDC, 1974–83; strategic planning, NRDC, 1990–98; executive director, NRDC, 1998–2005; president, NRDC, 2006–.

Member: Co-chair, Leadership Council of the School of Forestry at Yale; board, Energy Future Coalition; board, Yale University; board, World Resources Institute; board, China-U.S. Center for Sustainable Development; board, American Conservation Association.

Awards: Annual Conservation Award, Adirondack Council; Robert Marshall Award, Wilderness Society, 1990; Wave Hill Annual Award; Distinguished Alumna Award, Yale School of Forestry; Distinguished Mentor, Dwight Hall, Yale College, 2006.

Sidelights

When Frances Beinecke stepped up to become the second president of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), she was not hired from the outside to bring a new perspective. She entered the role with more than 20 years experience working for the NRDC. According to Emily V. Driscoll of Scienceline , Beinecke “calls herself ‘an ambassador of the institution to the outside.’” Committed to her work, Beinecke travels the world visiting sites that her group seeks to protect. Places that Beinecke has visited include Denmark to witness their use of wind turbines to create energy as well as the Gulf Coast areas that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Born Frances Gillespie Beinecke in Summit, New Jersey, she is the youngest of four children of William S. Beinecke, former president of the retail stamp company Sperry and Hutchison, and Elizabeth Barrett Gillespie. She is married to Paul Elston, with whom she co-founded the New York League of Conservation Voters. He is active in environmental issues, founded the Long Lake Energy Corporation, is a member of the New York City Water Board, and works with the Riverdale Nature Preservancy.

Beinecke claims that an early interest in the environment came from visiting and camping near the Tetons in Wyoming as a child. Later in life she was heavily influenced by events around there, which in 1970 included the very first celebration of Earth Day.

One of her favorite places is Long Lake, in the Adirondacks, an area of the country for which she holds a deep affection. About the Adirondacks, she said on the NRDC website, “I couldn’t get over the fact that there was this vast wilderness so close to New York City.” Along with a love for natural spaces, Beinecke recognized the need to give in the form of service. Jack Mirkinson wrote of the influence that Beinecke’s family had on her ideas regarding philanthropy in an article for the Yale Daily News: “Watching her mother and father participate in a variety of community service and philanthropic endeavors instilled in her a belief that she could not merely lead a life of comfortable wealth.”

A life of comfortable wealth would have been an easy path for Beinecke to take. She comes from a long line of wealthy businesspeople, including lawyers and heads of companies. Beinecke’s family’s associaton with Yale goes back several generations. Their legacy at Yale includes the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which is mostly endowed with funds contributed by the Beinecke family. The Beinecke Library is a beautifully designed building that houses one of the largest collections of rare books and manuscripts.

Beinecke attended Yale as part of the first graduating class at Yale that included women. While attending Yale, Beinecke was roommates with actress Sigourney Weaver. Weaver has stated that she based a lot of her performance of the character Ripley from the Alien film series on Beinecke. When Beinecke started college, she intended to study urban renewal. As chance would have it she was compelled by a newfound interest in the environment to pursue a different course. After her history-making graduation in 1971, she went on to get her master’s degree from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

In 1970, John Adams had co-founded the Natural Resources Defense Council, an organization that protects wildlife and the environment, described by Jerry Adler of Newsweek as “the most influential and effective environmental group in the nation.” Three years later Beinecke joined the NRDC staff after having interned there during school. Beinecke started out with the NRDC working on land-use issues in the Catskills. She explained on the NRDC website, “Coming to NRDC when I did was very good fortune because I was just at the beginning of my career and NRDC was very young and the movement was young. We all grew up together.”

When asked who has inspired her, Beinecke has a long list of people who have dedicated themselves to causes bigger than themselves. She notes Adams as one inspiration, but also adds such names as Rosamond Carr, founder of the Imbabazi Orphanage in Africa that helps the displaced children of Rwanda, Mardy Murie, and Celia Hunter, who are both members of the Wilderness Society. She elaborated on the NRDC website, “Mardy was inspirational, the most passsionate advocate for wilderness you could ever meet…. There was also Celia Hunter…. They had strength and determination and character. I learned a lot from them.”

Beinecke has apparently been on the vanguard of a couple revolutions—not only as an active member of the environmental movement, but also encountering and overcoming the obstacles met by the feminist movement. She worked at NRDC, rising through the ranks starting as an advocate. In 1980, her first child was born and she started working part-time. Three years later she found herself caring for newborn twins in addition to her first child and decided it was time to take time off from work. She explained to Ellen Susman of the syndicated public television show Balancing Your Life with Ellen Susman , “I had three children under three and honestly … I couldn’t manage a job and three young children so I thought this was a good time to really spend time with them.”

Beinecke returned to work at NRDC seven years later, in 1990, working on their programs and doing strategic planning. In 1998, she became executive director of NRDC. In 2006, she became their second president. She considers herself an ambassador, representing all that is outside. One of her primary goals as president is to visit the areas that her group is working with—either those that are creating positive change or those that have been damaged due to misregulation. By doing this she believes she can speak with more authority on the issues she is addressing.

In a speech she gave as the Dwight Hall Distinguished Mentor at Yale, reported by Mirkinson, Beinecke stated: “If the environment is healthy, human well-being will be improved.” The mission of the NRDC is to protect the environment worldwide through the courts, but Beinecke is also working toward the goal of protecting the environment by forming partnerships that actively promote stewardship of the planet. In 2007, under her guidance, NRDC teamed with Enterprise Community Partners to form Green Communities. The new organization seeks to provide assistance to create environmentally friendly housing for low-income families.

Beinecke keeps herself busy traveling, speaking, and writing for NRDC. As if that was not enough, she has also divides her time volunteering for several other groups either as a member of their boards or as an advisor. These include co-chairing the Leadership Council of the School of Forestry at Yale, and sitting on the boards for the Energy Future Coalition, as well as Yale University, the World Resources Institute, the China-U.S. Center for Sustainable Development, and the American Conservation Association.

Mirkinson reported that Beinecke said that her colleagues help keep her focused and excited about the work of the NRDC. “The people who will fulfill you are the people you’re with day to day. I work with the best, the brightest, the most dedicated,” Beinecke said. She continues to fulfill the purpose of the NRDC, while expanding its role in environmental protection and stewardship. She is as dedicated as the people with whom she works and of whom she speaks so highly.

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