Discover how this Planning alumn protects Canada’s natural diversity

John Lounds doing something in the woods

By Mariam Zahir

Beneath every great city there was once a great natural landscape. President and CEO of the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) John Lounds has made it his career fighting to preserve Canada’s biodiversity and protect some of the country’s most threatened landscapes without sacrificing the potential greatness of the city.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada aims to protect areas of natural diversity of some of Canada`s most vulnerable areas through direct purchase, donation or other mechanisms, and then manage the land for the long term.

“It’s a great feeling for me,” explains Lounds, who graduated from Planning at the University of Waterloo in 1978. “There’s nothing like having someone decide, after owning a property for 50 years, that they are prepared to donate that land that they love so that future generations can have it in a natural state and appreciate it and enjoy it.”

As head of the Conservancy, Lounds has ensured a stronger presence of the organization by helping to establish regional offices across Canada. NCC has also increased its annual budget from $8 million in 1997, when Lounds first joined, to more than $100 million today.

His curiosity as to how one might better design cities led him to pursue a BES in Urban and Regional Planning at University of Waterloo. Working through the technical and political issues in the field of planning during his studies was a learning experience that has stood him well for his entire career.

“In any teams that we’ve setup here at the Nature Conservancy of Canada, we try to make sure that we have a wide enough diversity of views and opinions so that we’re coming up with the best product,” says Lounds.

Before his role at NCC, he spent seven years working at Ontario Nature improving environmental policies and educating people about the wonderful nature that exists in the province.

Prior to his time at Ontario Nature, he spent eight years with the province of Ontario and reflects on leaving the public service, “It was a big decision point in my life because the work paid less money, with little job security and it involved running an organization that had a volunteer board, but a committed staff,” he says. “It also required re-organizing and fundraising. So, I was at that point in my life where I was thinking ‘I am either going to do this now or I’m never going to do it,’ but I took the leap and it was a great move for me.”

From there, he built up his capabilities, such that he was able to apply them to his role as President at the Nature Conservancy Canada.

“I almost without exception look forward to coming in to work [at NCC] or I get to go to some fantastic natural places across Canada,” he explained.

Over the past 15 years, NCC has grown considerably, with over 100 volunteers involved in guiding the organization and approximately 250 people working across the country.

“Canada is one of the last countries on Earth that can actually achieve a really significant nature legacy not only for Canadians, but for the world,” says Lounds. “So, for NCC, we’re always thinking - how do we make sure that Canada gets to that place…where we can have both the economic development that we want and the conservation and environmental protection that we also want.”