Pascal Mittermaier speaking at Nature Sacred’s 25th anniversary celebration.
In conversation with Kitty Stoner, Co-Founder of Nature Sacred
Pascal Mittermaier, a former C-suite healthcare executive at a Swiss healthcare company Roche who also spent years working in global sustainability roles and as Founding Global Managing Director for The Nature Conservancy, was elected as the new Chair of Nature Sacred’s Board starting in 2023. Kitty Stoner, Nature Sacred’s Co-Founder, sat down with Pascal to talk about his vision for a healthier world with nature at the center. Below are excerpts from the conversation.
Kitty Stoner (KS): Pascal, welcome and congratulations. Watching you step into this new role is exciting and at the same time, natural, and fitting for Nature Sacred, considering how we started and how important organic relationships like ours have been since the start… Today I would like to ask you some questions that allow others to get to know you.
Pascal Mittermaier (PM): Thank you, Kitty. I’m so happy to be here — and to share my Nature Sacred story, or rather, my story so far.
KS: Can you share with others how you first become acquainted with Nature Sacred?
PM: When I met you and Tom (Tom Stoner, Nature Sacred’s Co-Founder) several years ago at a Nature Conservancy event, we were just instantly simpatico. We share a love of history, art, books — nature. Soon after, I began meeting and talking regularly with Tom, sharing ideas. This led to Nature Sacred and the Nature Conservancy collaborating on a couple of projects in which we were tackling environmental challenges and at the same time providing a place of respite and healing for the community. I was struck by the potential of this project to serve as a template for others. How incredible would it be to do this throughout the country… tackle major environmental challenges and individual, human needs simultaneously. Nature Sacred has a unique capacity to do this.
Now, years later, to have the opportunity to build on the 25 years of work that you and Tom started, and that Alden is now driving as CEO of Nature Sacred, is both humbling and thrilling. Our potential for impact is enormous because of the foundation that has been laid over the past two-and-a-half decades.
KS: After years of working with large organizations and institutions including Roche and The Nature Conservancy, what drew you to Nature Sacred?
PM: During those years, I learned what it was like to operate in a structured, disciplined, globally integrated environment. One of the things that I love about how Nature Sacred operates is that as an organization, we aim to apply this same style of learning, structure, process and discipline — in an agile, startup NGO. There’s a family feel that Nature Sacred has maintained while at the same time incorporating the seriousness and professionalism of a large organization. That sets Nature Sacred apart from other organizations. In short, Nature Sacred is where science meets soul, a phrase Alden often uses to describe Nature Sacred and that captures us as an organization and is reflected in how we work.
KS: What motivates you to invest yourself in this work?
PM: About 15 years ago, roughly when I turned 40 and was living in Milan, Italy, I had a real moment of crisis triggered by an almost daily drive into the thick city smog of Milan with my children. I realized — I wanted to do something about this. I wanted to devote my time and energy to finding a way to care for people and the planet. That’s when I made the switch to focus my experience on sustainable development and conservation.
We are at the confluence of some very important trends regarding environmental stewardship and equity and human wellbeing; Nature Sacred’s work is more relevant than ever before.
We are at the tip of the spear and have an evidence-based, established solution for tackling some of the most challenging issues we’re currently grappling with as a global society. We are employing nature as a means to affect deep change. And I find this incredibly motivating.
KS: What most excites you about the year/s ahead? / (Flip side) What do you see as the greatest challenge?
PM: What excites me is the sheer possibility of exploring how our work fits into new areas. We have seen the success of our model in an urban community as well as hospital settings. This year, we are deepening our commitment and looking to grow our green footprint in health care institutions.
Because of my background in health, I am particularly excited about further exploring the coupled benefits of nature and health. As for the greatest challenge — it’s the magnitude of the need. Our urban world is largely dominated by asphalt and concrete and we are facing huge challenges for people and nature.
KS: What is your vision for Nature Sacred — and is there a particular area or issue where you plan to really dig in?
PM: In my experience, when you talk about environmental conservation alone, you limit yourself. When you talk about health and wellbeing and health as part of the same conversation, you are capturing more people for both causes. This allows us to tackle both issues more effectively.
My vision is that we use this incredible solution — Sacred Places — applying them broadly to bring the greatest benefit and impact to the greatest number of people. I don’t know of any other equally effective single solution to such a broad range of challenges.
KS: Is there a Sacred Place that particularly resonates with you? And what’s special about it?
PM: Every time I visit a Sacred Place I’m struck by something new and special, but if I had to name two, they would be the Green Road and Stillmeadow PeacePark.
How amazing is it that one of the world’s premier veteran’s hospitals has dedicated- committed – four acres of land to employing nature as a curative intervention? Yet that’s what Walter Reed (Military Medical Center) has done with the Green Road. And with a purposeful strategy that integrates journaling. The entries Nature Sacred has collected from the site are some of the most powerful I’ve read.
As for Stillmeadow in Baltimore, I recently had the privilege of visiting and meeting with Pastor Michael, the Firesoul there. He and the work he is leading with a pretty spectacular array of supporters, from the US Forest Service to local youth volunteers, is a perfect example of how a community leader can use a Sacred Place to bring people together, to excite and engage the community, and to change lives — long before a site is even open to the public. It’s model-making. And that’s what we have the unique opportunity to do- highlight and follow game-changing projects with the hope that they can inspire others to do the same.
KS: Do you have a favorite journal entry?
PM: “The purpose of life is simple – to discover the gift you were endowed with, develop it and share it-”
I feel this actually applies to every one of us at Nature Sacred – and as the new chairperson – this really speaks to me personally.
KS: Anything else you would like people to know about how you will approach this new role?
Having already served as a member of Nature Sacred’s Board for three years, I have had the benefit of meeting with many of our Firesouls and supporters. Now, as the new Board Chair, I look forward to going deeper with the communities alongside which we work.