Chief Operating Officer

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Published: December 6, 2021
Currently remote
Job Type
CEO/ Senior Mgmt/ Exec Director /
(Number of Job Posting Views: 3)

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NRDC (The Natural Resources Defense Council) is one of the nation’s most effective and influential environmental organizations. It is guided by the understanding that protecting the planet is about protecting people – our health, our communities, and our economy. At the core of its mission is a simple idea: a healthy environment should be a basic right for all of us – regardless of where we live, what we look like, or how we vote. And it is relentless in its commitment to defend that right.

Today, NRDC is building ambitious and just solutions for our most pressing environmental challenges: fighting climate change, standing up for people’s health, eliminating toxic chemicals in the air, food and water, protecting endangered species and wilderness, creating a roadmap for sustainable cities, and engaging millions of people in the movement for a healthier world.

The organization’s unique approach combines the power of law, science, policy, and public engagement to create solutions for lasting change. On any given day, NRDC takes polluters to court. It advocates in city halls, statehouses, and government chambers. It publishes ground-breaking scientific research. NRDC works alongside communities to make them healthier and more resilient. It activates public pressure to make government officials and corporations do the right thing. NRDC works across the globe, taking its proven solutions to other governments and communities, with a particular focus on China and India.

Today, this mix of strategies is more critical than ever before.

There is unprecedented urgency to act on climate change, as people across the world are increasingly suffering from its consequences – from record heat, drought and wildfires, to hurricanes and flooding. Recent scientific reports from the world’s leading experts tell us that we are in a “code red” for climate change, with a narrowing window to take action before its worst impacts are unavoidable. We are also at risk of losing one million species to extinction if drastic mitigation efforts are not taken to address the destruction of our natural world. It is an all-hands-on-deck moment in the climate crisis.

The challenges ahead are significant – but they are exactly the type of challenges NRDC was born to face.

NRDC has played a key role in nearly every major environmental victory in the United States over the last 50 years. For five decades, it has stood up to polluters and held our leaders accountable for what they do, or fail to do, to protect the environment and people’s health. More recently, it was at the forefront of the green resistance to Trump – filing 136 lawsuits against his administration with an astonishing more than 90 percent success rate. At the same time, NRDC kept climate progress moving forward in cities and states across the country and at the international level – despite the Trump administration’s best efforts to hold us back.

Today, NRDC has grown into an environmental powerhouse, and the past decade has marked enormous growth for NRDC, in its size, influence, and impact. In 2020, it had revenues of $213 million, net assets of $398 million and the support of over three million members and online activists joining in its fight to protect the planet. The organization now operates from seven hubs: New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Bozeman and Beijing. And, it has a staff of over 750 people, all of whom share the values that drive NRDC’s work. A high standard of excellence. A tenacious spirit. The unwavering pursuit of justice. A desire to learn, adapt and innovate. And a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

As has always been the case, NRDC’s success is built in large part on its ability to adapt to changing circumstances and maximize opportunities for progress. Even in an unprecedented year that challenged their staff in unimaginable ways, both personal and professional, it shifted to remote working without missing a beat – meeting, often surpassing, its fundraising targets and advancing its advocacy goals.

NRDC is laser-focused on advancing solutions to the greatest challenge of our time – climate change. NRDC is working with the new White House to put their strongest-ever climate change plan into action. It is advocating in Congress to kickstart climate progress across the federal government. It is advancing climate solutions outside of Washington – working with key states and cities around the country. It is targeting the primary source of climate pollution – the fossil fuel industry. It is expanding opportunities for nature-based climate solutions through improved agricultural practices and forest conservation. And it is growing and strengthening the movement – enlisting a new generation of younger and more diverse activists, and strengthening partnerships with communities on the frontline of environmental hazard and harm.

As NRDC embarks on its next 50 years, it is poised to lead the movement for decades to come. It is charting the course for the transformational change we need to build a clean, healthy, just and prosperous world for all people.

The institution’s continued success will require bold, ambitious, and visionary senior leadership that harnesses the limitless talents of the organization and drives a global movement toward the transformative environmental progress we must achieve. In Manish Bapna, the newly appointed President & CEO, NRDC will benefit from leadership which is focused on designing sustainable development strategies that are equitable, durable, and scalable. His proven track record in developing policies and programs to address the twin challenges of climate change and inequity will help NRDC achieve ambitious climate action.

Position Summary

The newly created position of Chief Operating Officer (COO) is responsible for providing operational leadership and ensuring that the organization’s strategic initiatives are optimized for delivery against NRDC’s primary mission and goals. Reporting to, and in close collaboration with the President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), the COO will work in partnership with various constituents to align a largely decentralized organization around its key goals. With oversight of finance, human resources, information technology and workplace strategy, the COO will catalyze organizational evolution by enhancing NRDC’s administrative systems, policies, and practices, to ensure the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Central to their focus will be creating a work environment that values diversity, equity, and inclusion, and promotes a human resource agenda that instills a strong performance culture alongside a mission-oriented mindset.

Since March 2020, NRDC’s offices have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Until circumstances allow us to fully re-open, we will continue to support staff with remote working arrangements.  Upon formal re-opening, fully-remote arrangements are not guaranteed and will be (i) limited and (ii) based on institutional objectives.


  • Work closely with the President and other members of the senior leadership team to formulate the vision, plan and objectives across all units of NRDC’s operational enterprise; provide both strategic and operational direction.
  • Lead institution-wide change management initiatives, converting strategy into effective execution. Drive the effectiveness and efficiency of operational systems and processes.
  • Serve as a bridge between programs, advocacy, development and all the administrative functions, encouraging a culture of collaboration, continuous improvement, and excellence. Encourage open communication and information flow among the administrative staff and the rest of the organization.
  • Promote a culture of excellence, impact and collaboration that is centered on DEI values. Ensure strong collaboration across HR, DEI, and workplace strategy to enhance the employee experience of a diverse workforce and drive NRDC’s talent strategy across the organization to attract and retain diverse talent.
  • Ensure that the people and culture strategies support the institutional objectives and respond to changing priorities and needs. Foster better alignment and engagement of DEI goals of the organization with human resources strategies.
  • Ensure that the assets of the organization are being appropriately leveraged and that resources are deployed in alignment with the priorities of the organization.
  • In partnership with the Chief of Staff, facilitate the use of key performance indicators, metrics, and institution-wide financial analysis to inform decision making.
  • Motivate and lead a high-performance management team with a client service mindset; attract, recruit, mentor, and retain key members of the team.
  • Develop a professional development system which sets clear expectations, goals, and consequences for performance, and enables a focus on employee development, performance and equitable pay and rewards.
  • Establish values that contribute to a collaborative work environment, which emphasize teamwork and mutual respect as key cultural principles.



  • 15+ years of executive-level leadership in for-profit or non-profit organizations.
  • Demonstrated success working as part of a senior leadership team driving innovative operational strategy, moving fluidly between being a strategic adviser and thought partner to the President, Board, and senior leaders, and the detail-oriented work of operations.
  • Successful track record of leading internal change management processes especially as it relates to organizational design, people agenda and culture, in addition to other areas of administrative oversight.
  • Serving as a key influencer in a complex, consensus driven environment, actively engaged with peers, and teams with diverse perspectives and expertise, where excellence, accountability, flexibility, creativity, and a can-do attitude are the norm.
  • Proven record of building diverse, equitable, and inclusive teams.
  • A broad affinity for the mission of NRDC.
  • Advanced or professional degree.


Leading Operational & People Strategy

An accomplished leader, trained in a rigorous environment, who can provide expert operations leadership across real estate and workplace strategy, finance, information technology, human resources, and DEI in a complex and rapidly changing environment. They will:

  • Develop an operational strategy that supports the vision, including risks and rewards, of the President and leadership team. Understand and evaluate the financial implications to enable informed decision-making by the President and his leadership team.
  • Continually assess and improve processes and systems to ensure optimal support of NRDC's mission, ensuring the flexibility and agility of business operations as the organization evolves.
  • Establish human resource practices that encourage an inclusive and equitable culture in support of high performance and accountability. Be decisive and thoughtful, deftly engaging stakeholders to achieve desired outcomes.

Change Leadership

A collaborative, communicative and resolute leader who will lead change through partnership, engagement, and influence. They will:

  • Set clear goals and create a culture celebrating positive change and experimentation, engaging people in a reasoned way.
  • Be persistent in the pursuit of institutional priorities and strategic direction, challenging assumptions and conventional wisdom with specific, supported, reasoned proposals.
  • Identify changes consistent with the organizational strategy and outline an implementation plan to achieve buy-in across the organization.

Leading People

An effective manager and motivator of teams who excels in a complex, decentralized and mission-charged environment. They will:

  • Be a confident manager, coach, and mentor with the ability to attract, develop, and retain a high-quality team across NRDC. Set high standards and assess performance against a high bar of excellence.
  • Collaborate openly and respectfully debate with administrative teams, as well as across teams in programS, advocacy and development, to manage projects, solve problems, discuss challenging issues, or learn more about critical issues as a group.
  • Support diversity, equity, inclusion, and community initiatives and goals through visible, vocal, and proactive leadership.


  • An authentic, trusted leader, with energy and resolve.
  • Excellent communication skills, strong listener. An enabler.
  • Focus on action, even in the face of ambiguity and complexity.
  • Drive and passion to pursue challenging goals aggressively while fostering a positive/collaborative environment.
  • Deep commitment to the mission of NRDC.


We offer competitive salaries, excellent benefits, and a supportive working environment. Salary is based on a nonprofit scale and commensurate with skills and experience. NRDC is actively seeking to identify the best candidates. To that end, we welcome your comments, inquiries, applications and nominations. The Search Committee is being assisted in this recruitment by the international leadership advisory firm Spencer Stuart. If you wish to submit your own application materials or to nominate someone to serve as the next COO of NRDC, please send an e-mail message with supporting materials to Please do not apply on the NRDC Careers website.

Note: If you are having technical difficulty while applying, or if you are a person with a disability and you need assistance applying online, please reach out to

NRDC is committed to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion, both in our work and in our workplace. We believe that celebrating and actively welcoming a diversity of voices and perspectives is essential to solving the planet's most pressing environmental problems, and we encourage applications from candidates whose identities have been historically under-represented in the environmental movement. We are an equal opportunity employer and do not discriminate in hiring or employment on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, gender identity or expression, marital status, sexual orientation, national origin, citizenship, age, disability, veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by federal, state, or local law. Pursuant to the San Francisco Fair Chance Ordinance, we will consider for employment qualified applicants with arrest and conviction records.

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