Sustainability Summits > 2016 > About Dr. Mark Nelson

About Dr. Mark Nelson

Dr. Mark Nelson

​Dr. Mark Nelson has been hands-on in pioneering ecological projects around the world. His Institute of Ecotechnics has for more than three decades worked on ecological restoration and sustainable ranching and farming/orchardry in the tropical savannah of outback Australia (in the Kimberley of Western Australia), the semi-arid temperate grasslands of the U.S. Southwest (near Santa Fe, New Mexico) and demonstrating sustainable forestry in the rainforest (in Puerto Rico). A city boy from New York City, Mark knows that what happens in the cities is crucial to our transition to a sustainable future. His Institute has its base in London, where it showcases cutting-edge artists from around the world and creates a space where art, science and ecology can meet. His Institute was also involved in the Caravan of Dreams jazz club and theater in Fort Worth in the 1980s, helping bring life to a downtown city center, with a geodesic dome featuring cacti and succulents from Texas and other bio-regions.
 
Mark also brings a unique personal perspective to our shared challenge of learning to live in harmony with Earth’s biosphere. He was a member of the first team of “biospherians” who conducted a two-year experiment in Biosphere 2, the large, closed ecological system facility in southern Arizona that served as a laboratory for studying our global ecology as well as an early prototype for long-term space habitation. That experience has catalyzed his appreciation that every action has consequences and that changing the way we think about living in our planetary biosphere is crucial to changing how we treat it.
 
Among the topics that Mark will speak on and explore more deeply in the Saturday full-day workshop are:

  • intensive organic farming and fruit growing in water-limited environments, replenishing soil fertility, approaches that can help green our cities;
  • ecological approaches to sewage treatment and water re-use with constructed wetlands;
  • graywater irrigation and other emerging ways to prevent water pollution and conserve freshwater supplies;
  • air purification using soil and plants, a solution to indoor and outside air pollution;
  • the development of our understanding of the biosphere and the role humans play in its  cycles and co-evolution;
  • the need for dialogue between scientists and artists and between cultures, since we share our planet in common;
  • the ability of each of us to make a difference and regain our sense of connectedness with the biosphere.

​Mark has a doctorate in environmental engineering (he worked with systems ecologist and father of ecological engineering H.T. Odum at the University of Florida), a master’s in watershed management from the University of Arizona and a bachelor’s from Dartmouth College. He helps edit the journal Life Sciences in Space Research and organizes sessions at space science conferences. His books include “Space Biospheres” (with John Allen), “Life Under Glass: the Inside Story of Biosphere 2” (with two fellow biospherians) and most recently: “The Wastewater Gardener: Preserving the Planet One Flush at a Time”.
 
Mark is chairman and CEO of the Institute of Ecotechnics (www.ecotechnics.edu), a U.S. and U.K. nonprofit research group working to bring ecology and technics into balance; head of the Biospheric Design Division of Global Ecotechnics Corporation and founder of Wastewater Gardens International, which has brought ecological approaches to projects in more than a dozen countries.
 
Starting in the 1970s, Mark worked in the high desert grassland south of Santa Fe, where he made hundreds of tons of compost, planted more than a thousand fruit and windbreak trees and helped develop a highly productive organic vegetable farm, creating an oasis in previously overgrazed and eroding land. Since 1978 Mark has worked in the semi-arid tropical savannah of Western Australia where he helped start Savannah Systems P/L, a project centered on the pasture regeneration and enrichment of a 5,000-acre property in the Kimberley region. He has also helped develop the research program at Las Casas de la Selva, a project for sustainable forestry in the tropical rainforest in the mountains of Puerto Rico. Mark has co-authored papers on the results of the line-planting of 40,000 trees on an 1,100-acre property to showcase responsible enrichment and utilization of secondary forest.
 
Mark was a summa cum laude graduate from Dartmouth, Phi Beta Kappa, and is a member of Phi Kappa Phi, the honors engineering society. Mark was awarded the Yuri Gagarin Jubilee Medal in 1993 for outstanding service to international cooperation in space and the environment by the Russian Cosmonautics Federation and was elected a Fellow of the World Academy of Arts and Sciences (2008), Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (1998) and Fellow of the Explorers Club (1994).