10 questions for Fred Krupp of the Environmental Defense Fund

October 8, 2013, 2:37 PM UTC

FORTUNE — Fortune’s annual
Brainstorm Green conference
brings together individuals who strive to build a sustainable future across various industries. In this weekly feature, we shine a spotlight on an attendee to offer their personal insight on business, environmentalism, and entrepreneurship.

As president of the Environmental Defense Fund, Fred Krupp has worked with both politicians and businesspeople to improve policy and business practices for climate and energy. He and his EDF colleague Miriam Horn co-authored the New York Times bestseller Earth: The Sequel: The Race to Reinvent Energy and Stop Global Warming. We asked him 10 questions, including the last book he read, the best advice he ever received, and his goals. Find out the most important thing he learned in school and the surprising answer to what company he admires:

1. What alternative energy projects are you most excited about?

I’m excited about demand response. It uses computer technology to turn off some electrical devices automatically during periods of peak demand (with the customer’s permission, of course) or shift their use to a different time of day, which allows greater use of wind and solar power. Large industrial facilities have done this for years to lower their electric bills, and now technology is beginning to open the residential market.

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2. What green business or person do you admire most? Why?

I admire former Secretary of State George P. Shultz for speaking up about the reality of climate change and building support for pragmatic solutions. He has long experience on energy and has chaired energy policy groups at both MIT and Stanford. For EDF, he’s been an important advisor on natural gas, counseling us on our work with policy makers and industry to minimize methane emissions. And he uses the solar panels on his roof to recharge his electric car. 

3. What other companies do you admire? Why?

Wal-Mart (WMT). It’s a controversial company in part because it’s so big, but that size gives it the ability to deliver huge environmental benefits through its supply chain. For example, Walmart announced it will ask its suppliers to substitute safer ingredients for about 10 chemicals of concern. Wal-Mart has much left to do, but they’ve shown a bold willingness to act. [Note: The Environmental Defense Fund does not accept payment or donations from Wal-Mart, but it has accepted donations from the Walton Family Foundation in the past, an independent and separately governed organization funded by the family that controls Wal-Mart.]


4. What is the best advice you ever received?

I heard the advice Time Warner (TWX) founder Steve Ross was given by his dad: “In life there are those who work all day, those who dream all day, and those who spend an hour dreaming before setting to work to fulfill those dreams. Go into the third category, because there’s virtually no competition.” 

5. What is one characteristic that every leader should possess?

Hire the best people, then listen to what they say. Being a good listener is essential to good leadership.

6. What is one goal that you would like to accomplish during your lifetime?

I’d like to help create the law that guarantees reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. We need to price carbon in a way that assures we reduce climate pollution and inspires entrepreneurs to build the new low-carbon economy, because that’s the only route to lasting prosperity.

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7. What was the last book you read?

The Boys in the Boat
by Daniel James Brown. It speaks to the power of working together. That’s something people often lack when it comes to protecting the environment, even though we’re all in the same boat.

8. What was the most important thing you learned in school?

Environmental economics and the power of markets. Markets can act like a magnet to pull brainpower and capital toward green solutions. If you make environmental protection pay, people will invent all kinds of ways to make it happen.

9. What was your first job?

I worked for the City of New Haven, Conn., assessing the environmental impacts of city projects. I recall writing a really strong memo. My supervisor helped me see why a completely different approach, one that acknowledged other perspectives, was more likely to be effective.

10. What do you do for fun?

I get up early most mornings to row, and I admit it’s a rush to row competitively when I get the chance. Rowing is a sport my whole family enjoys, so it gives us more time together.