As a tough-talking Marine who trained as a fighter pilot and has done a stint inside the Pentagon, Col. Mark “Puck” Mykleby might seem like an unlikely ally in the battle over environmental stewardship and sustainable living.

But Mykleby is not just an ally. He’s an undaunted crusader and the co-author of The New Grand Strategy: Restoring America’s Prosperity, Security and Sustainability in the 21st Century. He frames sustainability not as a polarizing red versus blue issue, but a red, white and blue issue: a cornerstone of national prosperity and security that is essential to building a stronger, safer and more resilient America.

Mykleby, or “Puck”, as he prefers to be called, will be the Closing Plenary speaker at our TFN Annual Conference in Saint Paul, Minn., March 20-22. We talked to him about his passion for sustainability, his advice for funders navigating a divided post-election landscape — and the importance of being able to take a “gut punch” and still keep fighting (metaphorically speaking).

The book you co-authored stems directly from the work you did at the Pentagon, working to draft a national strategic narrative at the behest of Admiral Mike Mullen, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. At what point did you and your co-author realize sustainability was central to this work?

We asked, what’s going to give us the best shot of making it in the 21st Century? And that’s when we decided that the ecological concept of sustainability was our best shot at building our strength at home while at the same time building our credible influence abroad. In simple terms, we saw sustainability as the key to converging our domestic and foreign policies toward a larger global purpose, where our smart growth at home could become our smart power abroad.

You also talk a lot about resiliency. How does that tie in to security and sustainability?

I’ll use my Marine language: You need to be able to take a gut punch and come back swinging. You look at ecological systems and those that are monocultures wither and die. You have to bake resiliencey into your philosophical framework — and you’re going to be a helluva lot more effective dealing with climate change, resource scarcity and the reality that there are haves and have-nots in the world. You can’t have security without prosperity. And you can’t have prosperity without sustainability. Prosperity and security constitute an interdependent system that must remain in balance.

You can’t have one without the other. Sustainability provides a path to both prosperity and security. It’s not really about being green. It’s about the moral question of the human condition today and what it will be in the future.

You’re a former Marine, a Top Gun graduate, and a veteran of multiple deployments across the globe. Are people surprised that your career now focuses on advocating for things like sustainability, smart growth and environmental stewardship?

I guess some folks get somewhat taken aback. Some conservatives look at me as an idealistic sellout, to what, I don’t know. But I’ll put my military service record and experience up against their ideology any day. By the same token, a lot of liberals push back because of the pragmatic, business-led approach we advocate in the book. I guess you can say, for those of us who spent a life in military service, principled pragmatism trumps ideology.

As a veteran of D.C. who has worked in the Pentagon, what’s your advice to funders who worry about the current administration’s attitude toward important issues such as environmental protection?

If you’re in a fight, someone’s going to always throw an obstacle in your way. You go over it, you go around it. So go find a mayor, a city council member, to get things done at a municipal level if you need to. I don’t have all the answers. But I do know that the answer isn’t whining about it. Figure out where you’re going to have an impact. Figure it out!

You’re not just a speaker and an author, you’re also a dad to a teenage son. What kind of world do you hope he inherits?

In a misty-eyed kind of way, I want my son to have unlimited possibilities. I don’t want the actions of my generation to limit my son. I believe in and respect what this country stands for. We as citizens are compelled to act upon the Preamble of the Constitution, to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

That means clean air, a clean environment, a resource-rich environment to live. This is such a beautiful place, and we should all be proud of this idea that is America. I refuse to believe that our greatest generation is in our past. I refuse to believe that. I do believe our country has so much more great to deliver. I really do.

Register here for our TFN Annual Conference in Saint Paul! Check out our conference highlights page on more information on panels, speakers and other news.

Photo: Kris Krüg for PopTech