Joanna D. Underwood

Founder & Chair

Joanna Underwood has been a leading figure in the US environmental movement since the early 1970s. From 1970 to 1973, Ms. Underwood was co-director of the Council on Economic Priorities, the first organization in the US to evaluate the environmental practices of businesses for investors. While there, she co-authored Paper Profits, a 700-page study of air and water pollution in the pulp and paper industry. The report, published by MIT Press, was the first to compare corporate pollution control programs in use of the best available technology. It producing front page headlines coast to coast and set a standard for environmental reporting.

Ms. Underwood founded INFORM in 1974 for expanded analysis of environmental business practices aimed primarily at identifying solutions – especially ways to prevent waste, contamination and the destruction of natural resources at the source. Under her guidance, INFORM became a prime force in educating decision-makers in the public and private sectors about the need for preventive approaches to some of this country’s most complex environmental problems.

INFORM’s research, over a period of three decades, was published in almost 100 reports. These covered fields ranging from energy, strip mining, electric utility, chemical industry, worker safety and health, and renewable resource use, to land development, agricultural water conservation and transportation. The policy and program recommendations emerging from its research have had a broad impact on US laws and corporate practices. Examples include the following:

INFORM’s decade of research of the chemical industry pioneered in documenting the significant economic and environmental benefits that could be gained by focusing on “pollution prevention” rather than on “pollution management.“ This research inspired introduction and passage of the Pollution Prevention Act of 1990, the country’s first prevention-focused law. Similar laws were subsequently adopted in more than 3 dozen states. INFORM’s chemical industry research also produced a proposal for a new national system for compiling and making available to the general public data on industrial toxic chemical uses and wastes (on a chemical-specific basis.) This proposal was codified into law in l986 as the US Toxics Release Inventory. It set the model for data collection and for chemical industry performance evaluations around the world. INFORM earned for this work the US Environmental Protection Agency’s prestigious Administrator’s Award for its national pollution prevention leadership.

INFORM’s research also played a pioneering role in identifying strategies for reducing municipal solid wastes at their source. In its landmark study, Germany Garbage and the Green Dot, it introduced into the US the policy approach of “extended producer responsibility” (holding manufacturers of products responsible for their waste when they reach their end of life.) The principle of “EPR” is now widely applied to business practices.

INFORM’s 12 reports in the field of sustainable transportation, exploring the fuels and advanced vehicles of the future, first highlighted the potential role of natural gas as a vehicle fuel in its l989 report, Drive for Clean Air. In l995, it published Harnessing Hydrogen, the first clear public analysis of hydrogen fuel cell technology as perhaps the ultimate form of sustainable transportation. These reports have been used by policymakers and industry leaders worldwide

Ms. Underwood stepped aside as president of INFORM in 2006 to found a new organization, Energy Vision, focused entirely on the challenge of sustainable transportation.

Ms Underwood has written and lectured widely on energy and environmental issues. She has served on many Boards and Government Advisory Bodies, including: Advisory Committees of the US Department of Energy on renewable sources and Task Forces of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, as a member of the Eco-efficiency Task Force of the President’s Council on Sustainable Development under the Clinton Administration (1994-5); a Director of the Rocky Mountain Institute (1994-2000); a Member of the Dow Chemical Company’s Environmental Advisory Council, (1991-2001); a Trustee of The Keystone Center (1996-2001), and a Board member of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (1980-1998).

She served on the Board of Directors of the Clean Vehicle Education Foundation in Washington DC, and of the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation in New York City.

A graduate of Bryn Mawr College, Ms. Underwood has taught at New York and Adelphi Universities and in 2007-8 guided a first-of-a-kind field practice environmental leadership course at Bryn Mawr College. In 1999 she received an honorary doctor of science degree from Wheaton College. In 1997 and 2000 she was chosen by Earth Times as one of the world’s 100 most influential environmental leaders. (A list of Awards and Honors follows.) She is listed in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who of American Women.

Awards and Honors presented to Joanna D. Underwood

1977. National Energy Foundation Award for INFORM’s leadership in energy education
1987. US Environmental Protection Agency, Region II Award for INFORM’s significant environmental achievement in Region II (New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Island)
1988. Certificate of Recognition from the City of Rye, New York, for her leadership in identifying and reporting on practical actions that address the issue of solid waste management in the US.
1992. US Environmental Protection Agency, Region II, Environmental Quality Award for INFORM’s leadership in Chemical Hazards Prevention
1992. US Environmental Protection Agency’s “Administrator’s Award” for INFORM’s leadership in Chemical Hazards Prevention
1993. “Earthling Award for Waste Management,” presented by the Women’s City Club of New York on Earthday for leadership in support of preventive strategies to solve solid waste and pollution problems
1994. The New York Public Health Association’s Award for her work on behalf of a healthier world.
1995. The W. Lee Pierson Distinguished Alumni Award presented by Rye Country Day School, in Rye. NY.
1997. The Earth Times’ Selection as one of the 100 most influential voices in the sustainable development movement
1999. Recipient of an Honorary Doctor of Science Degree from Wheaton College, in Norton, Mass.
2000. The Earth Times’ Selection as one of the 100 most influential voices in the sustainable development movement
2002. The Earth Times’ Selection as one of New York’s 100 most influential women
2007. Recipient of the 2007 Energy Pioneer Award from The Center for Sustainable Energy at Bronx Community College, in New York City
2015. Recipient of the 2015 NGVAmerica Lifetime Achievement Award