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Science in Society Fellow - Joanna Underwood

Joanna D. Underwood
Environmental and Energy Consultant
Founder and Former President of INFORM, Inc.

Joanna D. Underwood is founder and, for 31 years, served as President of INFORM, Inc., a national non-profit environmental research organization. She was a pioneer in the early environmental movement of the l970s and has become one of the movement’s most highly respected leaders. She continues her work at present, speaking to university and civic organizations and advising public and private sector leaders on planning for a sustainable future.

During the last three decades, Ms. Underwood built INFORM into a prime force in assessing the impact of business practices, technologies and products on our environment and human health and in identifying avenues of innovation aimed at preventing waste and pollution at the source.

Since Ms. Underwood founded INFORM in l974, its research, published in more than 100 reports, in a quarterly INFORM newsletter and in numerous articles, has become a widely used resource by government, business and environmental leaders around the world on preventive approaches that could be taken to address some of the US’s most complex environmental challenges: how to prevent, rather than just manage, the wastes and emissions of industrial plants; how to reduce the huge burdens of solid waste generated by communities and businesses, how to promote innovative toxic-free products that can meet our needs and then can be recycled and reused again and again, and how to accelerate a shift in US energy and transportation from reliance on fossil fuels to use of renewable pollution-free sources.

INFORM’s analysis of chemical manufacturing plants across the US in the l980s broke new ground by first documenting the economic, environmental and health benefits of strategies for preventing creation of toxic plant emissions and wastes in the first place rather than focusing on ever more expensive strategies to treat and dispose of these wastes after the fact. This research, used in INFORM outreach to government, business and environmental leaders, inspired the country’s first Pollution Prevention Act and dozens of subsequent state level laws making “pollution prevention” the country’s top priority. For this work, INFORM earned one of the most prestigious national leadership awards from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

A key focus of INFORM research since the mid-l980s has been on exploring the transportation fuels and advanced propulsion systems of the future. The first of its 12 transportation studies, Drive for Clean Air, published in l989, assessed all possible fuel options to oil-derived fuels and identified natural gas as the most promising for potentially reducing vehicle emissions and providing a domestically plentiful fuel choice. Its 1995 report, Harnessing Hydrogen, provided one of the first analyses of hydrogen fuel cell technology as perhaps the ultimate form of sustainable transportation. This research recognized natural gas to be an excellent bridge fuel to the hydrogen era.

INFORM’s transportation research has analyzed public policies that could advance the shift to cleaner renewable fuels. It has also clarified how communities across the country can take advantage of natural gas and other clean fuel transit buses, garbage trucks, school buses as well as hybrid electric vehicles locally. Its 2005 report, Transportation Boom in Asia: Crisis and Opportunity for the US, laid out the first clear look at how industrializing Asia’s exploding use of the world’s oil resources is changing the game for every oil-consuming nation in the world – and leaving the US, the world’s largest oil consumer, as the most vulnerable country on earth.

A graduate of Bryn Mawr College, class of l962, Ms. Underwood, in l999, also received an honorary doctor of science degree from Wheaton College. She has taught at New York and Adelphi Universities and has written and lectured widely on environmental, transportation, health and related ethics issues. She has participated in many forums business and government leadership forums. These have included: serving on advisory boards for the US Department of Energy; serving from l99l to l997 on the Dow Chemical Company’s Environmental Advisory Council, an independent panel analyzing the company’s safety, health and environmental practices, and, participating during the Clinton Administration, in the President’s Council on Sustainable Development. Ms. Underwood currently serves on the Boards of the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation and the Clean Vehicle Education Foundation in Washington DC.

In 2000, Ms. Underwood was chosen by The Earth Times as one of the world's 100 most influential voices in the global sustainability movement. She is listed in Who's Who in America and Who's Who of American Women.

Her Fellowship at Bryn Mawr College includes working with Don Barber, Associate Professor of Geology and Director of the Environmental Studies Program, to design an advanced praxis course on alternative transportation development, as well as advising students on campus about how they can work to improve sustainable transportation options at the College.