Joanna D. Underwood

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Joanna D. Underwood
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Born (1940-05-25) May 25, 1940 (age 84)
CitizenshipUnited States of America

Joanna D. Underwood has founded and run two national environmental nonprofit organizations. She launched her first non-profit organization, INFORM.[1], in 1973 in New York City and ran it for 30 years. INFORM uniquely focused on identifying business strategies and technologies aimed at preventing waste, pollution and the depletion of resources at the source rather than managing pollution and resource destruction after the fact.

In 2007, Ms. Underwood founded Energy Vision a national non-profit concentrated on identifying strategies to end the reliance on fossil fuels in the United States and to shift to an economy based on renewable, pollution and carbon free sources of energy and fuels.

In 2000 and 2002, Ms. Underwood was chosen by The Earth Times as one of the world's 100 most influential voices in the global sustainability movement[2]. She received the highest award from the US Environmental Protection Agency - the Administrator's Award - for INFORM's pioneering work on preventing toxic chemical pollution and helping make 'preventive' action the country's top environmental priority.[citation needed] She is listed in Who's Who in America and Who's Who of American Women.[citation needed]

Ms. Underwood has written and spoken widely at business, environmental and civic forums. Her work has been featured in Op Eds in The New York Times, Chemical Week, The Albany Times Union, GreenBiz, Medium, The Villager, Thomson Reuters Foundation News, Asbury Park Press, Newsday, The Earth Times, The Poughkeepsie Journal, The Journal of Commerce, The Daily News, BioCycle, Gotham Gazette, Tire Business, Satya, The Los Angeles Times and other papers across the country.

Life and Education

Joanna D. Underwood was born on May 25, 1940 to Helen Guiterman Underwood and Louis Ivan Underwood and raised in Rye, NY where she graduated from Rye Country Day School. Ms. Underwood attended Bryn Mawr College and graduated in 1962[3]. She received an honorary doctor of science degree from Wheaton College in 1999. Ms. Underwood has taught at New York University, Adelphi University and Bryn Mawr College. She has written and lectured widely on environmental, transportation, health and related ethics issues. She has participated in many business and government leadership forums: serving on advisory boards for the US Department of Energy[4]; participating during the Clinton Administration in the President's Council on Sustainable Development[5], and serving on boards of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority[6], The Rocky Mountain Institute[7], the Keystone Center, and the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation[8]

Ms. Underwood married artist Saul Lambert (March 12, 1928 - June 30, 2009) on July 31st, 1982.

She currently divides her time between New York City and Rhinebeck, NY.


After graduating from Bryn Mawr, Ms. Underwood joined the research staff of Time-Life where she proposed publication of a book for Time-Life International called "Birth Control."[9] It was published in l967 in several language editions. She gathered all the research for and drafted the manuscript, tracing the development of birth control from Egyptian times.

In l969 Joanna Underwood co-directed the first national non profit organization in the US to analyze the social and environmental practices of corporations - The Council on Economic Priorities[10]. She built its research program and became CEP's co-director.

Under her research guidance, CEP published several groundbreaking reports that received coverage coast to coast. Its 700 page report, Paper Profits[11], released in January 1972 named and compared the pollution control initiatives of the 24 largest pulp and paper companies, finding only 2 to have adequate air and water controls.

This report was the first to use "state of the art" pollution control systems as the way each company's practices were measured - a system adopted by the US Environmental Protection Agency when it was establishing its water pollution standards.

The New York Times article, headline read "Study Calls the Paper Industry One of Major Polluters"[12]. In the page 1B story in The Minneapolis Tribune (Jan 3, 1971) headed "Paper Mills Singled Out as Polluters"[13] Miss Underwood said "What was really important in our study was the pinpointing of individual efforts." The headline in a Wall Street Journal article by Frederick Andrews read "Puzzled Businessmen Ponder New Methods of Measuring Success"[14]. In it Andrews writes "An example of what's needed, many say, is the detailed and highly respected survey of pollution in the paper industry prepared by the Council on Economic Priorities,, a private non profit group." In an August 1, 1971 feature article in the San Francisco Chronicle titled "Joanna takes on the Corporations"[15] Underwood quotes one of the largest paper companies in the country labelling Paper Profits authors "Little girls in miniskirts playing God"

CEP published other widely covered reports: A 40 page analysis of corporate environmental advertising and a 500 page investigation, The Price of Power[16], of 15 electric utility companies.

In 1973 Ms. Underwood left CEP and launched the national non-profit INFORM, whose name was taken from the Thomas Jefferson quote: "When the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government."


Ms. Underwood launched INFORM, a non-profit environmental organization based in New York City, in 1973 with a mission to educate the public about the effects of business practices on the environment and public health and the specific options for preventing these impacts at the source. She ran INFORM for 30 years, and under her leadership, INFORM produced more than 100 solution-oriented reports covering such topics as the land sales industry, strip mining in the west, industrial toxic chemical wastes, the chemical threats posed by consumer products, solid waste prevention, extended producer responsibility and sustainable transportation. These reports have been widely used by business and government leaders in crafting policies aimed at moving the U.S. toward a sustainable 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 clear analyses for the general public 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.

During Ms. Underwood's tenure, INFORM received numerous awards, including three from the Environmental Protection Agency. In 1992 Ms. Underwood was awarded the top leadership award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator[17] for documenting in its report, Cutting Chemical Waste," the role pollution prevention could play in cutting 50 to 80 percent of toxic wastes from the U.S. chemical industry using strategies ranging from better plant housekeeping, choosing safer feedstocks for its products, and more. This research played a major role in passage of the US 1990 Pollution Prevention Act[18] - the first law making preventive action the top national environmental priority.

Energy Vision

Ms. Underwood founded Energy Vision in 2007, to identify and promote strategies this country can take to end its reliance on fossil fuels and to shift to an economy based on renewable, pollution and carbon free sources of energy and fuels.

With a strong focus on ending the U.S. addiction to oil, most of which has been used in transportation, Energy Vision targets options for change in the heavy duty bus and truck sector. While this sector comprises just 3% of the US vehicle population, it uses 25% of all vehicle fuel and generates a quarter of transportation's greenhouse gases. Trucks are responsible for hauling 80% of U.S. produce and performing critical waste removal and recycling services for virtually every city and town and buses are essential for transporting people.

Energy Vision has analyzed all transportation fuel options and has become especially noted as a leader in introducing the strategy of converting the methane biogases emitted by decomposing organic wastes from communities, farms and industries into clean carbon-free fuel, called renewable natural gas (RNG)[19]. In 2010 Energy Vision gave the first briefing for the US Department of Energy's Clean Cities affiliates on this strategy which, by 2022, had emerged as vital for addressing the global climate change challenge facing our world since it is the primary way to keep methane gases (86 times more potent in climate warming over a 20 year period than CO2) from escaping into the air. By processing organic wastes in airless tanks called anaerobic digesters, the methane biogases can be prevented from escaping into the environment. These captured biogases can then be refined into Renewable Natural Gas|Renewable Natural Gas fuel. RNG is chemically similar to fossil natural gas but is much better in that it involves no drilling and, when made from food wastes and animal manures, it is the lowest carbon fuel available today since more greenhouse gases are captured in producing the fuel than are generated when it is burned. RNG can be used in all the ways that fossil gas is used today. However, it is uniquely valuable in replacing diesel fuel in heavy duty buses and trucks. Diesel is not only a high carbon fuel, but its use emits health-threatening NOx and particles.

Energy Vision has published five groundbreaking studies related to the organic waste to fuel strategy. Using its research, media and workshops, Energy Vision has played a lead role in educating communities and states about the value of this strategy, and it has partnered since 2016 with the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory[20] in analyzing the growth of the anaerobic digester industry. Facilities producing RNG fuel expanded from 60 in 2016 to more than 250 in 2022.


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 problem.

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 2019 - Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by the Natural Gas Vehicle Association for Joanna Underwood’s contribution to the clean energy field.

Articles and Other Writing

New York Times (June 7, 1975) - Doing Away With The Throw-Away Mentality[21]

New York Times (June 21, 1977) - New Ways to Save Energy[22]

New York Times (May 21, 1983) - Keep Air Clean Here[23] (with James S. Cannon)

New York Times (September 24, 1983) - Fighting Acid Rain Here[24]

New York Times (August 1, 1987) - Eliminating Hazardous Waste[25] (with Warren R. Muir)

New York Times (April 4, 1993) - Viewpoints; Making Wasteful Packaging Extinct[26] (with Bette Fishbein)

New York Times, Letter to the Editor (Nov. 21. 1997) - Meet U.S Energy Needs with Domestic Reserves[27]

New York Times (July 30, 2006) - Smithtown vs. OPEC[28]

New York Times (August 19, 2016) - How Garbage Trucks Can Drive a Green Future[29] (with Robert B. Catell)

GreenBiz (April 25, 2019) - A Green New Deal for Natural Gas[30]

Albany Times Union (April 12, 2023) - When it Comes to emissions, NY has an Accounting Problem[31]


Ms. Underwood has spoken at numerous conferences, events and institutions. Some of these speeches include:

Ms. Underwood was a keynote speaker at the Chemical Industry Conference in Paris.

Ms. Underwood introduced the organic waste to fuels strategy at the International Solid Waste Conference in Tunis attended by 12 middle eastern countries

Ms. Underwood introduced the concept of industrial pollution prevention at a national gathering in Moscow, marking the release in Russia of a Russian translation of INFORM's "Citizens Guide to Promoting Toxic Waste Reduction,"[32] prepared by INFORM and the D. Mendeleev University of Chemical Technology of Russia|Mendeleev Institute.


  1. "Inform, Inc.", Wikipedia, 2022-01-26, retrieved 2023-07-16
  2. "Science in Society Fellow - Joanna Underwood". Serendip Studio's One World. 2008-04-09. Retrieved 2023-07-16.
  3. Amis, Maya (2021-10-05). "Women in Non-Profit Leadership with Joanna Underwood '62, Susan Sherwood '74, Martha Cummings '80, and Dr. Faith Wallace-Gadsden '05 (Thursday, November 4th at 8:30 AM) | Bryn Mawr Club of New York City". Retrieved 2023-07-16.
  4. "Department of Energy". Retrieved 2023-07-17.
  5. "Home Page for the President's Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD)". Retrieved 2023-07-17.
  6. "NYSERDA - New York State Energy Research & Development Authority". NYSERDA. Retrieved 2023-07-17.
  7. "RMI". RMI. Retrieved 2023-07-17.
  8. "Robert Sterling Clark Foundation". Robert Sterling Clark Foundation. Retrieved 2023-07-17.
  9. Havemann, Ernest (1967-01-01). Birth Control. Time-Life International. ISBN 978-0-7054-0277-4.
  10. "Going Green | Bryn Mawr College". Retrieved 2023-07-17.
  11. Council on Economic Priorities; Allan, Leslie; Kaufman, Eileen Kohl; Underwood, Joanna D., eds. (1971). Paper profits: pollution in the pulp and paper industry. Washington. ISBN 978-0-87871-000-3.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  12. Bird, David (1970-12-17). "Study Calls the Paper Industry One of Major Polluters". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-07-17.
  13. Fetherling, Dale (January 3, 1971). "Paper Mills Singled Out as Polluters". The Minneapolis Tribune. pp. 1B.
  14. Andrews, Frederick (December 9, 1971). "Puzzled Businessmen Ponder New Methods of Measuring Success". The Wall Street Journal. p. 25.
  15. Hamilton, Mildred (August 1, 1971). "Joanna Takes on the Corporations". The San Francisco Chronicle.
  16. Priorities, Council on Economic (1973-03-15). The Price of Power: Electric Utilities and the Environment. Cambridge Mass: The MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-53024-8.
  17. Vision, Energy (2020-04-22). "Earth Day at 50 — A Brief History of Environmental Progress & Reasons for Optimism Moving Forward". Medium. Retrieved 2023-07-17.
  18. US EPA, OCSPP (2013-06-06). "Pollution Prevention Act of 1990". Retrieved 2023-07-17.
  19. "Alternative Fuels Data Center: Renewable Natural Gas Production". Retrieved 2023-07-17.
  20. "Argonne National Laboratory Homepage | Argonne National Laboratory". Retrieved 2023-07-17.
  21. Underwood, Joanna (1975-06-07). "Doing Away With The Throw‐Away Mentality". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-07-16.
  22. Underwood, Joanna (1977-06-21). "New Ways to Save Energy". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-07-16.
  23. Underwood, Joanna D.; Cannon, James S. (1983-05-21). "Opinion | KEEP AIR CLEAN HERE". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-07-16.
  24. Underwood, Joanna (1983-09-24). "Opinion | FIGHTING ACID RAIN HERE". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-07-16.
  25. Underwood, Warren R. Muirand Joanne D. (1987-08-01). "Opinion | Eliminating Hazardous Waste". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-07-16.
  26. Underwood, Joanna D.; Fishbein, Bette (1993-04-04). "Viewpoints; Making Wasteful Packaging Extinct". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-07-16.
  27. "Opinion | Meet U.S. Energy Needs With Domestic Reserves". The New York Times. 1997-11-21. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-07-16.
  28. Underwood, Joanna D. (2006-07-30). "Opinion | Smithtown vs. OPEC". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-07-16.
  29. Catell, Robert B.; Underwood, Joanna D. (2016-08-19). "Opinion | How Garbage Trucks Can Drive a Green Future". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-07-16.
  30. "A Green New Deal for natural gas | Greenbiz". Retrieved 2023-07-17.
  31. Underwood, Joanna (2023-04-12). "Commentary: When it comes to emissions, N.Y. has an accounting problem". Times Union. Retrieved 2023-07-16.
  32. "A Citizen's Guide to Promoting Toxic Waste Reduction: Kenworthy, Lauren, Schaeffer, Eric: 9780918780546: Books". Retrieved 2023-07-20.

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