Bio: Alan AtKisson


Alan AtKisson With over twenty years of international experience in sustainability leadership, strategic consulting, and professional development, Alan AtKisson is perhaps most well known for his inspiring keynote speeches, and as the author of the widely read books Believing Cassandra and The Sustainability Transformation. He developed a number of sustainability tools and methodologies that have spread around the world, and he has directly supported sustainability initiatives in over forty countries. Alan works on complex strategic and technical issues in sustainability, with global companies and institutions. But he also believes in using every skill one can bring to the table, and in his case, that includes music and songwriting. Whenever possible (and appropriate), he brings music and creativity into the heart of the work, "because music is a way of supporting both the intellectual and the emotional sides of our generation's greatest challenge: tackling an array of complex global problems and creating a sustainable future." Follow him at www.alanatkisson.com.

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As a consultant ...

Alan advises large companies, governments, cities, foundations, NGOs, and the United Nations. He helps people develop new strategies, design initiatives, manage complex programs, assess progress, and find better pathways to effective sustainability leadership. His clients have included companies such as Levi Strauss & Co., Ernst & Young, and Nike; the United Nations Secretariat; large NGOs such as WWF; numerous government agencies and cities around the world; and many development programs in Asia and Africa. In addition to general strategic expertise, Alan has specialized experience in the areas of sustainability indicators and reporting, climate change strategy, renewable energy finance, green economic transformation, and multi-stakeholder process facilitation. Alan also sits on the President’s Science and Technology Advisory Council, a European body that reports directly to President José Manuel Barroso of the European Commission.

As a sustainability leader ...

Alan draws on over twenty years of leadership experience in sustainable development, having held several chief executive roles in organizations, in addition to his business role as President and CEO of AtKisson Group. His experience includes co-founding and leading Sustainable Seattle (1990-1995); and serving as president of the International Network of Resource Information Centers (also known as the Balaton Group, 2006-2012). He has directed numerous projects and programs and has also, on two occasions, served as a transitional chief executive to lead institutions through major change processes. One of these occasions was for the global Earth Charter Initiative in 2006-2007: Alan led a global restructuring process based on AtKisson Group's strategic recommendations. With a background that combines business management, economics, journalism, science and the arts, he is dedicated to helping other leaders meet the practical challenges of sustainability with innovation and strategic vision.

As an author ...

Alan is the author of several books on sustainability theory and practice, as well as dozens of articles and reports. Believing Cassandra: An Optimist Looks at a Pessimist's World (1999, updated and reissued in 2010) explains the origins of the modern sustainability movement through the lens of the mythological character, "Cassandra," who was given the special gift to see the future, but cursed so that no one would believe her warnings. An Amazon bestseller, reviewers called Believing Cassandra "a pivotal book" and "a very important work," and organizations purchased it by the carton to spread its "message of hope" to their colleagues. The new edition has been translated into Russian and Chinese.

Alan's second book, The Sustainability Transformation (Earthscan/Routledge, 2010), uses the same personal, engaging writing style that made Believing Cassandra so popular while taking an empowering and inspirational look at doing sustainability in practice, today. Mixing global trends, practical guidance, systems-based analysis, case studies, and profiles of successful "Change Agents," The Sustainability Transformation is a highly readable guide to the theory, practice, tools, methods, as well as the ethics of professional sustainability work. It has been called "the essential guide" (H. Lovins) as well as "inspiring and informative, offering clear and easy-to-follow framework and tools" (the journal Ecological Economics).

Alan's other books include Life Beyond Growth (Random House Japan, 2012), which is also available in report form as a free download from this website, as well as a collection of essays and a volume of poetry. See: Books.

As a speaker, trainer, and moderator ...

Alan frequently makes inspirational keynote speeches to conference audiences around the world. Through The ISIS Academy, he leads motivational workshops, training intensives, and Master Classes on sustainability and change. As a communicator, he writes for websites, blogs, tweets, and generally tries to share mission-critical information for accelerating sustainability. He can present effectively in English, Swedish, and French, and he has moderated and facilitated events in all three languages. He is a highly skilled facilitator with over 30 years of experience running group processes.

Alan is also known for his music: he writes songs and makes albums, which are available on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and other services. A singer-guitarist who led bands in New York in his 20's, Alan is known for occasionally surprising conference or workshop audiences with songs designed to make sustainability ideas engaging and memorable.

Professional background

Alan was educated in philosophy, science, and language arts at Tulane University (USA) and Oxford University (UK), and was named a 1981 Henry Luce Scholar, which provided him with a year-long professional internship in Malaysia. At the time, he was working in social work and counseling psychology. In the mid-1980s, while also pursuing a music career, Alan ran a successful up-market clothing design manufacturing company in New York City. He and his then partner decided to close the business in 1987, when they encountered corruption and other barriers that made it difficult to run an ethical business in that industry, at that time, in New York City.

In 1988, Alan shifted gears and began professional work on sustainability in 1988, serving as executive editor of the pioneering journal In Context: A Quarterly of Humane Sustainable Culture. There he came into contact with many of the pioneering thinkers and researchers in sustainability, including Donella Meadows, who mentored him and encouraged him to be inventive and to take leadership in the emerging field. In 1990, he and other colleagues co-founded the Sustainable Seattle initiative, later recognized by the United Nations as a model project in urban sustainability and indicator development. Also in 1990, Alan began introducing the concept of "sustainability change agents" through workshops and lectures (building on Everett Rogers' pioneering work in innovation theory), and developing tools and methods for doing sustainability that are now used world wide.

In 1992, Alan began consulting on sustainability, as a platform for introducing innovation into the field, and for testing those innovations in the marketplace. He founded a small business in Seattle, USA, which has grown into the global AtKisson Group. He has led the Group full time for over twenty years, with two pauses to take other positions temporarily: Director of the National Indicators Program (and later Interim Executive Director) at Redefining Progress, a US economic policy think-tank; and transitional Executive Director of Earth Charter International, the coordinating hub for the global Earth Charter Initiative. In 2001, Alan moved to Stockholm Sweden, established the office of AtKisson Europe, and continued to grow the AtKisson Group as as social enterprise and to spread its tools and methods into Asia, Africa, and Australia. The AtKisson Group currently consists of nine private consultancies, three national-level non-profit foundations, three prominent university centers of expertise, and about 15 other independent associates (individuals working under contract), in 18 different countries.

In 2013, Alan was appointed to the President's Science and Technology Advisory Council by the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso. That same year he was elected into the Sustainability Hall of Fame by the International Society of Sustainability Professionals.

A citizen of both the United States and Sweden, Alan lives in Stockholm with his wife, Kristina AtKisson (who also works in the field of sustainability), and their two children.

To receive a copy of Alan AtKisson's complete professional CV, please write to information [[at]] atkisson.com.

Click here to visit Alan's personal website and blog