Alan AtKisson is a senior advisor, author, editor, and speaker in the field of sustainable development. He was inducted into the International Sustainability Hall of Fame in 2013 for his many contributions to the field, including widely used tools and methods, bestselling books (Believing Cassandra, Sustainability is for Everyone), training programs for sustainability change agents, as well as founding several businesses and voluntary initiatives, giving hundreds of speeches and seminars, and even writing songs on sustainability topics (he is also a professional singer/songwriter). Alan has advised the United Nations on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, served on the President’s Science and Technology Advisory Council of the European Commission, consulted for many years with clients in the corporate, public, and civil society sectors, working from his home in Sweden and traveling internationally.
Alan has provided in-depth strategic and analytical support to numerous leading companies (such as Nike, Levis, and EY), global NGOs (WWF, Earth Charter), and many national and city governments around the world. He served on the President José Manuel Barroso’s advisory council on Science and Technology, 2013-2014. He has given keynotes and seminars or worked as a consultant in over 40 countries, and he has been influential on a wide range of substantive issues, from big-picture topics such as systems thinking and knowledge management for sustainability, to detailed work on areas related to climate and energy, corporate social responsibility, water management, regional development, the “Green Economy”, the “Blue Economy” of the sea, and many others. His books on sustainability have sold over 50,000 copies and have been used in university classes and professional training programs in several countries. (Click here to see a sample of his recent public work.)
Alan is the inventor and lead developer of the Sustainability Compass, the VISIS Method, the Pyramid workshop for sustainable development planning, the Amoeba model for accelerating innovation and change, and other Accelerator tools and methods now used around the world. His work has influenced thousands of people who use these tools to learn the principles of sustainability and systems thinking, convene stakeholders, train change agents, manage CSR programs, and facilitate other aspects of modern sustainability practice. (For an intro to this approach, see Alan’s TED talk.)
As founder and president of the international AtKisson Group, established in 1992, Alan has developed a professional network of sustainability-dedicated Affiliates (organizations) and Associates (individuals) in a dozen countries. Members of the AtKisson Group include leading university centers of sustainability expertise in Sweden, the US, Russia, Thailand, and Australia, as well as non-profit foundations and private consultancies. In addition to training people on the use of AtKisson tools, members of the Group also advise companies, governments, cities, and educational institutions on sustainability strategy, policy, research, and initiative design.
In recent years, AtKisson Group has sponsored or spun off several other enterprises and initiatives. In 2008, Alan and his colleague Axel Klimek began the process of establishing the Center for Sustainability Transformation GmbH, an international program of advanced training, consulting, and professional development support, based in Germany. Working with partner institutions around the world, such as the ASU School for Sustainability in the US and the Sasin Graduate Institute of Business in Bangkok, CforST has provided numerous “Master Classes” in change and sustainability while also developing new workshop models, coaching programs, and simulation games that engage executives and students alike. A book by Axel and Alan, based on the Center’s highly integrated approach to change, will be published in 2016.
Starting in 2011, working with colleagues Robert Steele and Lister Hannah, Alan helped the Compass Education initiative with its initial stages of formation. Offering a “whole school” approach to sustainability education, Compass Education has now spun off from AtKisson Group and established itself as a separate, not-for-profit organization. Its dedicated trainers have provided professional development and empowerment programs to hundreds of teachers, students, and administrators throughout East Asia (with a special focus on international schools).
In 2015, AtKisson Group launched a new multi-stakeholder partnership and social media campaign called 17Goals, with the aim of promoting the adoption and implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 17Goals, which involves over 20 organizations in a dozen countries, is officially registered with the United Nations, and the free tools and resources that it makes available are being used by governmental, business, and educational programs to help introduce people to the SDGs, deepen their understanding about them, and get them engaged on implementing the SDGs in their local context.
Educated in science, philosophy, and languages at Tulane University (US) and Oxford University (UK), Alan was deeply affected by early sustainability books such as The Limits to Growth. He first worked as a social worker and counselor, in both New Orleans and Southeast Asia; and he was selected to the prestigious Henry Luce Scholars program in 1981. In the mid-1980s, he was a singer-songwriter and rock musician in New York City. He also co-founded and managed a small designer clothing company, selling to high-end department stores and boutiques in New York and across the US.
In 1988 Alan changed gears dramatically, moved to Seattle, and began his career in sustainability by editing the award-winning journal In Context, which took a whole-systems approach to the newly emerging field (1988-1992). In 1990, he co-founded the Sustainable Seattle initiative, a volunteer-based program that created the world’s first city-wide sustainability indicators report, using a broad stakeholder engagement process. Sustainable Seattle (which is still going strong as a community organization) became a model recognized by the United Nations and copied in many countries. In 1992, Alan founded the consultancy that became AtKisson Group and began to work internationally, eventually relocating to Stockholm, Sweden, in 2000.
When Alan was inducted into the Sustainability Hall of Fame by the International Society of Sustainability Professionals in 2013, he joined a list that included many of his own role models in the field, including Ray Anderson, John Elkington, Hunter Lovins, Karl-Henrik Robèrt, and Hazel Henderson, among others. In response to being awarded this honor, Alan wrote a long and reflective “letter to my colleagues” that became a very short (50 pages) bestselling book. Sustainability is for Everyone, first published in 2013, has since been translated into several languages and has often been given out by companies or university programs to all their employees or alumni. Alan’s other full-length books include Believing Cassandra (1999), The Sustainability Transformation (2010), and Life Beyond Growth (2012); a collection of essays, Because We Believe in the Future (2012); and Collected Poems 1982-2009.
Alan is a long-time member of the Balaton Group, an international network of sustainability researchers and practitioners founded in 1982 by Donella Meadows and Dennis Meadows (the lead authors of The Limits to Growth). He served as President of the organization from 2006-2012.
Alan has also served as a temporary Executive Director for other organizations, on two occasions, first with the pioneering US-based think-tank in economic policy Redefining Progress (1996-1997, the organization is now dormant); and with Earth Charter International, a global NGO focused on the ethics of sustainable development (2005-2007). In 2014, he was elected a Full Member of the Club of Rome, the original publishers of the Limits to Growth study.
A dual citizen of both Sweden and the United States, Alan lives in Stockholm with his wife, Kristina AtKisson, who is also a highly experienced sustainability professional (as well as being the reason he moved to Sweden). They have two children.