About Donella Meadows

Dr. Donella H. Meadows (Ph.D. in biophysics, Harvard University), a Pew Scholar in Conservation and Environment and a MacArthur Fellow, was one of the most influential environmental thinkers of the twentieth century. After leaving Harvard she joined a team at MIT applying the relatively new tools of system dynamics to global problems. She became principal author of Limits to Growth (1972), which sold more than 9 million copies in 26 languages. She went on to author or co-author eight other books , including:

  • The Limits to Growth (1972)
  • The Electronic Oracle: Computer Models and Social Decisions (1983)
  • The Global Citizen (1991)
  • Beyond the Limits (1992)
  • The Limits to Growth – the 30 Year Update (2004)
  • Thinking in Systems (2008)

For 16 years Donella wrote a weekly syndicated column called “The Global Citizen,” commenting on world events from a systems point of view. It appeared in more than twenty newspapers, won second place in the 1985 Champion-Tuck national competition for outstanding journalism in the fields of business and economics, received the Walter C. Paine Science Education Award in 1990, and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1991.

In 1996, Donella founded the Sustainability Institute with the mission of fostering transitions to sustainable systems at all levels of society, from local to global.  The Institute adopted the name of its founder in 2011 and renewed its commitment to the organization’s original mission and to making Donella’s work easily and broadly accessible.

Donella’s work rigorously analyzed the systems that produce the complex problems facing humanity, and she described with humor and humility what needed to be done to create healthy functional alternatives. Her affection and brilliance were contagious. Her guiding message was quite simple:

We humans are smart enough to have created complex systems and amazing productivity; surely we are also smart enough to make sure that everyone shares our bounty, and surely we are smart enough to sustainably steward the natural world upon which we all depend.

Three qualities that Donella combined brilliantly were dedication to scientific rigor, deeply grounded optimism, and the ability to communicate well. Her system tools enabled her to see clearly the root causes of seemingly intractable problems — poverty, war, environmental degradation, unsustainable growth — and her deep affection for people and the earth gave her a unique power to reach others.

We believe the world needs more people with this combination of skills.

A New Tribute by Beth Sawin

What I Learned about Mentoring from My Mentor, Donella Meadows

About DMI

Since its founding in 1996 by environmental leader Donella Meadows, our Institute has been at the forefront of sustainability thinking and training. Our initiatives have addressed economic, environmental, and social challenges from a range of angles and at many levels. In everything we do, the disciplines of systems thinking and organizational learning inform and shape our work. It is this focus on whole-system analysis, combined with careful listening, truth telling, and visioning, that make the Donella Meadows Institute unique among sustainability organizations.  Read More

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