Robert Engelman has joined an elite club with only three members: former presidents of the Worldwatch Institute who have gone on to pursue their passions in environmental work.
Engelman, 52, recently stepped down to become a senior fellow at the 40-year-old think tank, focusing on a unique area of research: “the confluence of women’s empowerment, population planning, and environmental sustainability.”
In making the shift, Engelman follows in the footsteps of Worldwatch’s founder and first president, Lester Brown, who left to form a smaller research group, the Earth Policy Institute, in 2001. And Engelman’s predecessor, Christopher Flavin, moved from president to senior fellow in 2011 to spend more time on efforts to develop a clean-energy economy. (Flavin also continues to hold the title of president emeritus at Worldwatch.)
“With several new projects beginning or in the wings this year at Worldwatch, including an especially exciting one that supports my own research, this is the right moment to make this transition,” Engelman said when he announced the move in late February. He officially handed over the reins of the institute last month to Ed Groark, a longtime board member who will serve as acting president until a permanent replacement is selected.
The Worldwatch Institute has scaled down a bit since it had a staff of around 40 under Brown, a world-renowned environmentalist who turned 80 last month. “It’s smaller now but scrappy and edgy,” Engelman said. The institute also remains a prodigious producer of reports on food, population, and environmental issues, including the State of the World books that have been published annually since 1984. (The 2014 edition, focused on “Governing for Sustainability,” is due out later this month.)
Engelman, who grew up in Falls Church, Va., came to the institute after a 30-year career in both journalism and environmental research. After graduating from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 1976 with a Pulitzer fellowship, he spent a year in Latin America reporting for the Associated Press and several U.S. newspapers.
That led to a job writing from Washington for the Kansas City Times, and later for the Rocky Mountain News in the Scripps Howard Bureau, where he carved out the medical beat. “But I was always drawn to environmental reporting,” Engelman said, and he was the founding board secretary for the Society of Environmental Journalists in 1990.
Engelman moved to Population Action International, a research and advocacy group on family planning, in 1999, then became vice president for programs at the Worldwatch Institute in 2007. He became president in 2011 when Flavin stepped down from the post.