Worldwatch President Takes a Step Back

Robert Engelman moves to senior fellow at the institute to focus on a unique area of research.

Robert Engelman is former president and current senior fellow at the Worldwatch Institute, April 2014
National Journal
Mike Magner
April 17, 2014, 2:47 p.m.

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.

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