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Alison Carlson

Founder and President, Forsythia Foundation

Alison Carlson

For more than three decades, Alison Carlson has worked to turn cutting-edge knowledge—of our biology and our environment—into clear results for the public good. She started, back in 1979, as a visiting biologist intern at the US Food and Drug Administration. Now, as founder and chair of Forsythia Foundation, she focuses on the intersection between health and the environment.

Alison has always been determined to translate scientific understanding into real-world policy. During 20 years as a sports coach, promoter, and commentator, she tackled sex discrimination as a leading advocate for reform of gender-based athlete eligibility requirements mandated by the International Olympic Committee and affiliated sports federations. As a co-founder of the International Work Group on Sex/Gender Verification Policy in Sports, she wrote extensively on the topic, educated athlete and physician groups, and coordinated a lobbying effort among international sports governing bodies. These efforts contributed to the adoption of scientifically, medically, and ethically defensible standards and practices.

Alison also co-hosted, reported for, and contributed to National Public Radio’s first all-sports program, Only A Game, “A thinking person’s look at sports and sports issues,” which she helped originate. She subsequently served as assistant director of a program at the Stanford Graduate School of Business for students interested in public service and social entrepreneurship.

But it was her five years as an infertility patient—and her growing awareness that society was ignoring toxic chemical risks to health and fertility—that drove Alison to shift her work to that public health issue.

In 2003, she was appointed senior fellow for Commonweal Institute’s Collaborative on Health and the Environment, where she founded and led the Fertility/Pregnancy Compromise Work Group, bringing together scientists, doctors, advocates, and policy experts concerned about the effect of contaminants on reproductive health. The group organized a landmark multidiscipline expert workshop to review the scientific literature, which resulted in the publication of the “Vallombrosa Consensus Statement on Environmental Contaminants and Human Fertility Compromise,” a science summary that identified critical research gaps needing to be filled. This effort inspired the launch of the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment at the University of California, San Francisco’s (UCSF) Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences.

In concert with the OB/GYN department chair at UCSF, Alison conceived and co-directed the 2007 Summit on Environmental Challenges to Reproductive Health and Fertility, which convened 400 experts from around the world to define and recommend new high-priority research agendas. That same year, she co-founded Passport Foundation, where she helped develop and chaired grant programs supporting environmental health research, advocacy and policy reform.

To advance these initiatives to protect health and the environment, Alison launched Forsythia Foundation in 2010. The foundation funds leading actors who drive demand for safer materials and deploys investment capital in solutions-oriented strategies that scale green chemistry innovation and commercialization.

Alison is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Stanford University, where she holds a BA With Distinction in human biology.

Summit Sessions

Philanthropy Roundtable