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, 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 committed to accurate translation of 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, her efforts contributed to the adoption of scientifically, medically, and ethically defensible standards and practices.
Alison also helped originate, co-hosted, and reported for National Public Radio’s first all-sports program, Only A Game, “a thinking person’s look at sports and sports issues.” She subsequently served as a creative resource for MBA candidates enrolled in the public service/social entrepreneurship program during her four-year tenure as assistant director at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
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 an acclaimed science summary identifying critical research gaps. This effort inspired the launch of the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
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, convening 400 experts from around the world to define new high-priority research agendas. That same year, she co-founded Passport Foundation, where she developed and chaired grant programs supporting environmental health research, advocacy and policy reform.
To advance these initiatives to protect health, Alison launched Forsythia Foundation in 2010. The foundation funds leading actors who drive demand for safer materials, and deploys investment capital in strategies that scale green chemistry innovation and commercialization – which Alison terms “the definition of a value investment proposition.”
Alison is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Stanford University, where she holds a BA With Distinction in human biology