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WRI’s 30th Anniversary: A Look Back at Three Decades of Big Ideas

This year, the World Resources Institute celebrates its 30th anniversary. Every organization has great backstories, and in my five-plus years here as head of External Relations, I’ve heard many of WRI’s—multiple versions of them!

Many of these tales came from WRI’s own staff and very loyal alumni, some of whom have worked for the organization nearly all three decades of its existence. More emerged from interactions with WRI’s past and present board members and with meeting many of our partners around the world. But it all added up to just a lot of interesting fragments of folklore without any real sense of how it all fit together. No one had put it all down on paper. So, I asked an award-winning journalist to interview several dozen key people from WRI’s past and present. In addition to interviews, he combed through old notes, documents, and letters. Now, for the first time, WRI can share its origins with the world through “The WRI Story—A First Draft.”

This draft details WRI’s 30 years of big ideas—from our groundbreaking research on acid rain to the launch of our flagship biennial publication (the World Resources Report) to the creation of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the most widely used standard for measuring the lifecycle of greenhouse gas emissions. It depicts a scrappy organization that started with three staff members working in an office above a nightclub, gradually growing into a vibrant international organization with programs in more than 50 countries. It profiles how WRI’s leadership has shaped the organization while remaining remarkably true to its original vision and goals.

Events were rarely orderly and seldom followed a straight line—there were times WRI’s own staff argued over its direction and other instances where our very survival was in question. But these moments shaped who we are today—an outstanding international cast with a thriving culture and solid accomplishments.

Much like WRI itself, this history is a work in progress—it’s a living document that we hope to shape by asking our board members, past-and-present staff, partners, and friends to share their stories and memories. We invite you to read WRI’s history and learn about its “30 Years of Big Ideas” through an interactive timeline. And we encourage you to share your own stories about how WRI has had an influence on your life and on our world.

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