Scaling Our Impact in Urgent Times

WRI's Strategic Plan

We are living in a critical moment.

The past two decades have witnessed unprecedented economic and social progress. Real incomes in low- and middle-income countries have doubled and poverty rates have halved. Two billion people have gained access to improved drinking water. Maternal mortality has dropped by nearly half, and the share of those who are malnourished has fallen by a third. This has been one of the greatest and most rapid transformations in human history. But these achievements have been accompanied by mounting pressure on our natural resources.

Every minute of every day we have been losing the equivalent of 50 soccer fields of forest. Over 1 billion people already face water scarcity, and this may triple by 2025. Climate change is costing $700 billion per year, with the greatest impact on the poor. At the same time, more than 1.3 billion people lack access to affordable, reliable electricity. These pressures are on course to increase, as the global middle class expands from 2 billion people today to 5 billion in 2030, driving greater demand for automobiles and fundamentally altering consumption patterns. Many of these people are moving to the world’s cities, which are expected to add 1.5 billion people by 2030.

Are current patterns of production and consumption sustainable? We believe not.

Is it possible to continue to enjoy economic and social progress and improvements in the quality of life, while remaining within planetary limits and addressing climate change? We believe it is.

But it will require better understanding of the possibilities, and more decisive leadership to get us to that sustainable future.


WRI was founded in 1982 with the purpose of bringing cutting edge analysis to global environment and development challenges. For the past three decades, we have worked with government, business, and civil society to drive ambitious action based on high-quality data and objective analysis. With our partners, we have demonstrated the success of breakthrough ideas and scaled up these solutions for far-reaching, enduring impact.

WRI’s mission is more relevant today than ever. Critical decisions will be made this decade that will determine whether the world will succeed in its quest for sustainable prosperity for all.


Our programs will focus on six interrelated global environment and development challenges that must be addressed this decade.

  • Forests: Mass deforestation must be stopped, and restoration of 2 billion hectares of degraded land must be accelerated.

  • Water: Critical risks must be measured, mapped, and managed.

  • Food: New approaches must be taken to sustainably feed 9.6 billion people by 2050.

  • Climate Change: Global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2020, while building a strong, low-carbon economy.

  • Energy: The transition to clean and affordable energy must be accelerated across a tipping point.

  • Cities & Transport: The shift to efficient, livable, low-carbon cities must be taken to support the world’s urban dwellers today and the 1.5 billion who will be added by 2030.

Addressing these challenges requires input and action from three cross-cutting disciplines:

  • Business: Create business value through environmental sustainability.

  • Governance: Empower people with access to information and environmental rights.

  • Finance: Shift investment toward sustainable development.


WRI’s Signature Initiatives

Given the urgent need to achieve impact, we will focus our energies on a limited number of distinct product lines, which we call “Signature Initiatives.” These are major bodies of work that will be carried out in close collaboration with partners and are defined by the following qualities:

  • An irresistible offer: A clear methodology that draws upon WRI’s unique strengths.
  • A compelling message of change: Academic research is necessary, but not enough. WRI seeks to build a case for new policies, shift investments, and change behavior.
  • An identified “tipping point”: We’re not satisfied with successful pilots. Our initiatives must be aimed at driving systemic change.
  • A clear strategy for scaling: These initiatives must have defined transmission mechanisms and strong partnerships.


We now have international offices in China, India, and Brazil, in addition to the United States. “Lighter touch” offices have recently been established in Europe (Brussels) and Indonesia, and we will explore new office in Africa in 2015. WRI’s EMBARQ centers in Mexico and Turkey are a key part of our global network, particularly in support of our Cities and Transport Program.


Delivering on our new strategy will require us to enhance our internal systems and strengthen our operations. We will deepen our capacity in our core support functions: human resources, financial management, development, communications, research excellence, and results management. We will seek to build our economic and political capacity for greater influence; expand our expertise in information and communications technology, including remote-sensing, crowd-sourcing, and data visualization; and leverage our Board of Directors to play a bigger role in our global impact.

To find out more about how we will address the six urgent global challenges, strengthen our global network, and enhance our capacity for the task ahead, download the full Strategic Plan.