Alex Steffen

Alex Steffen

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Alex Steffen is an American writer, editor, public speaker and futurist most noted for his bright green ideas.

Steffen co-founded and ran the online magazine Worldchanging
Worldchanging is an American non-profit online magazine and blog about sustainability and social innovation. At 19/09/2011, it was taken over by Architecture for Humanity....

 from its start in 2003 until its closure in 2010. He also edited two editions of the book Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st century and has written for magazines and newspapers including Business Week and Wired.


Alex Steffen attended Oberlin College
Oberlin College
Oberlin College is a private liberal arts college in Oberlin, Ohio, noteworthy for having been the first American institution of higher learning to regularly admit female and black students. Connected to the college is the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, the oldest continuously operating...

 before earning his B.A. from Allegheny College
Allegheny College
Allegheny College is a private liberal arts college located in northwestern Pennsylvania in the town of Meadville. Founded in 1815, the college has about 2,100 undergraduate students.-Early history:...

 in 1990, and, interwoven with his career as a futurist, writer and editor, pursued graduate studies at University of Washington
University of Washington
University of Washington is a public research university, founded in 1861 in Seattle, Washington, United States. The UW is the largest university in the Northwest and the oldest public university on the West Coast. The university has three campuses, with its largest campus in the University...

’s Jackson School of International Studies.

Previously, he was president of the Seattle urban livability group Allied Arts
Allied Arts of Seattle
Allied Arts of Seattle is a non-profit organization in Seattle, Washington, USA. The organization advocates for public funding of the arts, better urban planning and architecture, and other civic improvements...

, started Steelhead magazine, and founded the now-defunct Fuse Foundation. Steffen guest-edited the final, unreleased issue of the Whole Earth Review
Whole Earth Review
Whole Earth was a magazine which was founded in January 1985 after the merger of the Whole Earth Software Review and the CoEvolution Quarterly. All of these periodicals are descendants of Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Catalog...

. He also consulted to many environmental groups and political campaigns.

He spends much of his time in Northern California
Northern California
Northern California is the northern portion of the U.S. state of California. The San Francisco Bay Area , and Sacramento as well as its metropolitan area are the main population centers...

, but lives in Seattle.

Worldchanging is a non-profit online magazine and blog about sustainability
Sustainability is the capacity to endure. For humans, sustainability is the long-term maintenance of well being, which has environmental, economic, and social dimensions, and encompasses the concept of union, an interdependent relationship and mutual responsible position with all living and non...

 and social innovation
Social innovation
Social innovation refers to new strategies, concepts, ideas and organizations that meet social needs of all kinds - from working conditions and education to community development and health - and that extend and strengthen civil society....


Worldchanging publishes a mix of essays and interviews; shorter original reviews, letters from the field (conference reports, lab visits, notes from correspondents' travels) and think-pieces; and blog posts "highlighting the best coverage of new ideas and innovations from around the Web." From time to time, the site posts radio-style podcasts as well.

Worldchanging's content is divided in to seven sections: stuff, shelter
Structure is a fundamental, tangible or intangible notion referring to the recognition, observation, nature, and permanence of patterns and relationships of entities. This notion may itself be an object, such as a built structure, or an attribute, such as the structure of society...

, cities, community, business, politics, and planet
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

. This taxonomy is designed to parse solutions based on their proximity to the reader, so that on one extreme Stuff is mostly about innovations in product design, food, clothing, and other objects used directly by individual people, while on the other extreme Planet encompasses global environmental and social issues, scientific advances and new thinking about the future of humanity.

The site has won or been nominated for the following awards and prizes:
  • 2005, won the Utne
    Utne Reader
    Utne Reader is an American bimonthly magazine. The magazine collects and reprints articles on politics, culture, and the environment from generally alternative media sources, including journals, newsletters, weeklies, zines, music and DVDs...

     Independent Press Award.
  • 2006, finalist for a Webby
    Webby Awards
    A Webby Award is an international award presented annually by The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences for excellence on the Internet with categories in websites, interactive advertising, online film and video, and mobile....

     for Best Blog.
  • 2007, finalist for a Webby
    Webby Awards
    A Webby Award is an international award presented annually by The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences for excellence on the Internet with categories in websites, interactive advertising, online film and video, and mobile....

     for Best Magazine, as well as for Bloggie
    The Weblog Awards (Bloggies)
    The Weblog Awards, nicknamed the Bloggies, are annual non-profit blog awards that have been presented since 2001. They are the longest running and one of the largest blog awards, with winners determined through internet voting by the public...

     awards for Best Group Weblog and Best Writing for a Weblog; won the Green Prize for Sustainable Literature for its book; won Organic Design Award. Prix Ars Electronica nominee.
  • 2008, named a Webby
    Webby Awards
    A Webby Award is an international award presented annually by The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences for excellence on the Internet with categories in websites, interactive advertising, online film and video, and mobile....

     Official Honoree.

Worldchanging is, according to several sites, one of the most popular blogs in the world, and was rated the second largest sustainability site on the web by Nielsen Online
Nielsen Online
Nielsen Online, a service of the Nielsen Company, provides measurement and analysis of online audiences, advertising, video, consumer-generated media, word of mouth, commerce and consumer behavior. Previously a majority investor in both companies, Nielsen purchased NetRatings and BuzzMetrics in the...

 in 2008 as well as being named one of the world's top 15 environmental websites by Time Magazine.

On November 29, 2010, Worldchanging announced on its blog that it would be closing its doors due to a lack of firm funding.


In November 2006, Steffen published a survey of global innovation, Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st century
Worldchanging (book)
Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century is a book about environmental concerns and practical actual responses. It is a compendium of the solutions, ideas and inventions emerging today for building a sustainable, livable, prosperous future...

(ISBN 978-0810930957) with a foreword by Al Gore
Al Gore
Albert Arnold "Al" Gore, Jr. served as the 45th Vice President of the United States , under President Bill Clinton. He was the Democratic Party's nominee for President in the 2000 U.S. presidential election....

, design by Stefan Sagmeister
Stefan Sagmeister
Stefan Sagmeister is a New York-based graphic designer and typographer. He has his own design firm—Sagmeister Inc.—in New York City. He has designed album covers for Lou Reed, OK Go, The Rolling Stones, David Byrne, Aerosmith and Pat Metheny.-Biography:Sagmeister studied graphic design at the...

 and an introduction by Bruce Sterling
Bruce Sterling
Michael Bruce Sterling is an American science fiction author, best known for his novels and his work on the Mirrorshades anthology, which helped define the cyberpunk genre.-Writings:...

. It has received wide praise (see below), was a winner of the Green Prize for sustainable literature, and is now seeing translation into French (under the title Change Le Monde), German, Spanish, Korean and several other languages. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., the publisher of the hardcover edition, listed it among their 50 best selling titles in July 2008. It was mentioned by BusinessWeek
Bloomberg Businessweek, commonly and formerly known as BusinessWeek, is a weekly business magazine published by Bloomberg L.P. It is currently headquartered in New York City.- History :...

 as one of the "Best Innovation and Design Books for 2006".

Gore, in his foreword to the book, calls it "vitally important," adding,

"Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st century is a compendium of solutions, some little known but well proven, some innovative and new, some bold but as yet untried. This book not only shows what is already possible, but also helps all of us imagine what might be – in our own homes, in our communities, and for the planet as a whole. Taken together, these solutions present a picture of a future that is not dark or catastrophic, but one that is full of hope and within our grasp. To build that future, we need a generation of everyday heroes, people who – whatever their walks of life – have the courage to think in fresh ways and to act to meet this planetary crisis head-on. This book belongs in the library of every person who aspires to be part of that generation."

Bill McKibben
Bill McKibben
William Ernest "Bill" McKibben is an American environmentalist, author, and journalist who has written extensively on the impact of global warming. He is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College...

 in the New York Review of Books characterized the book as "The Whole Earth Catalog
Whole Earth Catalog
The Whole Earth Catalog was an American counterculture catalog published by Stewart Brand between 1968 and 1972, and occasionally thereafter, until 1998...

retooled for the iPod generation."

"It is precisely this question – how we might radically transform our daily lives – that is addressed by the cheerful proprietors of the WorldChanging website in their new book of the same name. This is one of the most professional and interesting websites that you could possibly bookmark on your browser; almost every day they describe a new technology or technique for environmentalists.... [Their book] is a compendium of everything a younger generation of environmental activists has to offer: creativity, digital dexterity, networking ability, an Internet-era optimism about the future, and a deep concern about not only green issues but related questions of human rights, poverty, and social justice. The book's pragmatism is refreshing: 'We can do this' is the constant message, and there are enough examples to leave little doubt that sheer cleverness is not what we're lacking as we approach our uncertain future. 'We need, in the next twenty-five years or so, to do something never before done. We need to consciously redesign the entire material basis of our civilization,' Alex Steffen writes in his editor's introduction. 'If we face an unprecedented planetary crisis, we also find ourselves in a moment of innovation unlike any that has come before.... We live in an era when the number of people working to make the world better is exploding.' He's right."

Earth Day founder Denis Hayes
Denis Hayes
Denis Hayes is an environmental activist and proponent of solar power. He rose to prominence in 1970 as the coordinator for the first Earth Day.Hayes founded the Earth Day Network and expanded it to more than 180 nations...

 says, "WorldChanging might well be the most complete, compelling articulation of the possible look and feel and actual operation of a sustainable society ever written."

Steffen is at work on a second book. In 2009, he was named one the GOOD 100.


Steffen's work addresses themes of bright green sustainability, public foresight and social innovation. In particular, he says, he's interested in looking at ways in which the planet's most pressing problems can be met with innovative solutions in order to produce not only benefit to those alive today, but a long-term increase in options and opportunities for the human race. Steffen says that the key to meeting present desires without compromising future needs is a clearer understanding of the things that really make us happy – friends, family, a high quality of life, meaningful work, a reasonable amount of security and lots of fun – and how to deliver them most directly, without waste or stupidity. We'll only save the planet, he suggests, if sustainability is designed to be more fun and more deeply satisfying than over-consumption of "crap". "Quality
Quality (philosophy)
A quality is an attribute or a property. Attributes are ascribable, by a subject, whereas properties are possessible. In contemporary philosophy, the idea of qualities and especially how to distinguish certain kinds of qualities from one another remains controversial.-Background:Aristotle analyzed...

 is Wealth", embodies this sustainability World view
World view
A comprehensive world view is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the entirety of the individual or society's knowledge and point-of-view, including natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and...


Solutions-Based Journalism

Steffen practices what he describes as solutions-based journalism, that is, the explicit goal of his work at Worldchanging
Worldchanging is an American non-profit online magazine and blog about sustainability and social innovation. At 19/09/2011, it was taken over by Architecture for Humanity....

 is to highlight the possible solutions to what the editorial team sees as the planet's most pressing problems, rather than to spread news of those problems or critiques of their causes. He was quoted in the Guardian as saying "Cynicism is often seen as a rebellious attitude in western popular culture, but in reality, our cynicism advances the desires of the powerful: cynicism is obedience."

Steffen summed up what he sees as the benefit of this approach in an essay called The Politics of Optimism in which he wrote, "We can freely acknowledge the tremendous struggle ahead of us, and yet choose to remain decidedly optimistic, and to work from a fundamental belief in the possibilities of the future. ... Every time we explain how a better future might be built, we redraw the boundaries of the possible."

Bright Green Cities

Much of Steffen's recent work has centered on the idea that cities, properly redesigned and developed, can become a "fulcrum point" to leverage new solutions into economic development and sustainable prosperity.

Carbon-Neutral Cities

In November, 2009, Steffen gave two nights of talks at Seattle's Town Hall. These talks were introduced by the Mayor-elect, Mike McGinn, and the City Council President, Richard Conlin, and focused on the opportunity for Seattle to lead the U.S. national climate debate by becoming carbon-neutral on a city-wide per capita basis by 2030. These talks lead Conlin and the American Institute for Architects, Seattle, to take up the call for climate neutrality, and other groups joining in. In February 2010, the City Council made the goal official. If it succeeds in meeting that goal, Seattle will be North America's first climate-neutral city.

In 2011, Steffen gave a TED
TED (conference)
TED is a global set of conferences owned by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation, formed to disseminate "ideas worth spreading"....

 talk at the TED Global conference on the carbon-neutral future of cities.

Public speaking

Steffen has spoken at TED
TED (conference)
TED is a global set of conferences owned by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation, formed to disseminate "ideas worth spreading"....

, Poptech
PopTech is a nonprofit open innovation laboratory and network of thought leaders who are dedicated to finding, incubating and accelerating ideas, people and projects that change the world...

, Design Indaba, Amsterdam's PicNic, The Royal Geographical Society and New Delhi's Doors of Perception as well as giving keynote addresses at major industry events like the AIGA and IDSA national conferences, O'Reilly's Emerging Technologies (eTech), FOO Camp and the Business Expo Bright Green held during the Copenhagen Climate Summit. Steffen has keynoted three different South by Southwest conferences (SxSW). Steffen has also spoken at a number of corporations, including Nike and IDEO, as well as at universities including Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Stanford and the London School of Economics. He is represented by the Lavin Agency.

Media Coverage and Response

The New York Times, in a 2011 profile, said “Alex Steffen, a designing optimist, lays out the blueprint for a successful century.” In a cover story, WIE Magazine called Steffen "a pioneering thinker on global sustainability." Rotman magazine (the alumni magazine of Rotman School of Management
Rotman School of Management
The Joseph L. Rotman School of Management commonly known as Rotman School of Management is the University of Toronto's business school, located in St. George Street in Downtown Toronto. The school, named after Joseph L...

) described him as "an award-winning writer... engaged in innovative, future-forward sustainability work", while local newspaper Seattle Weekly
Seattle Weekly
Seattle Weekly is a freely distributed newspaper in Seattle, Washington, United States. It was founded by Darrell Oldham and David Brewster as The Weekly...

 called him one "of the world's leading green futurists".

He was chosen by The New York Times Magazine
The New York Times Magazine
The New York Times Magazine is a Sunday magazine supplement included with the Sunday edition of The New York Times. It is host to feature articles longer than those typically in the newspaper and has attracted many notable contributors...

as one of six leading innovators in its "Ecotecture" issue, was named one of the "GOOD Magazine 100" and is the subject of a CNN documentary.

Steffen's ideas have been covered in stories in The New York Times and New York Times Magazine, The Guardian, Time magazine, Der Spiegel, Business Week, Fortune, Wired, US News and World Report, USA Today, the L.A. Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Times, Le Monde, The Independent, The Chicago Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Seattle Times and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Fast Company, SEED, ID, Dwell, ReadyMade, the Associated Press, The New York Review of Books, The International Herald Tribune, The Globe and Mail, The New Statesman, The Nation, New Scientist, Sierra magazine, Outside, Audubon, and The Sun. Steffen has also appeared on the Today Show, LinkTV and several CBC
CBC Television
CBC Television is a Canadian television network owned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the national public broadcaster.Although the CBC is supported by public funding, the television network supplements this funding with commercial advertising revenue, in contrast to CBC Radio which are...

 television programs. Radio includes the CBC's the Current, the BBC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, NPR's Living on Earth, Open Source and Morning Edition programs, as well as on Earth & Sky, Marketplace and many local NPR affiliate and talk radio programs.

External links