Hero of Sustainability:
Donella (Dana) Meadows (March 13, 1941 – February 20, 2001) was an American scientist, teacher, and writer. She is probably best known as lead author of the influential book The Limits to Growth which was the first time her pioneering work on Systems Science had reached a wide audience.
In 1972, she was on the MIT team that produced the global computer model, World3. World3 is a system-dynamics computer model that can simulate the interactions between population, industrial growth, food production, pollution and natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable. World3 provided the basis for The Limits to Growth which reported the study of long-term global trends in population, economics and the environment. The book caused a stir around the world and began a debate about the limits of Earth’s capacity to support human economic growth.
Her analysis work led her to realise that the current socioeconomic system is unsustainable and for the rest of her life she advocated the need to think in systems and in particular to understand the natural limits to growth in our socioeconomic system.
Along with many books, papers and essays Dana wrote a weekly column called ‘The Global Citizen’ where she commented on world events from a systems point of view.
In her writings Donella provided advice on managing systems and solving problems in systems. One of her best known essays Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System which describes what types of interventions in a system (of any kind) are most effective, and which are least effective.
Donella Meadows was the founder of the Sustainability Institute, combining research in global systems with practical demonstrations of sustainable living, including the development of an ecovillage and organic farm at Cobb Hill in Hartland, Vermont, US. In 2011 the institute changed it’s name to the Donella Meadows Institute.
Dana and her husband and long time collaborator, Dennis Meadows, founded the The Balaton Group (officially The International Network of Resource Information Centers), a global network of researchers and practitioners in fields related to systems and sustainability. The Balaton Group aims to increase the world’s understanding of systems, long-term perspective and commitment to achieving positive change. The Group believes that these factors are fundamental to sustainable development.
Since Dana’s untimely death Dennis Meadows has continued their work and in 2004 published Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update.
In addition the Donella Meadows Institute keeps Donella’s legacy going, their mission is “to bring economic, social and environmental systems into closer harmony with the realities of a finite planet and a globally powerful human race by using the disciplines of systems thinking, system dynamics, and collaborative learning that were pioneered by our founder, Donella Meadows.”