Elizabeth Sawin, PhD

Elizabeth Sawin is the Founder and Director of the Multisolving Institute. Beth is an expert on solutions that address climate change while also improving health, well-being, and economic vitality. She developed the idea of ‘multisolving’ to help people see and create the conditions for such win-win-win solutions. Beth writes and speaks about multisolving, climate change, and leadership in complex systems for both national and international audiences. Her work has been published widely, including in Non-Profit Quarterly, The Stanford Social Innovation Review, U. S. News, The Daily Climate, and System Dynamics Review. She has trained and mentored global sustainability leaders in the Donella Meadows Fellows Program and provided systems thinking training to both Ashoka and Dalai Lama Fellows. 

Since 2014, Beth has participated in the Council on the Uncertain Human Future, a continuing dialogue on issues of climate change and sustainability among a select group of humanities scholars, writers, artists, and climate scientists. Beth is also a member of the advisory board to the Kresge Foundation’s Climate Change Health and Equity Program.

A biologist with a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Beth co-founded Climate Interactive in 2010 and served as Climate Interactive’s Co-Director from 2010 until 2021. While at Climate Interactive, she led the scientific team that offered the first assessment of the sufficiency of country pledges to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2008. Beth also led Climate Interactive’s efforts to integrate measures of equity, health and well-being into decision support tools and computer simulations. Beth trained in system dynamics and sustainability with Donella Meadows and worked at Sustainability Institute, the research institute founded by Meadows, for 13 years. She has two adult daughters and lives in rural Vermont where she and her husband grow as much of their own food as they can manage.

That opened a new front of research at Climate Interactive: what else would improve around the world if countries truly transitioned away from fossil fuels? From improvements in air quality to energy security we documented many co-benefits of climate action, and incorporated some of them into Climate Interactive’s well known computer simulation, En-ROADS.

But, the multiple benefits of actions to protect the climate remain mostly theoretical without ways of overcoming the obstacles to multisolving. That’s why, from the beginning of our work we have collaborated with others to understand the bright spots of multisolving around the world and to pilot multisolving approaches. First in Milwaukee in partnership with the Milwuakee Metropolitan Sewerage District and then in Atlanta, with Partnership for Southern Equity, we began to see what was possible by bringing the different parts of a system together in pursuit of actions and investments that lifted up many goals at once.

From this action research, along with a series of case studies of multisolving projects, we began to see attitudes and approaches that are in common across a wide diversity of multisolving projects, a topic we wrote about in Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Then came 2020. Pandemic. Escalating climate change impacts. Dire warnings about biodiversity loss. And more and more folks connecting the dots between each of these issues and structural inequity. Invitations to write, speak, and teach about multisolving came fast and furious and with it the possibility that what we’ve learned from multisolving bright spots could help support leaders around the world to respond to crises with multisolving. That spark led to the launch of the Multisolving Institute and our mission of supporting leaders as they pursue multisolving approaches