Island Press

Island Press

Island Press

With over 400 titles in print, Island Press is a leading provider of environmental information. Our publishing program develops, publishes, markets, and distributes original, solutions-oriented, and empowering manuscripts in cooperation with other environmental organizations, academic institutions, and government agencies. Island Press was established in 1984 to meet the need for reliable, peer reviewed information to help solve environmental problems. We identify innovative thinkers and emerging trends in the environmental field. We work with world-renowned experts and aspiring authors to develop cross-disciplinary solutions to environmental challenges. Then we make sure this information is communicated effectively to the widest possible audience – via our books, electronic media, and outreach to scientists, policymakers, the news media, and the general public.

Company details

2000 M Street NW, Suite 650 , Washington, D.C. , DC 20036 USA
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Business Type:
Publishing company
Industry Type:
Publishing / Media / Marketing
Market Focus:
Globally (various continents)
Year Founded:

Island Press, a nonprofit organization founded in 1984, works to provide the best ideas and information in the field to those seeking to understand and protect the environment and create solutions to its complex problems.

Our philosophy is based around a three-dimensional approach to publishing, one that allows Island Press to spread the messages of our books far beyond just those who read them. Our publications are backed by coordinated campaigns to deliver their messaging in print, in person, and online using the latest electronic media tools and outlets. As the methods of information delivery evolve, so will the way Island Press provides solutions and inspiration to policymakers, practitioners, scientists, students, and activists. For more information about Island Press, read about our:

  • Staff
  • Board of Directors
  • Thought Leaders Advisory Council
  • Annual Report

Our work starts long before publication, when we identify innovative thinkers and emerging trends in the environmental field. Our books are where the synthesis of ideas occurs, forming the foundation of our work. While Island Press publishes on a wide range of environmental topics, we have established a focus in five core areas:

  • Climate & Energy
  • Ecosystems
  • Oceans & Water
  • Policy, Economics & Law
  • The Built Environment

 These focus areas translate from print to practice through Island Press’ innovative programs and partnerships, all of which work to promote not only Island Press authors, but our mission as a whole. With these programs we are able to target practitioners that other organizations cannot, reaching a wide-ranging audience, one that includes thought leaders in the academic, NGO, government, business, and media communities.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C. Island Press is a tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization under the Internal Revenue Code.

The story of Island Press is the story of how an idea for change comes to life. In the late 1970s, Chuck Savitt resolved to study the economics and business of publishing so he could apply what he learned to non-profits. During a brief stint at commercial publishing house Pergamon Press, Savitt established a division focused on the non-profit policy community. His experience taught him the value of developing a focused publishing program that presents individuals in the environmental field with the most useful information to help them do their jobs more effectively. While Savitt was wrestling with how to make public-interest publishing work, a little-known, not-for-profit publisher named Island Press was preparing to go out of business.

Founded by philanthropist and conservationist Catherine Conover, the California-based Island Press published books on a range of topics. In 1984, Savitt joined Conover and Island Press’ sole editor, Barbara Dean, to reshape the company’s mission into a two-pronged approach that remains the core of Island Press’ mission today. The founders refocused Island Press’ mission to serve both those who use environmental information and the broader professional community that provides that information – from scholars and government agencies to activists and environmental organizations. With this change, Island Press worked to build a reputation as a trusted source of information among a specific community of professionals, students, scholars, journalists, activists, and concerned citizens working on solutions to environmental problems. To reinforce the founders' aspiration to affect environmental policy and inspire change, Island Press moved its main office to Washington, D.C., where it remains today.

In the years since, Island Press has readily adjusted its literary focus as new issues and information concerning the environment were brought into public awareness. Beginning with only four to six titles per year and just three employees, Island Press has grown to employ a staff of more than twenty, governed by a Board of Directors comprising representatives from the scientific, philanthropic, academic, and conservation communities. Since 1984, Island Press has sold over 3 million books, making it a leading source of environmental solutions.

Island Press began with a simple idea: knowledge is power—the power to imagine a better future and find ways for getting us there.

Founded in 1984, Island Press’ mission is to provide the best ideas and information to those seeking to understand and protect the environment and create solutions to its complex problems.

We elevate voices of change, shine a spotlight on crucial issues, and focus attention on sustainable solutions.

Our network of authors includes E.O. Wilson, Paul Ehrlich, Sylvia Earle, Gretchen Daily, Jan Gehl, Daniel Pauly, and many others. By working closely with experts like these, Island Press has developed a comprehensive and growing body of knowledge—vital resources for all those working to protect the environment and create healthy communities.

Our programs and partnerships bring our authors and their views into conversation with people who can trigger change on the ground and keep it moving forward. Click here to read about some of the changes our work has shaped.

Island Press is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.

Island Press books are forged by an author’s experience, shaped by our editors, and refined in review so that the final result is clear, strong, and accessible. Even today, when knowledge is being developed much more quickly than ever before, this process remains at the heart of how we develop ideas to stimulate change.

At the same time, we are evolving our approach to develop and deliver ideas and expertise quickly, interactively, and in various forms.

We bring ideas to life through workshops, webinars, outreach, and events that bring our authors and their views into conversation with people who can put them into action.

Island Press’ three publishing program areas are:

  • Food systems, water, and health
  • Ecosystems, conservation, and biodiversity
  • The built environment

Our books tackle today’s major challenges, including: designing livable, resilient cities with opportunities for all; ensuring abundant fresh water; protecting the beauty and diversity of the natural world; limiting the scale and impact of climate change.

In a world flooded with information, Island Press connects the right ideas with the people who need them to build sustainable cities and protect the natural world. The power of knowledge, and of books, cannot be underestimated. Below are a few of our recent successes.

Inspiring Local Citizens to Create Safer Streets

When city officials were too slow to protect a Boston bike lane where a cyclist was killed, one local man took action. Inspired by Island Press’ book Tactical Urbanism, a local architect created a barrier along the bike lane using traffic cones and potted plants he bought and installed himself. 

His actions made such an impact that the City of Boston installed official flex posts. Coverage of his actions in The Boston Globe, FastCo, and other media led to more interventions in cities around the world. 

Shaping Tomorrow’s Cities

Island Press published the Urban Street Design Guide in 2013. It outlines specific standards for creating safer streets for everyone.  In less than a year, the book received the official endorsement of 40 cities, seven states, and the U.S. Department of Transportation. This enabled thousands of engineers, planners, and designers to use the guide in their work.

In California, for example, the Urban Street Design Guide was adopted as an official supplement to the state’s official traffic and highway guides. That means our book is driving $248 million in spending through the Caltrans Active Transportation Program—funds earmarked for projects that encourage safe biking and walking.

Protecting Fisheries, Spurring Public Advocacy

The Atlantic menhaden population was devastated by unrestricted fishing by industry, which uses the fish in everything from lipstick and paint to protein supplements. In 2007, Island Press published The Most Important Fish in the Sea, explaining menhaden’s vital role in the food chain and its essential function as a natural water filtration system.

Our book helped spark an advocacy campaign that convinced the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) to impose quotas on the menhaden catch for the first time ever.

In June 2014, ASMFC reported that new limits, which took effect in 2013, had resulted in a 26% decrease in the annual menhaden harvest. Just a year after the quotas began, roughly 300 million more menhaden were already roaming the sea and coastal waterways—a huge victory for fishing communities and conservationists.

Increasing the Impact of Conservation Finance

The Conservation Finance Network (CFN) at Island Press has trained more than 400 people on innovative techniques for bringing new financial resources to land and natural resource conservation in the United States. Among our trainees:

  • A 2009 boot camp attendee gained the inspiration she needed to tackle a very large transaction involving a public-private partnership, land swap, and capital campaign in New York
  • A 2012 boot camp attendee developed multiple organic farms and interactive outdoor experiences for children on conserved land in Georgia

Influencing Approaches to Conservation

Published by Island Press in 1997, Nature’s Services was the first book to explore the link between the economy and the environmental systems that sustain us. It showed how natural processes such as cleansing, recycling, and renewal are worth trillions of dollars annually.