John Adams

Cofounder, NRDC

John Adams cofounded NRDC, the nation’s first environmental advocacy group, in 1970. A former federal prosecutor and Wall Street attorney, Adams served as the organization’s first executive director and, later, as its president until 2006. Under Adams’ leadership, NRDC fought to pass the Clean Water Act, phase out the use of lead in gasoline, curb acid rain emissions from coal-burning power plants, and protect the breeding grounds of gray whales near Baja California from industrial development—among many other environmental initiatives. He also spearheaded NRDC’s campaign to win the classification of greenhouse gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act in 2007, a victory in the fight against global climate change. Throughout his career, Adams has received several awards, including the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Adams is chair of the board of the Open Space Institute and sits on the boards of numerous other environmental organizations, including the League of Conservation Voters and Woods Hole Research Center. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Michigan State University, a J.D. from Duke University Law School, and an honorary doctor of laws from Duke University.


How a disgusting sight spurred John Adams to form the nation’s first litigation-focused environmental advocacy group.