More than five decades of leadership


“Nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself, something that encompasses you but is not defined by your existence alone.” – Sen. John McCain


This quote, so wisely stated by the late Senator John McCain, describes Arizona Forward’s long-standing mission. As we celebrated our 50th anniversary in 2019, we recognized that Arizona Forward is more than an organization that drives environmental and sustainability initiatives. Arizona Forward is focused on the people of this great state and quality of life for generations to come.

Over the years, we have united thousands of Arizonans who have contributed to our accomplishments: Governors, elected officials, business leaders, municipalities, universities, other non-profits and many more have joined together in working toward one goal – a balance between economic vitality and environmental quality. Members of our Board, committees and councils give their time, professional insight and genuine care to our initiatives. For 50 years, every person who has been involved with the organization truly reflects our history. Big or small, their collective contributions have made an impact on Arizona.




In 1969, community leaders and organizations in the Valley began thinking about protecting our state’s environment, which led to the formation of Valley Forward. Fundamental environmental issues in the Valley then, were similar to what they are today – mass transportation, air quality, water supplies, reclaiming and beautifying the Salt River and neighborhood development – although the scale was much smaller. At the time, the population of the city of Phoenix was a little over 500,000 – the 20th most populous city in the nation. The state of Arizona’s total population then was 1.7 million — the size of the City of Phoenix today.

In the early years of the organization, the Rio Salado project was one of our most important initiatives, championed by our Board member, the late, Jim Elmore. Valley Forward worked to create legislation to form the original Rio Salado Development District, which has anchored our organization throughout the years and whose torch is carried on today by Arizona Forward, ASU and many Valley communities.


As we executed strategies and completed projects over the past five decades, our state was growing at a rapid pace. Today, Phoenix is the 5th largest city in the nation and Arizona’s total population is now 7.2 million – the 4th fastest-growing state in the U.S. – and we are continuing to grow. In 2013, Valley Forward expanded to a statewide organization to include growing urban and rural communities with a new name: Arizona Forward.

Growth brought economic prosperity to our state along with additional environmental challenges. Maintaining forest health, ensuring long-term water supplies, controlling greenhouse gas emissions and protecting natural resources are all issues of heightened concern. We remain diligent in our efforts to develop collective strategies and to find sustainability solutions. Our annual summit, lunch and breakfast programs, advocacy positions as well as our Environmental Excellence Awards program are a few of our most significant activities intended to motivate, inspire and move Arizona 50 years forward.

Read about the 50 year history of Arizona Forward in this AZBusiness magazine special edition.