Alison Carlson is the founder of the Passport Foundation and the Forsythia Foundation, two environmentalist grantmaking foundations. After a personal health scare, Carlson became involved in numerous scientific and activist efforts regarding environmental toxins. In 2007, she co-founded the Passport Foundation with her now-ex-husband John Burbank. Three years later, she founded the Forsythia Foundation. In 2017, Forsythia went defunct and its assets were transferred to a new group with the same name.
For two decades, Carlson worked as a tennis instructor, sports promoter, and sports commentator. She became an activist for gender-based athletic reforms as the co-founder of the International Work Group on Sex/Gender Verification Policy in Sports, and she advocated for changes in the International Olympic Committee’s approach to gender-based eligibility. Carlson also hosted National Public Radio’s first sports program, “Only a Game,” and worked as assistant director at the social entrepreneurship and public service program at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.  
Alison Carlson became interested in environmentalism when she discovered the property next to the tennis club at which she taught was an illegal dumping site for PCBs, a carcinogenic pollutant. Her interest further developed when she developed a fertility problem and became frustrated that her doctors weren’t considering environmental factors.  
In 2003, Carlson became a senior fellow for the Commonweal Institute’s Collaborative on Health and the Environment where she organized research efforts on environmental contaminants of reproductive health. The program would eventually evolve into the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). 
In 2007, Calrson and the OB/GYN department chair at UCSF ran the 2007 Summit on Environmental Challenges to Reproductive Health and Fertility, a gathering of 400 researchers. 
Also in 2007, Carlson co-founded the Passport Foundation with her then-husband John Burbank, the head of Passport Capital, which had $5 billion in assets before incurring substantial losses from 2015 to 2017. 
The Passport Foundation is a grantmaking foundation with an initial $30 million endowment  dedicated to environmentalist causes. Recipients have included environmentalist legal group Earthjustice, environmentalist advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council, the environmentalist voter activation network League of Conservation Voters, and the left-of-center technology group Code for America. 
In 2010 Carlson founded the Forsythia Foundation, a grantmaking foundation dedicated to “[eliminating] toxic chemicals in the supply chain.”  Forsythia was founded with support from Arabella Advisors, a philanthropic consulting group for major left-of-center nonprofits. Arabella received annual payments from Forsythia and continued to support the new Forsythia formed in 2017. In its final year, the original Forsythia paid Arabella Advisors $95,721.  Forsythia donated to numerous left-of-center environmental advocacy groups, including the Environmental Health Fund, the Science and Environmental Health Network, Virginia Organizing, the Bluegreen Alliance Foundation, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Center for Health Environment and Justice, Greencentre Canada, Health Care Without Harm, the Healthy Building Network, Next Generation, the Sustainable Markets Foundation, and Rachel’s Network. Forsythia also donated to USCF’s Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment and the Commonweal Institute, both of which Carlson was involved with prior to 2010. 
In 2017, Forsythia dissolved and its assets were transferred to the Forsythia Foundation, a nonprofit with the same structure, officers, and many of the same grant recipients.   In addition to receiving all of the defunct Forsythia’s $26.5 million in assets,  Carlson donated an additional $1.5 million. 
In 2019, Forsythia donated $1,097,000. The largest recipient was UCSF which received $250,000. Other grants went to Consumer Reports for $100,000, the Healthy Building Network for $100,000, Earthjustice for $90,000, the Center for Environmental Health for $75,000, the Environmental Working Group for $50,000, the Green Science Policy Institute for $50,000, the Commonweal Institute for $30,000, the Environmental Health Strategy Center $25,000, and the Upstream Policy Institute for $2,000. 
The second Forsythia has directed more funds to organizations intending to advocate for specific political policies. In 2019, Forsythia gave $200,000 to Resolve Inc. to advocate for new food chemical standards at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Forsythia gave Toxic-Free Future $50,000 to support a multi-state municipal government agreement regarding pollution. 
The Forsythia Foundation and the Passport Foundation funded numerous organizations which provided financing for Dark Waters, a Hollywood eco-thriller starring Mark Ruffalo. 
Alison Carlson Trust
Carlson has directed funds from her Alison Carlson Trust to environmentalist causes. In 2014, the Trust and the Forsythia Foundation made a joint-commitment to invest $10 million into clean energy and other climate change solutions as part of President Barack Obama’s June 2014 White House Roundtable on Impact Investing. In 2015, they increased their commitment by $3.65 million. 
On behalf of the Trust, Carlson signed an open letter condemning a rule proposed by then-President Donald Trump to permit employers religious exemption from providing healthcare insurance coverage for birth control. The other signatories were representatives of Trillium Asset Management, the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, the Libra Foundation, Wallace Global Fund, the Argosy Foundation, and Calvert Research and Management, as well as then-General Treasurer of Rhode Island Seth Magaziner (D).