Cofounder of the world renowned Rocky Mountain Institute, Amory Lovins has pioneered efficient use of energy resources and policy development, creating new models and incentivizing renewable solutions for government, corporations, and the community as a whole. Together with his team of researchers, Amory’s work has yielded breakthroughs in several industries in the U.S. and abroad.
The New Idea
Amory began presenting models of efficiency in engineering as a solution to the energy crisis in the early 1970s. His work turned the energy challenge on its head by suggesting a radically different focus: providing the amount, type, scale and source of energy that would provide desired services in the cheapest way, as opposed to getting the most energy from any source at any price. Amory argued for solutions that matched the scale of the problem, unlike nuclear power which he saw as a dangerous and unnecessary measure.From personally engineering a new ultra-efficient “Hypercar” as a model for the auto industry, to conducting landmark research on light bulb energy consumption, Amory has pioneered solutions that have become catalysts for change across countless industries. In all these efforts, he showed that properly structured, sustainable, least-cost energy and resource options can be beneficial both to the environment and to industry. By changing the incentive structures for government, corporations, and the community as a whole to implement efficient policies, RMI has been able to achieve major impact.Perhaps even more importantly, Amory has spread his work more widely than anyone else in the field. He has aggressively moved his ideas into widespread practice, primarily through the private sector, which was quite unprecedented. This ability to work with the so-called “enemy” was a strategy never before seen among green organizations. In fact, RMI has worked with over 80 Fortune 500 Companies, including Wal-Mart and Texas Instruments, lending RMI's innovative ideas a real-world muscle and large scale impact never before seen in the green movement.
The world oil crisis in the 1970s powerfully illustrated that concerns over resource scarcity were justified. The situation exposed the vulnerability of the energy supply and the over-dependence on oil as a fuel. However, the legislation and policies to address energy requirements during this era were firmly focused on supply-side and statist strategies. At the time, the most widely accepted energy strategy was to secure a new reliable source of oil. Today, we are facing essentially the same energy challenges as seen in the 1970s: Long-term availability of supply, security of supply and geopolitical conflict, environmental degradation, and the need to extend basic energy services to two to three billion people. The difference is that these challenges are even more serious today than they were 30 years ago.In recent years, Amory has focused on two key problems with U.S. oil dependency: national security and national competitiveness. U.S. bilateral relations are consistently complicated due to foreign supply deals with “problem states” such as Iran, Sudan, and Myanmar. In addition, he notes that the United States is behind the pack in terms of efficiency legislation and national policy, and the future importers and exporters of the world will be determined by their efficiency standards. To many Americans, energy efficiency is still a somewhat hazy goal. Even the most green-conscious politicians prefer to talk about ways of harnessing new sources of energy—whether offshore oil or wind or solar—than about how to better use existing supplies. This unbalanced focus on supply has led to an inefficient use of resources, which has been a main culprit behind the country's energy problems.
In 1982, Amory and his then wife Hunter co-founded a resource policy center in Snowmass, Colorado called Rocky Mountain Institute. Their goal was to challenge conventional wisdom by demonstrating advanced resource productivity that avoids depletion and pollution, yet still shows a profit. The idea began in the 1970s as the world clamored for a new oil source. Amory’s initial insight was to focus on an end-use/least-cost analysis: what do we want energy for, and what’s the cheapest way to do each of those tasks? He argued that the best way to fix the crisis was to change the incentive structure and show people that they can make money by adopting energy-efficient technologies. This strict focus on promoting economic competitiveness while still conserving natural resources was a determining factor behind RMI’s eventual impact.No matter what sector they are focused on transforming, the solution, Amory claims, is mainly a matter of tapping a nearly limitless resource: Corporate pressure to cut costs and improve the bottom line. Throughout the many industrial facilities that Amory and RMI have worked with, they have consistently found that 30 to 60 percent of energy savings could be captured through retrofits which paid for themselves in two to three years. In new facilities, 40 to 90 percent savings could be gleaned, and with nearly always lower capital cost. For example, a Texas Instruments facility for the manufacture of computer chips saved nearly $150M in construction costs after basing its factory design on recommendations developed with RMI in 2004. The facilities use 20 percent less energy (without yet using the two biggest recommendations), 30 percent less water, and emit 50 percent less nitrous oxide into the air than previous facilities of its kind. A successor design is expected to save two-thirds of its energy use and half its capital cost.This project reaffirms the RMI approach of cooperation with industry leading to greater efficiency, less money spent up front, lowered operating expenses and a reduction in fossil fuel usage. Though much of the debate over climate change and energy today is shrouded in partisan politics, Amory calls himself “transideological,” choosing to work with people he believes have the potential to serve, along with their projects, as models for the whole country.Along with Texas Instruments, RMI clients have included Monsanto, Royal Dutch/Shell and the mining giants Rio Tinto and Anglo American, all considered the “enemy” by many environmental groups. RMI made headlines recently by helping Wal-Mart with plans to double the fuel efficiency of its 6800-strong trucking fleet—among the biggest in the world—by 2015. The program could save the company over $300M a year and cut CO2 emissions by 690,000 tons annually. The retail giant could end up causing the entire trucking industry to follow its lead.Amory’s research at RMI has yielded breakthroughs on everything from lightweight carbon-fiber composites to improve fuel efficiency in cars and airplanes to hybrid electric drivesystems, and has led to five spinoff companies. However, he is also quick to note that energy efficiency by itself is not a solution, per se; it can only buy time for the world to develop a “soft energy path” that melds efficiency with such renewable resources as wind, solar power, and sustainable biofuels. His current work focuses on “Reinventing Fire”—driving the profitable transition from oil and coal to efficiency and renewables—and on “Factor Ten Engineering (www.10xE.org), which aims to transform how design is taught and practiced.
Amory Lovins made his name in the energy field with a landmark essay he wrote that was published in the journal Foreign Affairs in 1976 entitled “Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken?” At age 21, after studying at Harvard and Oxford University, he became Oxford’s youngest faculty member in at least 400 years. While there, he intended to pursue an interest in the details of energy policy, two years before the oil embargo put those issues on the world's agenda. When the university objected, he left, moving back to the U.S. a decade later in 1981.Amory has lately led the redesign of over $30 billion worth of industrial facilities in 29 sectors for radical energy and resource efficiency, along with scores of buildings and numerous vehicles. He has briefed 20 heads of state, held several visiting academic chairs (most recently the 2007 MAP/Ming Professorship at Stanford’s School of Engineering), written 29 books and hundreds of papers, and consulted for scores of industries and governments worldwide. The Wall Street Journal named Amory one of 39 people worldwide “most likely to change the course of business in the 1990s.” In 2009, Time named him one of the world’s 100 most influential people.In addition to his Oxford MA, he has received ten honorary doctorates, a MacArthur Fellowship, the Heinz, Lindbergh, Right Livelihood (“Alternative Nobel”), World Technology, National Design, and Time Hero for the Planet awards, the Benjamin Franklin and Happold Medals, and the Blue Planet, Volvo, Nissan, Shingo, Mitchell, Jean Meyer, and Onassis Prizes. An honorary member of the American Institute of Architects and a Foreign Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, he serves as Chairman and Chief Scientist of Rocky Mountain Institute (www.rmi.org).