FIFTEEN years ago, a young physicist named Amory Lovins made news
when his article in Foreign Affairs quarterly outlined a "soft path"
for United States energy policy. A couple of oil shocks, a Chernobyl
meltdown, and a Gulf War later, his basic message - the need to
emphasize efficiency and renewable resources over oil and nuclear
power - is still a minority view, at least with the White House
officials who put together the Bush administration's recent
"National Energy Strategy."
But among many utility companies, state agencies, private
businesses, overseas governments, and international organizations,
the work of the Rocky Mountain Institute - headed by Mr. Lovins and
his wife Hunter Lovins - is not only heeded but also much sought
after. At last count, some 200 clients in 32 countries had signed up
for the institute's "Competitek" program, a consulting service,
which helps large energy providers and users implement cost-saving
efficiency measures. At the current rate of increase, that number
will double in 14 months - largely by word of mouth.
The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) was founded a decade ago as a
mom-and-pop think tank with Amory the idea man and Hunter, a lawyer,
running the shop. "I said to Amory, 'You think, I'll manage, and
we'll get along fine, Hunter recalls. The idea, she says, was to
have a dozen or so friends and colleagues "bouncing ideas off each
But the areas of interest kept expanding, and so did the staff
and budget. Today, it's a million-dollar operation with a staff of
50 (30 full-time). Forty percent of RMI's funding comes from its
Competitek program, with most of the rest from foundations and
Most of RMI's efforts continue to be directed toward energy, but
programs also focus on water, agriculture, local economic renewal,
and international security. In these five areas, says Amory, "The
most important thing we do is make connections that haven't been
made before.... That's our guiding principle."
The recent war in the Gulf, for example, clearly illustrated the
connection between energy supplies and national security. So, too,
does the relationship between farm and water policy and the health
of rural economies.
"We're run off our feet trying to keep up with the demand for
information," he adds. "And we're having to pick our slots carefully
because there's only 36 hours in the day." Over the years, the RMI
staff has produced more than a dozen books, plus scores of reports
and articles. The Lovinses and their colleagues have been invited to
talk to hundreds of widely diverse audiences, ranging from the
radical environmental group Earth First! to the Office of the
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon.
The morning after he was interviewed recently at his home/office
7,200 feet up in the Rocky Mountains, Amory was off to Atlanta to
talk about global warming at a conference sponsored by the Japanese
Ministry of International Trade and Industry.
"He's really coming into his own as something of a world expert,"
says Bruce Babbitt, former governor of Arizona.
While RMI deals with ideas and theories, it sells its work
largely on the basis of its practicality. Among the big-name
companies that have sought RMI's help in lowering their electric
bills are Xerox, Apple Computer, Marriott, and Boeing. Energy
program director Michael Shepherd spends much of his time showing
how minimum efficiency standards for lighting and motors can save
considerable energy (and money) just as they have for appliances.
RMI's economic renewal program stresses practical steps that have
helped revive economically troubled towns.
'THE most important thing that happens as a result of our program
is that people begin to talk with one another - often people who
hadn't trusted each other before," says program director Michael
Kinsley, who was a Colorado county commissioner for 10 years before
joining RMI. …