“I‘m not an environmentalist. I’m a cultural repairman. It’s all about efficient and restorative use of resources to make the world secure, prosperous and life-sustaining.” – Amory Lovins, Co-Founder, Chairman Emeritus, Chief Scientist and Trustee, Rocky Mountain Institute
Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) is a “think-and-do tank” based in Basalt, Colorado with offices in Boulder, New York, Washington, DC and Beijing, China. RMI transforms global energy use to create a clean, prosperous, and secure low-carbon future. Of all of the efforts to mitigate climate change, the most sustainable is to transform the energy sector to clean (low carbon), renewable energy while at the same time transforming as much of the transportation miles to electric as is feasible. Renewable energy and storage is the future, and this means jobs and new industries, but this transition must come about in such a way as it does not put global security at risk.
RMI is an independent, nonpartisan nonprofit cofounded in 1982 by Amory Lovins, RMI’s chairman emeritus and chief scientist. RMI now has approximately 180 full-time staff, annual operations of $42 million, and a global reach and reputation. In 2014, Carbon War Room merged with and now operates as part of RMI. Carbon War room was founded in 2009 by Sir Richard Branson and a group of like-minded entrepreneurs, to accelerate the adoption of business solutions that reduce carbon emissions at gigaton scale. Central to the approach of Carbon War Room programs is overcoming market barriers that prevent capital from flowing to sustainable solutions, or that prevent uptake of efficiency solutions.
RMI engages businesses, communities, institutions, and entrepreneurs to accelerate the adoption of market-based solutions that cost-effectively shift from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables. They employ rigorous research, analysis, and whole-systems expertise to develop breakthrough insights. They then convene and collaborate with diverse partners—business, government, academic, nonprofit, philanthropic, and military—to accelerate and scale solutions.
While RMI has programs across multiple sectors around the world, here are a few of their programs and principles that I am particularly excited about.
I first became aware of RMI’s work after reading, “Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution,” which was co-authored by Amory Lovins. I was intrigued by the concepts and sought to apply the principles I learned to my business, China Mist Tea Company. This set me on a course to learn more and so, I returned to school at Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability, eventually earning an Executive Master of Sustainability Leadership.
Natural capital refers to the earth’s natural resources and the ecological systems that provide vital life-support services to society and all living things. These services are of immense economic value; some are literally priceless, since they have no known substitutes. Yet current business practices typically fail to take into account the value of these assets—which is rising with their scarcity. As a result, natural capital is being degraded and liquidated by the very wasteful use of resources such as energy, materials, water, fiber, and topsoil. RMI applies the framework of “natural capitalism” to all of their work.
Just because I love driving, does not mean that I do not see the societal benefits of shared, electrified autonomous vehicles. Gas-guzzling personally owned vehicles sit parked and unused 95% of the time; and with the growth of urban populations, cities around the world are experiencing increased congestion, poorer air quality, and a heavier strain on infrastructure. This is a significant cost to families, our health, our finances, and our environment.
RMI is a leader in accelerating the adoption of shared electrified, autonomous mobility services. They are partnering with the Cities of Austin, Texas and Denver, Colorado to support the deployment of autonomous vehicles, innovative commuting solutions, and electric vehicle fleets by piloting new mobility programs and business models.
A nonprofit subsidiary of Rocky Mountain Institute, WattTime builds technologies that enable electronic devices to automatically sync the times they use power to moments of clean energy. WattTime’s technologies combine real-time data from power grid operators, the EPA, and more and they detect moments when using electricity will be cleaner and enable automatic adjustments to actually choose which types of power plants your devices rely on. With a simple software update, smart device owners can instantly and permanently reduce their carbon footprint while helping clean and renewable power plants compete on the grid.
Imagine WattTime’s technology in your Tesla or other EV or your home battery pack or your business’s thermostat. WattTime will be helping our road trip by providing us with the carbon intensity of all of our charges in the United States (Canada information is unavailable at this time). We will visit their headquarters in Oakland, California on July 26 to receive the carbon impacts report and will report to our followers on social media.
WattTime API also has an online app that provides the carbon footprint data for the whole US power grid, updated every 5 minutes (click on map).
SEED | Sustainable Energy for Economic Development
RMI also works with governments, utilities, development partners, and private sector energy developers in developing countries to drive affordable, efficient, whole-systems energy programs that incorporate emerging distributed, renewable technologies and rapidly provide energy access to those without electricity. This matters because globally, 1.2 billion people lack access to electricity; yet reliable electricity is crucial to human well-being and to a country’s economic development. If the economies of sub-Saharan Africa are to continue their rapid rates of growth, their citizens and businesses will need access to affordable, clean, and reliable electricity.
RMI is supporting energy access in developing countries through single-country engagements and cross-cutting efforts that scale what they learn on the ground more broadly. RMI started in Rwanda and are currently working in Sierra Leone and Uganda. They provide two main services: Impartial technical, policy and financial advice on energy system development, and collaboration with government, development partners, and the private sector to ensure successful implementation of our recommendations.
For example, in Rwanda, RMI has:
- worked closely with development partners and the private sector to create a shared vision for and approach to rural electrification;
- identified $20 million per year immediate savings for the national utility and developed an energy efficiency program with the utility to capture savings;
- identified concrete opportunities that will help the government meet its rural electrification targets to grow access to electricity from 22% to 70% in two years, using a combination of on-grid and off-grid technologies;
- revealed $1 billion in long-term savings through an integrated resource plan and worked with the national utility on initial implementation; and
- built capacity with the national utility to develop, own, and update an integrated resource plan to guide energy procurement, demand management, and rural electrification decisions.
How Our Road Trip Benefits Rocky Mountain Institute
After applying a sustainability lens to our Father-Son Carbon-Neutral Adventure Across the West, I realized I could make our road trip more meaningful; more purposeful, if I donated it to Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI). In so doing, I could promote clean, renewable energy, electric mobility, and educate people throughout the route about RMI’s work and raise money for their projects. I reached out to RMI and pitched my idea and they were very receptive. They made me a brand ambassador, and this is the result.
What I mean by “donating” the trip is that all of the costs involved with planning and equipping the trip including the car, printing and application of the custom wrap (which was designed by RMI’s in-house designers), all equipment, all web development, all my time and all activities promoting RMI and all travel expenses including hotels, food, energy, and the like are being borne solely by me. Therefore, all donations will go 100% to RMI.
So, please support our road trip by giving to Rocky Mountain Institute. Follow this LINK.
“A (person) of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting.” – Carlos Castaneda