At the heart of all our work is a simple but powerful notion: Using natural resources much more productively — efficiently — is both profitable and better for the environment. Indeed, integrative design often makes large resource savings work better and cost less than small ones.
Advanced Resource Productivity is the first and foundational principle of natural capitalism.
Wasting Resources = Wasting Money
Modern society uses natural resources extremely inefficiently. What's wrong with that? For one thing, many resources are non-renewable — for all intents and purposes they aren't being made anymore — so it makes sense to use them sparingly so they last as long as possible. And as for renewable resources, many of them—trees and fish, for example — are being used faster than they're being renewed. Depleting resources in this way is an unsustainable proposition, with potentially grave consequences for society as well as the environment.
Furthermore, using more resources than necessary to do a given job often indirectly causes other problems, which have a way of snowballing. For example, the more fossil fuels we use, the more we contribute to climate change (global warming), which most scientists now agree is a real and worrying phenomenon. But that's not all. Using more oil increases the risk of catastrophic oil spills, makes consumers more vulnerable to embargoes and other disruptions, and requires more money (and possibly lives) to keep the supply lines open.
But perhaps most importantly, inefficiency wastes money. That hurts family finances and corporate profits, costs jobs, and reduces the funds available to achieve worthy social goals.
Efficiency Creates Wealth
The good news is that using resources more productively creates wealth, which spurs new industries, products, and economic activity. (Historically, most economic development can be traced to improvements in efficiency; computers are a classic example.) Improved productivity also postpones the depletion of non-renewable resources and enables the sustainable use of renewable ones — thus reducing our impact on the natural capital on which we depend, and buying time to solve problems caused by a growing world population. Efficiency can even increase national and global security, by minimizing nations' incentives to go to war over dwindling resources and by curbing nuclear proliferation.
The efficiency Rocky Mountain Institute promotes is not the sort that means turning down the thermostat or sitting in the dark. That kind of "conservation" got a bad name in the 1970s because, let's face it, nobody likes to do without the comforts they've come to expect. Forcing people to conserve resources in that way isn't politically realistic (except in emergencies), and relying on people to do it voluntarily clearly isn't going to go very far.
We define efficiency, or productivity, as doing the same (or better) services with fewer resources. That means no compromise or loss of performance. In fact, it often means better performance: for example, efficient buildings are less drafty and have better lighting than inefficient ones. That makes them more comfortable to live in, and more productive to work in