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Working Toward a Three-Fer

By Michael Potts

When Lisa Jackson, the new Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, gave her keynote address at the Aspen Environmental Forum in March, she urged the crowd to work towards a “three-fer.”

“Maybe you’re worried about what your neighborhood will be once climate change hits you,” she said. “Maybe you’re worried about where jobs will come from, or whether they will be exported overseas. You might also be worried about national security. However you come to this, we have an answer for you. It’s the clean energy economy.”

We live in a world where 75 percent to 90 percent of the energy we consume is wasted because of bad design and poor choices. In theory, innovation driven by market forces should work over time to wring more and more efficiency out of our systems, and to eliminate that waste.

Unfortunately, market forces are not perfect. Fuel price volatility makes it hard for entrepreneurs to focus steadily on efficiency innovations and renewable energy sources. Some societal impacts (CO2, for example) are not yet reflected in the cost structures of our businesses. And many of our industries seem as if they were designed specifically to support wasteful practices. These factors combine to create a “roller-coaster effect,” with energy policy and commercial practices veering, as President Obama put it, between crisis and trance.

Enter RMI. The RMI team works with dogged determination to reduce—and over decades, eliminate—our dependence on fossil fuels and to speed the profitable transition to a world powered by renewable energy sources very efficiently used. We believe this is the pivotal issue for our generation—even for our species. We stay on the job whether a barrel of oil sells for $150 or $35, and whether or not there is a price on carbon.

RMI’s unique “hybrid” structure supports this role. Roughly two-thirds of our funding comes from philanthropic individuals and foundations, helping us to weather economic upheavals and to fund communication through books, films, and the web. The remaining third comes from fees for our consulting and design services—helping to create radically efficient buildings, vehicles, and industrial processes, for example—by which we demonstrate to leaders of vital industries, over and over, that “whole-systems thinking” pays off and that efficiency is the most effective energy solution.

Each of us at RMI has our own personal priorities. Some of us care most about climate change, others about economic opportunities, and still others about national security. But as Amory Lovins likes to say, “We hold and support all of these motivations—and they all lead to the same right outcomes.”

The outcome we seek is a world thriving, verdant, and secure, for all, for ever. To get there we need to solve the energy problem. We need to achieve Lisa Jackson’s “three-fer.” With your help, we believe we can.

Michael Potts is RMI's CEO

--Published April 2009