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Letter from the CEO: RMI’S Trademark Approach

By Michael Potts

Flash back to 1982: U.S. gasoline sells for the horrifying price of $1.25 per gallon (about double that in 2012 dollars); the Dow Jones Industrial Average hits a low of 776 in August (versus more than 13,000 today); Ronald Reagan is president; Michael Jackson releases Thriller; voicemail is invented; and early prototypes of cell phones, the Internet, and Prozac are experimental ideas in labs.

This is the year when Amory and Hunter Lovins set up shop in Old Snowmass, Colorado, to foster “the efficient and restorative use of resources.” The handful of early aficionados would be hard pressed to imagine the RMI of 2012, with a staff of more than 70 architects, engineers, scientists, economists, communicators, and administrators, all dedicated to the same mission and focused specifically on speeding our shift from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewable energy.

Thirty years is less than half a human life span, and yet in this time the world has experienced disruptive change. World population has grown by more than half as the gross domestic product of the United States has increased by more than 150 percent. Technological, social, and political transformation has been unrelenting and even accelerating. A long list of pivotal disruptions—the rise of Internet and wireless communications; advanced technology to exploit previously inaccessible resources; increasing economic and political interdependence; a surge in resource demand from the developing world; wide awareness of climate change; the end of the Cold War and the rise of post-9/11 conflicts; greater political and economic volatility of oil after two major wars in the Persian Gulf—all lend increasing urgency to those founding intentions of RMI.

In the midst of this turbulence there’s good news: many leaders in industry, government, and civil society have gained a new sense of the importance of their decisions. They understand that even small moves today carry outsized and increasing future consequences in this accelerating world. We are honored that many of them turn to RMI to help them make sense of this perilous yet promising landscape.

Last autumn, RMI published Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era, which lays out a credible, achievable, business-led roadmap to get the American economy off of oil, coal, and nuclear power, and to use one-third less natural gas by 2050. This landmark work is not mere theorizing, but contains many person-years of empirically grounded research and analysis by over 60 RMI staff and many experts from private industry. Their rigorous, peer-reviewed approach substantiates that choosing this cleaner, safer, smarter energy future could save $5 trillion in net present value. And we suggest concrete, actionable steps to be taken in the four energy-consuming sectors where we focus our implementation initiatives—transportation, buildings, industry, and electricity.

Reinventing Fire provides a compelling vision, a strong business case, and a robust context for all of our efforts. To move this synthesis toward adoption, most of our collaborations entail deep dives within sectors to accelerate broad and lasting change. In this issue of Solutions Journal, you’ll read about many RMI interventions and, just as important, you’ll see how our work has shifted and evolved as the field of play has changed.

We have led or co-led design teams on transformational vehicles and spun off an industry group to speed efficiency in the trucking industry. We have redesigned grocery stores and car dealerships, chip fabs and data centers, mines and refineries, and have driven deep retrofits of commercial buildings. As electricity is moving closer to the center of the energy universe, we have forwarded transformational strategies of distributed generation and resilient grid architecture while also fashioning concrete resource plans for utilities and municipalities.

Each of these examples demonstrates three key elements of RMI’s trademark approach. First, we focus on solutions, not problems. We find that decision-makers and practitioners don’t respond well to preaching or scare tactics, but are challenged and energized by a fact-based path to efficiency and renewables. Second, we base our work on solid research and analysis, anchored in industry expertise and informed by fresh thinking and novel questions. This earns us a seat at the table where pivotal decisions are made. Third, we connect and convene leaders across sectoral and disciplinary boundaries to spread innovation and speed adoption across industry and civil society.

All of us at RMI are energized with an intense urgency and sense of purpose that springs from the enormity of the stakes and the challenge ahead. We are working hard to deepen our understanding, to focus our efforts, and to improve our engagement in ways that make a difference. Leaders and practitioners in our target sectors are more receptive than ever to good ideas, and time is of the essence.

Your reading this issue of Solutions Journal indicates that you are an RMI partner, an RMI supporter, or better yet, both. These distinctions tend to blur because so many of our supporters are the leaders and practitioners we hope to empower, and because all members of the RMI ecosystem are so deeply intertwined in the real mechanics of building a better world.

It is your support and collaboration that has powered our 30-year quest, and we are happy and humbled to be on this path with you. It is possible, though by no means easy, to thoughtfully design “a world thriving, verdant, and secure, for all, for ever.”

Let’s get to it!

Michael Potts,
President and CEO

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