How the Rocky Mountain Institute Works

History of the Rocky Mountain Institute

Amory Lovins, founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, became interested in energy conservation during the gas crisis of the 1970s, after completing his studies in physics at Harvard and Oxford. In his twenties, he wrote an article that, rather than attempt to provide a solution for acquiring more gas and oil, questioned why the United States needed so much gas and oil in the first place and why it could not be more efficient with its resources [source: Nuclear Control Institute]. This article, at first read primarily in the scholarly community, attracted a lot of attention. Initially, many in the industry scorned his ideas. Then, as the energy crisis worsened, people -- including former President Jimmy Carter -- began to recognize the value of energy efficiency. From about 1971 to 1981, Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins, his wife at the time, began consulting with various corporations and governments.

Eventually settling in Snowmass, Colorado, the two began a small nonprofit organization -- the Rocky Mountain Institute -- with some friends and colleagues. RMI's initial goal was to push issues, research and solutions to the forefront of the energy conservation movement. In 25 years, RMI's goals haven't really changed. Lovins' concept of "soft energy paths" -- using less energy by using it more productively -- continues to flourish, nearly 30 years after its introduction. RMI's staff continues to grow, collecting people from different business and economic backgrounds to round out its vision. Its current CEO is Michael Potts, who brings experience from the world of high technology. Lovins remains the chief visionary [source: RMI].

RMI has nine core principles as its guideposts:

  • Advanced resource productivity -- Using resources more productively and efficiently actually creates wealth by saving energy costs. It also increases productivity and economic activity.
  • Systems thinking -- By designing and optimizing entire systems rather than building one piece of a system at a time, it's possible to reveal interconnections, problems and solutions.
  • Positive action -- a respectful approach to other people's ideas. RMI supports what it is for, rather than fight what it is against.
  • Market-oriented solutions -- RMI believes in working with the market rather than in opposition to it, promoting best practices whenever possible.
  • End-use/least-cost approach -- By paying attention to demand, RMI can provide better and cheaper solutions for supply.
  • Biological insight -- RMI mimics nature and attempts to operate in a "closed loop" with little or no waste.
  • Corporate transformation -- Adopting sustainable and efficient practices can bring companies competitive advantage and increased financial success.
  • The pursuit of interconnections -- Understanding the connectedness of every system leads to more complete solutions.
  • Natural capitalism -- RMI's goal is for businesses to adopt a new style of thinking -- learning to profit and gain advantage by adopting environmentally-friendly business practices.

RMI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. This means it is a charitable organization but not an action organization. It is restricted from any political campaign activity or attempted influence on legislation [source: Internal Revenue Service]. RMI also accepts donations in various forms, including through its National Solutions Council Membership, which brings together friends of the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Next, we'll take a closer look at RMI's consulting services.