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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Living on Earth's Environmental Pioneers Series #22

Air Date: Week of

Amory Lovins' work is based out of Colorado where he heads up the non-profit Rocky Mountain Institute. Lovins is among the first and foremost innovators to come up with practical cost-saving and energy-reducing solutions for business. Carol Kauder of Colorado Public Radio reports.


CURWOOD: Imagine a world where banana trees can grow in frigid mountains, inside homes without a furnace. Where cars get hundreds of miles to the gallon, and where office buildings are heated at a fraction of today's costs. Energy efficiency expert Amory Lovins has been making that world more real every day in his work over the past 20 years along with his wife and colleague Hunter Lovins. As part of our ongoing series on environmental pioneers, Colorado Public Radio's Carol Kauder offers this glimpse into the creative and energy saving genius of Amory Lovins.

(Airline announcer: "...11:37, boarding our customers, mark V-42...")

KAUDER: Amory Lovins is easy to pick out at a crowded gate at Denver International Airport because of his directionless jet black hair, his think round eyeglasses, and his 7th grade science teacher demeanor. But most noticeably, the man overflows with energy, an ironic characteristic from one who has devoted his life to conserving it. Lovins works closely with his wife Hunter and their staff at the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute. For 2 decades he has pioneered new ways to save energy in every aspect that people use it: at home, at work and everywhere in between. He says he's driven by a simple desire to make the world a better place.

LOVINS: There are a lot of things that need fixing in the world, and the most pervasive common denominator we could find where there was a profitable way to get it working right was in energy efficiency.

KAUDER: Profit for both energy producers and consumers is Lovins' primary focal point. When he first started looking at energy use in the early 1970s, he saw enormous natural resource waste, which also meant money down the drain. He set out to find ways to save energy and benefit the bottom line for everyone.

LOVINS: I guess there's something I like aesthetically about elegant frugality, in which you do much more with much less and you do it better. This is not about freezing in the dark or wimpy showers or warm beer. This is getting good, vigorous hot showers and cold beer in a way that works better and costs less than present arrangements.

KAUDER: Over the years, Lovins developed both energy saving technologies and the economic model showing energy providers that profit lay in efficiency. He showed power companies that rather than building expensive new power plants, they can actually save money by helping consumers use less electricity through things like double-paned, gas-filled windows, compact fluorescent light bulbs, better water heaters, more efficient building insulation, and so on. At first, his ideas were met with vigorous opposition by some, and were ignored by others. But business writer Art Kliner says time and time again Lovins was able to use a corporation's own numbers to show they could make more money by conserving power. Kliner says Lovins was an oddity at the time, an environmentalist offering a solution rather than criticism of big corporations.

KLINER: Amory became a kind of emissary. He was in fact one of the very few people at that time who was coming out of the counter culture, and yet people from corporate culture were listening to him. These two cultures were growing further and further apart, and there weren't very many people trying to bridge the gap. And he was one of the very few that was credible from a corporate side who actually was thinking about things in a way that an environmentalist or a counter culture person would.

KAUDER: That credibility has been established in homes, factories, and office buildings around the world. For example, an energy efficient retrofit for a Lockheed facility in California saved almost $500,000 on utility bills and also had a 15% increase in productivity with a 15% decrease in absenteeism.

(Airport announcer: ... "11.37 for San Francisco...")

KAUDER: But there are skeptics still, and Lovins tirelessly travels around the country and the world persuading the nonbelievers. This afternoon Lovins is on his way to a meeting with Pacific Gas and Electric in San Francisco. PG&E budgeted $15.5 million to test the benefits of integrating an array of energy efficient technologies for homes, businesses, and agriculture. Carl Wineberg is the former Research Director for PG&E.

WINEBERG: I guess I call it sometimes the Amory Lovins Put Up or Shut Up Project. Being a research practical guy I sort of said well, if this is a hypothesis we ought to be able to devise a number of experiments to prove whether this is true or not.

KAUDER: For Lovins, it's just another project that will once again prove that he's right. But his certainty should not be mistaken for arrogance. He's very tuned in to the needs and perspectives of the companies he deals with. Lovins credits eastern philosophy for enabling him to connect and communicate his ideas to large corporations. He practices what he calls akido politics.

LOVINS: You honor others' beliefs as you would your own, even if you disagree with them. You're committed to process, not outcome, thinking that from a good process will emerge a better outcome than anyone thought of in the first place. And you're not fixed in a position but centered in your values. So you're very flexible, you can see things from a lot of different points of view, and end up with a solution that is fair and beneficial to everybody.

KAUDER: Lovins says ultimately, energy conservation will improve global security by reducing conflicts over natural resources. Rather than rest on the laurels of redefining energy consumption, Lovins is moving on to one of the biggest consumers of energy, transportation. He's working on a super efficient hyper car, a visionary project that combines advanced technology with the basics of nature: sun and gravity, in a car that can get over 100 miles per gallon. The man said to hold the top 5 spots in the world's top 10 list of energy experts may some day be best remembered for reinventing the wheels. For Living on Earth, I'm Carol Kauder reporting.



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