This week, more than 130 cleantech leaders gathered to listen to renowned sustainability consultant Amory Lovins at the Northwest Energy Angels (client) luncheon hosted at REI. Lovins, who dropped out of Harvard but has 11 honorary doctorates, 29 book titles in his name (working on his 30th), named TIME’s Hero of the Planet, among dozens of other accolades, co-founded one of the most influential non-profits focused on the efficient and restorative use of resources – Rocky Mountain Institute.
Amory gave us a sneak peek at RMI’s forthcoming book “Reinventing Fire,” which is based on a campaign designed to move the U.S. off oil and coal by 2050, and eventually natural gas. (He points out how the youth rightly question why we’re running our world on dinosaur sludge.) With his deep science background and the impressive ability to recall detailed statistics, Amory outlined what he and the institute see as the key opportunities for driving this change, which he is quick to point out is led by the business sector. Specifically, he points out the big opportunities for this shift off fossil fuels lie in ultralighting cars, retrofitting buildings, increasing renewables and shifting to a microgrid.
Amory then joined a panel discussion led by RMI’s President and CEO Michael Potts, along with David Allen, EVP of McKinstry, and Rogers Weed, who serves as Director of the Washington State Dept. of Commerce. The insightful discussion revealed that one of the major challenges to achieving the goals of Reinventing Fire, is the fact that ¾ of states still reward utilities to sell more power, which is little incentive to drive mass adoption of renewable power. Additionally, massive waste in the U.S. – everything from wasted energy to wasted materials, provides huge redesign opportunities in terms of materials, products, systems, business operations etc. (In the U.S. alone each person produces an average of 4.34 pounds of waste per day.)
Weeds pointed out how the public is deeply cynical about government involvement in sustainability, which furthers the need to have the business sector take the lead. Allen from McKinstry agreed, saying “It’s time for businesses to get off their ass and get involved if this is ever going to work.” (Crowd applause erupted at that.)
Yet, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. The panelists pointed out the real green job opportunities, the innovative thinking that’s coming from people all over globe and the opportunity for businesses to step out and make a change based on what they do and what they buy.
As a member of the Weber Shandwick Seattle Cleantech team, it was encouraging to witness a deeper discussion around the role that businesses can play in reducing our dependence on “dinosaur sludge.” Shifting the story away from climate change, (which can be a show stopper for many) and on to energy independence and the business bottom line is more compelling for many people who need to point to ROI to implement organizational change. And, in our line of work, this story shift is more compelling for the media who are covering the cleantech sector. They’re interested in technologies that are not only innovative and have a green element to them – but have a compelling business proposition with a lasting impact on the world.