If we were to describe Amory in one word, it would be “passionate.” Since he first encountered the concept of energy efficiency, he has worked tirelessly to find ways to make the idea possible. His career is proof of this, having given up the chance for a more prestigious life to focus on what he found to be more important: energy.
Though there were many obstacles along the way, Amory always pursued his goal, and today he travels the world to share his many ideas that were once rejected.
Childhood and Teenage Years
Amory Lovins was born in 1947 in Washington D.C. The son of fairly wealthy parents, Amory had a comfortable childhood. Amory’s parents were also very supportive and encouraged him to pursue something he wanted, rather than what society had for him. Amory’s parents not only served as an inspiration, but also as powerful role models that would greatly shape the person he would become later in life.
Throughout his childhood and teenage years, Amory lived in many different states due to his father’s work. When he was around six or seven years old, Amory’s family moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, where he completed his elementary studies. Later, the family moved to Amherst, Massachusetts, where Amory spent his remaining high school years.
Even at a young age, Amory showed potential for greatness. In his elementary years, he showed his leadership skills by taking the initiative in numerous class exercises, and had charisma that allowed him to make many friends. In 1946, Amory graduated from high school at seventeen years old.
After graduating, Amory entered Harvard College to continue his studies. Two years later, while not yet finished, Amory decided to relocate to England to transfer to Oxford University and study at Magdalen College. During his time at Oxford, Amory immersed himself in various topics including physics and chemistry, and had an exceptional academic performance, so much that he became a Junior Research Fellow at Oxford University’s Merton College in 1969.
His own energy research
Aside from being a Junior Research Fellow at Merton, Amory also became a university don, which granted him a temporary Master of Arts degree. During this time, Amory became more interested in the study of energy, and requested from the school’s board a chance to pursue a Doctorate study in the subject. At that time, however, energy was not yet an “academic subject” due to the lack of available material, and Amory’s request was denied (the famed oil embargo which resulted in energy joining the academic curriculum occurred two years later). Because of this, Amory resigned his fellowship and did not graduate, opting instead to move to London to continue working on his energy study. Eventually, Amory returned to the United States, and settled in western Colorado in 1982.
Meeting His First Wife
While working in London in the mid- to late-1970s, Amory met L. Hunter Sheldon, a local forester, lawyer and social scientist with whom he immediately fell in love. L. Hunter Sheldon studied at Pitzer College and Loyola University, where she received her Doctorate degree at the university’s School of Law. The couple married in 1979, and stayed married until their separation in 1989 and eventual divorce in 1999.
Amory’s Love for Nature
During Amory’s college and post-college years, he had a hobby of climbing mountains and taking photographs of his adventures, as he was astounded by the mountains’ natural beauty. In fact, every summer between 1965 and 1981, Amory led various mountaineering trips to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and contributed to the book “At Home in the Wild: New England’s White Mountains” by submitting several of his photographs of the mountains.
Working With the Friends of the Earth
In the early 1970s, Amory established connections with David Brower, the president of the non-governmental organization “Friends of the Earth.” Aside from being friends, Amory and David also shared the same ideals, resulting in Amory becoming a representative for the organization. In 1971, Amory contributed an article to the book “Eryri, the Mountains of Longing,” in which he shared the story of the endangered Snowdonia National Park. Amory spent the next decade working with “Friends of the Earth” as both a conservation activist and representative.
Response to the Energy Crisis
Around this time, Amory also became more interested in resource policies, particularly energy policy. In 1973, a devastating energy crisis affected much of the developed world, especially Europe, and the infamous oil embargo caused oil prices to skyrocket. Seeing it as an opportunity to encourage people to take energy more seriously, Amory started to promote his views by writing articles and essays. Having done in-depth research on energy policies for quite some time, Amory began to establish himself as a leading expert in the field, so much that a United Nations paper regarding energy policies was converted into a book entitled “World Energy Strategies” and released that same year.
The release of Amory’s first book captured the public’s attention, and he soon became somewhat of a celebrity. Using the opportunity granted by the chaos which followed the oil crisis, Amory continued to promote his energy studies, following up on his first book with several books and articles in the next five years: “Non-Nuclear Features: The Case for an Ethical Energy Strategy” (co-written with John Price), released in 1975, and “Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken?,” a 10,000-word essay published in Foreign Affairs Magazine in 1976, which led to the writing of “Soft Energy Paths: Toward a Durable Peace,” released in 1977.
One of the things Amory focused on was the promotion of energy efficiency over finding alternative energy sources:
“As we discover that energy efficiency is the cheapest, fastest and safest way to provide the energy services we want, those who pursue it will succeed so conspicuously that everyone else will be forced by competitive pressure to follow suit. We will also find that there are valuable side-benefits. As we discover that energy efficiency is the cheapest, fastest and safest way to provide the energy services we want, those who pursue it will succeed so conspicuously that everyone else will be forced by competitive pressure to follow suit. We will also find that there are valuable side-benefits.”
Establishing the “Rocky Mountain Institute”
Not long after he first came to international attention with his books, Amory became one of the world’s leading experts in the field of energy research, and by 1978 he was already working with fifteen countries regarding their energy affairs, and had also been called to consult in numerous agencies. Amory also had his schedule filled with speaking engagements in various countries, with the audiences eagerly wanting to know more about how to address the energy concerns in their communities.
After getting married and settling in the United States, Amory and his wife, Hunter, established the “Rocky Mountain Institute” in Colorado, an organization aimed at researching better and more efficient ways of utilizing energy resources. Along with a few devoted colleagues, Amory and Helen led the Rocky Mountain Institute to a kind of growth they had never even imagined.
Since its establishment, the Rocky Mountain Institute has grown to become one of the largest energy research institutes in the United States, housing more than 85 staff members and earning around thirteen million dollars per year. Through Amory’s systematic and passionate leadership, RMI has led to the founding of five for-profit companies which also focus on energy efficiency and resource sustainability.
Amory’s work with RMI has earned him numerous accolades, including the “1983 Right Livelihood Award” (which he shared with his wife, Hunter) and the “1989 Delphi Prize” from the Onassis Foundation, which was given to Amory for his “essential contribution towards finding alternative solutions to energy problems.”
Fortune 500 Clients
Since then, things have only gone up for Amory. Since he started working for energy efficiency and resource sustainability, he has had the privilege of meeting with more than twenty Heads of State to share his research and ideas of how to better make use of energy resources. Aside from his connections with many government sectors, Amory has also made contacts with the private sector, having a list of clients that are on the “Fortune 500” list.
Publishing “Reinventing Fire”
Since he started his work on energy research, Amory has always favored energy efficiency over alternative energy sources because he believes that utilizing energy efficiently will not only save more energy for future use, but will also help preserve the environment and improve the economy:
“Energy efficiency is more important than alternative sources, is much cheaper, and is a prerequisite to any sort of alternative supply making sense and making money. Few people realise how much efficiency is available: there’s enough in the US to save half the oil and gas and three-quarters of the electricity at respectively 1/3, 1/4, and 1/8 of their price. “
In 2011, Amory wrote and published his book, “Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era” wherein he discussed how the United States should rely mostly on renewable energy sources rather than continue to invest in non-renewable resources such as coal, oil and nuclear power.
When asked about the name of his book, he said:
“Fire made us human, fossil fuels made us modern and we now need a new fire that makes us secure, safe and durable. The old fire of fossil fuels has served us very well and created our wealth and enriched the lives of billions. It also has costs to our economy, health, environment and security that are starting to erode the prosperity and security it created, so it's time for a new fire. Because this is the biggest infrastructure change perhaps in the history of our species, we wanted to give it a suitably expansive title.”
“Soft Energy Paths” and “Hypercar”
Amory has been responsible for several scientific breakthroughs as a result of his years of research on how to make energy utilization more efficient. Among these are “Soft Energy Paths” (a concept of using renewable energy resources such as solar power, wind power and biofuels), the discovery of nuclear power limitations, the famous “Negawatt” revolution (a concept wherein the kilowatt-hours of electrical energy are lowered), and the “Hypercar,” an ultra-light vehicle which features excellent speed and fuel consumption compared to conventional cars.
Today, Amory not only champions the campaign for energy efficiency and resource sustainability, but also reaches out to younger generations by lending his time as a visiting professor to universities such as the University of British Columbia, University of Oklahoma, University of Colorado, Dartmouth College, the University of St. Gallen, Peking University and Stanford University. Amory believes that the next generation holds the keys to our planet’s future, and as such puts heavy emphasis on educating them.
Marrying Judy Hill Lovins
Although Amory experienced some troubles in his personal life due to divorcing his wife, Hunter, in 1999, he eventually got back up and found a second chance when he met his current wife, Judy Hill, a landscape photographer and Fine Arts graduate. They got married in 2007, and since then Judy has helped her husband in all his endeavors.
Amory continues his campaign to improve energy efficiency by doing what he can: researching, and sharing his knowledge with the world. And while Amory knows it will take quite some time until the world chooses renewable energy resources entirely over conventional ones, he never loses hope that people will begin to see energy efficiency as a very important factor in our everyday lives:
“When you design out waste and pollution, you turn them into profit. Also, anyone who runs a green company will tell you its biggest value is that it is better able to attract, retain and motivate the most talented people. I’m puzzled by the notion that protecting the climate should be bad for the economy. Aside from the already serious—and, in the future, disastrous—economic cost of climate change, it is simply so much cheaper to save fuel than to buy it; thus climate protection is not costly but highly profitable.”
Organizations and Programs Supported
- The Rocky Mountain Institute
- Friends of the Earth
- United Nations
- Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
- National Solutions Council
- Going Green Today Campaign
Awards and Achievements
- 1982: Won the “Mitchell Prize” (along with L. Hunter Lovins)
- 1983: Received the “Right Livelihood Award”
- 1984: Conferred Fellowship by the American Association for the Advancement of Science
- 1988: Conferred Fellowship by the World Academy of Art and Science
- 1993: Received the “Nissan Prize”
- 1998: Received the “Heinz Award in the Environment”
- 1999: Received the “World Technology Award,” the “Happold Medal” and the “Benjamin Franklin Medal”
- 2000: Received the “Heroes for the Planet Award”
- 2001: Conferred Fellowship by the World Business Academy
- 2007: Won the “Blue Planet Prize,” the “Volvo Prize,” the “Hero of the Environment Award” and the “Breakthrough Leadership Award” from Popular Mechanics
- 2007: Conferred Memberships by the American Institute of Architects and the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences
- 2007: Conferred Honorary Fellowship by the Design Futures Council
- 2008: Included in “America’s 24 Best Leaders” by U.S. News & World Report and received the “Aspen Institute/National Geographic Energy and Environment Award for Individual Thought and Leadership”
- 2009: Included in the “100 Most Influential People in the World” by TIME Magazine
- 2009: Received the “National Design Award,” conferred Fellowship by the Ashoka Foundation and included in the “100 Top Global Thinkers” by Foreign Policy Magazine
- Received the “Lindbergh Award”
- Received the “Jean Meyer Award”
- Won the “Delphi Prize” from the Onassis Foundation
- 2008: Honorary Doctorate from Colby College, U.S.A.
- 2013: Honorary Doctorate from the California College of the Arts, U.S.A.
- Honorary Doctorate from Duke University, U.S.A.
- Eight additional Honorary Doctorates from universities in the United Kingdom and the United States