In another well-known example of continuous attention, Dow slashed the energy intensity of its processes by more than 38 percent between 1990 and 2005, boosting not just efficiency but profits. The chemical company calculates that it saved $9.4 billion between 1994 and 2010 through energy-efficiency investments costing $1 billion. Dow enhanced its crucial cost advantage over less efficient competitors when energy prices spiked in 2008. In fact, energy efficiency has proved to be such a good business strategy for Dow that the company is hungry for more. It now aims for a further 25 percent reduction in energy intensity by 2015. And in February 2011 executives announced an investment of $100 million in scores of new efficiency efforts. The projects that the company will fund "offer exceptional financial returns," explained Doug May, then Dow's vice president for energy and climate change.
Can U.S. industry survive, thrive and help drive the transition to a new energy era? History says it is possible. Over the past 40 years the U.S. industry has cut the amount of energy per unit of output in half, scrubbed its stacks to reduce acid rain, nearly eliminated many poisonous discharges into the water and clamped down on profligate flaring of "waste" gases. It has lost some high labor-intensity work to other countries, partly as a transition toward a service economy. But as its energy intensity shrinks and innovation adoption grows, U.S. industry can indeed compete successfully in the world and drive a multitude of benefits for America at the same time.
Adapted from Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era by Amory Lovins et al., by arrangement with the Rocky Mountain Institute. Copyright © 2012 by RMI.