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Rocky Mountain Institute goes mainstream

SNOWMASS The rallying cry at Rocky Mountain Institute these days is carpe diem.For most of its 25 years, the nonprofit organization in Snowmass has plugged away as sort of a fanatical fringe group preaching a gospel of energy efficiency and independence from oil.Now the causes it’s worked so hard to promote have gone mainstream as global warming and alternative fuel sources seep into world consciousness. “It’s kind of fun to ride the wave for a change,” said RMI executive director Marty Pickett.It’s also challenging. RMI must find ways to remain a cutting edge leader on its core issues, now that so many other organizations are flocking to the causes, Pickett said. RMI faces those challenges as it celebrates its 25th anniversary. Events will take place in Basalt and Aspen in August to mark the milestone.The organization hired a new chief executive officer, Michael Potts, in March to lead it into an expanded role. That allows co-founder and former CEO Amory Lovins to concentrate on his role as chief scientist.Potts was sought, Pickett said, because of his ability to help focus organizations on where they need to go. Potts was traveling overseas and unavailable for comment.

RMI’s core mission remains the same. It touts itself as a “think-and-do tank” that works in multiple ways with individuals and organizations “to help them use energy and resources more efficiently while being ever-better stewards of the environment.”Maintaining a leadership role will require financial and staffing growth, Pickett said. RMI’s operating budget has jumped from just under $2 million in 1998 to a projected $10 million for its coming fiscal year, which starts July 1.The organization is beefing up to meet demands. Its board of trustees was expanded from 13 to 17 at the board’s April meeting. It typically has around 75 full-time employees, including 14 fellows and interns, and plans to add another dozen. At any given time, there are between one and five part-time employees and between one and five volunteers.About 60 percent of the employees are at RMI’s Boulder office. The remainder work at the old Windstar campus in the Snowmass Creek Valley.RMI faces persistent whisperings that it is in tough financial shape. Pickett said that arose when some neighbors objected to its relocating to Windstar and expanding there. She said the rumors couldn’t be further from the truth.Potts brought in a new financial director, someone he previously worked with, when he took the helm. Pickett said that signified nothing more than the new CEO assembling a team he wanted.As for the organization’s overall financial health, Pickett noted it sold a subsidiary in 1999 for $15 million. After investing funds in various ways, including some affordable housing for staff, it has nearly $5 million remaining in that account. Another account, with about $2 million, is available for restricted uses.”As you can see, we’re far from being insolvent,” Pickett said.The organization’s Form 990, filed with the federal Internal Revenue Service, also reflects a healthy financial picture. The latest public form available online was filed by RMI in February 2005, reflecting the fiscal year from July 1, 2003 to June 30, 2004. Pickett said a report was filed for the 2004-05 fiscal year, but she couldn’t explain why it wasn’t available to the public. She noted the organization posts is annual reports, including financial reports, on its website.The latest Form 990 showed RMI had total revenues for fiscal 2004 of $5.97 million. Consulting for businesses and organizations and other programs produced $2.57 million revenues, the form showed. Direct public support – through contributions, grants, endowments and other methods – totaled $3.18 million.RMI’s total expenses were $5.95 million for that fiscal year. It spent $4.37 million to provide program services in that fiscal year and just shy of another $1 million on management and general expenses. Fundraising for that fiscal year cost it $588,237.The organization was in the black by $27,500 for the 2003-04 fiscal year. And its net assets and fund balances at the end of that period were $7.11 million.The annual report on RMI’s website notes that increasing the staff “is a cash-intensive effort.” And that investment won’t immediately pay off with increased revenues. Therefore, the organization has tapped its line of credit to overcome cash flow issues.Pickett said using the line of credit was possibly misconstrued by some observers as a sign of financial trouble.Although it is expanding its staff, RMI’s work is focused in three areas. One is the Built Environment team. It works on energy efficient building and design with clients such as national housing developers.The breakthrough design team focuses on transportation initiatives. In an exciting new project, Pickett said RMI has formed a consortium with two major investors and “two tier one automotive suppliers to design a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.”The energy and resources team focuses on working with utility companies. Pickett said the prospect of taking on more work in those areas is both exciting and overwhelming. The organization is already short-staffed and everyone is “working flat out,” she said.But, as the cliché says, being too busy is better than the alternative. “It’s a good challenge to have,” she said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com. Specific information on the teams and examples of their work can be found at http://www.rmi.org.


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