The Energy Efficiency Resource

The biggest energy source you’ve never heard of


In a trailer for his video series, “Solving for Zero,” Bill Gates says of climate change, “it is the biggest challenge that mankind has ever taken on.” He goes on to say, “Innovation is the primary answer.”[1] Coming from the founder of one of, if not the most powerful and influential software companies in history this assessment is both unsurprising and hard to argue against. Indeed technology, has found a sacred place in the business, cultural, and environmental zeitgeist and its most influential proponents enjoy a messianic following. However, while the view that innovation is the answer has enormous appeal and certainly some merit, it tragically overlooks the greatest resource at our disposal to arrest climate change and other environmental challenges: the energy efficiency resource.[2]


Amory Lovins, physicist, and cofounder of the nonprofit RMI[3] (formerly known as Rocky Mountain Institute), which has been a thought and action leader in the energy transition for decades, observes that the energy we have not used, thanks to efficiency gains, new designs, structural and behavioral changes etc. is the world’s biggest energy “source.” In fact, according to Lovins, from 2010 to 2016 the world’s saved energy avoided three times the amount of carbon emissions as all the growth in renewable and nuclear output combined.[4] This is not an easily accessible concept because as Lovins points out, unlike wind turbines, solar panels or carbon capture systems, energy is invisible, and the energy we don’t use is almost unimaginable.


Nonetheless it is the world’s most readily available non-emitting resource and can be accessed today at large scale, not with “more or fancier widgets,” but by “artfully choosing, combining, sequencing, and timing fewer and simpler widgets”[5] and it can be done while reducing both operating and capital costs.


Some examples may help illustrate the point:

1) In 1997, engineers designing a carpet manufacturing facility in Singapore used “short, fat and straight pipes” not skinny long pipes with lots of right angles that dominated most manufacturing facilities at the time. They also maximized the pipe layout before situating the equipment instead of the reverse, which historically was the convention. By decreasing friction and distance the engineers reduced the energy needed for pumping heating oil around the plant by nearly 90% and lowered capital costs, since smaller higher quality pumps could now be used.[6]

2) Amory Lovins’ home, built in 1983 in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, is “superinsulated” and has “super windows” that allow visible light in while reflecting heat. The sandstone walls were built using decades-old masonry techniques that allowed for additional insulation. Despite spending what most people would regard as an extreme amount for these and many other energy efficient features, the cost per square foot of the home was average because the design obviated the need for a conventional HVAC system, a furnace, and other conventional capital-intensive components. To prove the point, with only passive heating Lovins has grown and harvested over 80 banana crops in his sunroom.[7]


Amory Lovins’ home, where he has successfully cultivated over 80 banana crops

with no conventional heating or cooling in the heart of the Rocky Mountains


3) A major retrofit in 2010 at the Empire State Building (built 1930-31) did not simply work around the edges; an integrated approach was taken whereby “super windows” were manufactured on site to replace the building’s 6,514 windows. This, along with many other improvements, reduced peak cooling loads to the point where the old chillers in the building did not need to be replaced and expanded but could be renovated and reduced. The associated savings totaled around $17M in capital costs, largely offsetting the $23M of retrofit costs. In addition, energy use was cut by 40% and annual savings of $4M were realized.[8]


The profound impact that radically simple design efficiencies could have if implemented widely is hard to overstate: an estimated 30% of global electricity is consumed by industrial electric motor driven systems (EMDS), of which pumps like those described above are a significant part, and around 30% of total global energy consumption comes from residential and non-residential buildings like Amory Lovins’ residence and the Empire State Building respectively. Unfortunately, as Lovins notes, these step-function improvements in energy efficiency do not get the attention and resources they deserve because they are predicated on a design, not on a technology.


Autodesk: The Toolkit to Realize the Energy Efficiency Resource


Autodesk is the global leader in computer-aided design (CAD) software and is far from a newcomer to the world of sustainability. The company was an early leader in environmental disclosure and performance and has long partnered with leaders in the field like RMI on developing efficient design principles.

Autodesk’s software enables architects, engineers, and builders to create digital designs, plans, and simulations, most notably for the built environment but also for products and machines. Critically, Autodesk’s software covers the full life cycle of a built asset from planning to construction to operations.


Autodesk is the industry leader in Building Information Modelling (BIM), a category of design software used to “gather and link data relating to the design, construction and operation of a building to produce a comprehensive 3D model.” Autodesk’s two key BIM products, Revit and BIM 360, enable advanced 3D digital modelling and critically allow for owners, architects, engineers, contractors, sub-contractors, etc. to see up-to-date information and documentation. In addition, changes can be reflected in real-time thereby enhancing efficiencies across a project lifecycle, reducing costs, and limiting environmental impact. BIM allows for the integrated design features discussed in the examples above to come to life so that efficiency and sustainability are incorporated in a holistic way from the earliest designs to procurement of materials to asset operations, as opposed to having sustainability elements remain in their own silo or relegated to an afterthought. Indeed, BIM users, particularly high-level users, report an increased ability to consider and incorporate environmental impact during design, and specifically to drive lower emissions and reduce material usage in their projects.


There are several governments (UK, Norway, Denmark, etc.) that have mandated BIM models for public projects, and we expect that number to grow, and while BIM penetration has increased dramatically in many developed markets, adoption is still in the relatively early stages and is in its infancy in emerging markets. We believe the BIM market can grow in the mid to high teens for the next several years. We estimate that a little less than half of Autodesk’s revenue is exposed to BIM and we expect the company to be able to outgrow the market. Therefore, BIM proliferation should be a significant secular driver of Autodesk’s growth going forward.


Autodesk has attractive financial characteristics as well in no small part because of its unique ability to facilitate building efficiency and its software as a service (SAAS) business model that is deeply integrated into its customers’ works.


We believe businesses that are impactful environmental leaders with demonstrated environmental and financial performance will be well positioned over the long term.  Autodesk will be an important enabler of the energy and environmental transition that we expect to accelerate in the coming years. As this occurs shareholders, the designers and builders that use its products and the communities they impact, stand to benefit.

We welcome your thoughts, comments, and questions which you can send to


[1] Gates, Bill. “Meet the future in this online series about climate change.” April 15, 2022.”

[2] Lovins, Amory. “How Big is the Energy Efficiency Resource?” Environmental Research Letters, vol. 13, no.2, September 18, 2018.

[3] Full disclosure, our partner Lionel Bony worked at RMI for seven years and was involved in many of the examples and work cited here.

[4] Lovins, Amory. “Keynote: Disruptive Energy Futures” [Video]. YouTube. March 10, 2021.

[5] Ibid (Reference 2).

[6] Chan-Lizardo, K., Lindsey, D., Pradhan, A., Elliot, H., Carey, J., Big Pipes, Small Pumps: Interface, Inc. Factor Ten Engineering Case Study. Rocky Mountain Institute, Feb. 2011.

[7] “Amory’s Private Residence”, Accessed 27 July, 2022.

[8] Lovins, Amory. Integrative Design: Amory Lovins at Autodesk University [Video]. YouTube. March 30, 2010.


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