Sustainability Superhero: RMI CEO Jon Creyts

This building industry change maker understands how to implement deep decarbonization solutions and catalyze market transformation.

A mechanical engineer by training, with a PhD in circular economy from the University of California, Berkeley, Jon Creyts has been feverishly working on climate solutions for decades. Creyts began his illustrious career at Lockheed Martin’s renowned Skunk Works aircraft prototyping facility. He then went to McKinsey & Co., where he realized in his early days that economics were intricately linked to energy transformation and climate change.

Superhero - Rocky Mountain Institute Innovation 300

RMI’s Innovation Center, a “living lab” on how to design, construct, and occupy an ultra-efficient commercial structure—is Jon Creyts’ home base as he helps guide the nonprofit toward its goal of “transforming the global energy system to secure a clean, prosperous, zero-carbon future for all.”


In the early 2000s, he helped launch McKinsey’s sustainability consultancy, working with world leaders on global climate change issues. There, he led the team that crafted McKinsey’s pioneering cost curve for carbon abatement in the U.S., outlining how emissions reductions in buildings, transportation, industry, and power would lead to enhanced innovation and economic opportunity.

Creyts was an early and active advocate for a comprehensive set of climate solutions, including strong climate policy and energy efficiency standards, as well as the development of climate technological innovations and low-carbon energy infrastructure. He also promoted expedited approval and permitting of renewable energy projects and the creation of exchange mechanisms, such as carbon trading platforms, offsets, and tax credits.

On the bleeding edge of the market, Creyts already understood that solutions like biofuels, electric vehicles (EVs), and LEDs held the promise of at least a 20 percent reduction in carbon emissions, and that climate action has direct socio-economic, national security, and global economic implications.

Superhero - Jon and Alicia Creyts - Colorado Mtns Small 300

Despite regular travel and demanding hours, Creyts (shown here with his wife, Alicia) still makes family a priority—and vice versa. “My family knows that I have a mission,” he says. “And they know that I like to work because I’m passionate about where we’re going.”


Rocky Mountain Bound

In 2012, Creyts joined RMI (formerly the Rocky Mountain Institute), managing the organization’s global research and collaboration strategy, ultimately assuming the position of CEO. Under his leadership, RMI has grown by 1,000 percent, working with businesses, communities, and governments to accelerate and scale market-based clean energy and zero-carbon solutions.

Creyts’ blend of finance policy, data and technology experience has played an essential role in guiding the development of decarbonization solutions for industry, transportation, buildings and infrastructure. 

During his tenure at RMI, Creyts founded RMI’s China Program, working on technical and economic solutions in China to peak CO2 emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. His leadership has positioned RMI to work with governments around the world to accelerate the adoption of market-based solutions that cost-effectively bring about a clean energy transition.

When he returned from China, he plunged into the solar plus storage sector, researching the drivers that would enable microgrids and distributed energy to reach price parity with fossil fuel infrastructure. 

Creyts also played a role in the creation of RMI’s e-Lab, designed to bring together stakeholders in the energy efficiency and electrification transition. He also founded RMI’s Third Derivative technology, which boasts a portfolio of nearly 200 startup technology companies supported by a network of investors and corporations, with a total market capitalization exceeding
$4 trillion.

Superhero - Jon Creyts - Nigeria Minigrid 300

Jon Creyts (center) has been involved with numerous RMI clean energy transition collaborations, such as one for the development of a solar mini-grid in Abuja, Nigeria, which has helped keep electricity available and affordable for residents.


Focus: Scaling Transformative Technology 

Today, Creyts is laser-focused on creating market catalysts that drive innovation and help scale transformative technology, advance policy, and expand sustainable finance. He is particularly interested in using big data to understand where emissions are happening in real time “so that we can make decisions and price carbon accordingly.”

He sees opportunity everywhere. “We’re in a moment of climate democratization,” Creyts insists. “We’re on the brink of being free from energy constraints.” 

While he is optimistic about the progress that is being made, he staunchly maintains that we’ll need “radical collaboration” to drive enough adoption to move markets at scale. “We are facing a planetary emergency and knocking on the door of a 1.5-degree Celsius temperature increase,” Creyts says. “There is no silver bullet solution, so we need to think in systems. We’re in a moment when we have to hold two realities—we’ve never been in a worse situation in terms of climate change, but we’ve never seen such progress relative to climate solutions.”

Creyts is encouraged by the exponential growth in technologies like solar, battery storage, EVs, heat pumps, and hydrogen. Some of the projects that Creyts is most excited about include:

  • Two- and three-wheel vehicle electrification throughout emerging markets.
  • Rapidly scaling solutions to create thermally comfortable, low-carbon 

Buildings.

  • Global approaches to accelerate decarbonization pathways in heavy industry.
  • Use of big data and AI to differentiate products on the basis of climate impact.
  • New techniques for developing the talent required for low- and middle-income  communities and countries to benefit equitably in the transition.

Economics is now the main driver for the adoption of innovative climate technology, and the numbers are penciling out, Creyts insists. “Countries and companies are moving faster than ever before, which is leading to exponential progress,” he says. “The electrification of buildings and transportation and the decarbonization of heavy industry is happening at scale—it’s becoming commoditized and affordable.”

But the thing that excites Creyts most is the fact that clean energy has never been better positioned to solve our climate challenge. At the same time that we are hitting negative tipping points in nature, we are hitting positive ones in markets, he says. 

“Renewables are now the cheapest form of new energy for about 85 percent of the people on the planet, including the 3.6 billion people who don’t have access to reliable, affordable energy today,” Creyts says. “This is amazing. We can solve climate and energy poverty together, making a much better world in the process. And we can do this more cheaply than trashing the planet.”

Of course, a specific key here is getting the financing assembled to build this better world. Creyts is especially excited about some of RMI’s work in catalytic capital, focused on providing the acupuncture needed for public and private capital to flow more easily. “Once we get markets more engaged, the pace of change will only accelerate,” he notes.

Developing Future Sustainability Leaders

Beyond market transformation, Creyts is immersed in developing the next generation of leaders to ensure an equitable transition. “I want to provide future leaders with a sense of hope,” he says. “Not just passive, blind hope, but active, muscular hope that highlights how we can build a better world together, now.”

He is a firm believer in applied hope. “It’s not enough to be passively hopeful about an outcome,” Creyts says. “We have to will the world that we hope for into existence.” 

His advice: be impatient and collaborative. “We need to move faster than we are, and we can,” he advises. “There is no reason to be incremental and slow in our thinking or
acting.” 

Sustainability Superhero Stats

Some of Jon Creyts’ career accomplishments include:

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