Art Rosenfeld, “Godfather of EE”, Friend of Alliance, Dies

To our community–The Alliance would not exist without the vision and support of Art Rosenfeld, who passed away last week. Barbara Finamore, Alliance President and Founder of NRDC’s China Program, offers this remembrance.

The Alliance is deeply saddened by the passing of Art Rosenfeld on January 27, 2017 at the age of 90. The New York Times wrote a touching tribute to him and his unsurpassed legacy as the Godfather of Energy Efficiency.

But the Times failed to note what an enormous impact he had around the world, particularly in China. Art was a strong supporter of the Alliance from the very start.  He proudly served on our Leadership Council. He traveled to China several times with the Alliance to share his expertise.

Art was absolutely pivotal in bringing energy efficiency to China.  Indeed, when former Secretary of Energy Steven Chu gave his first presentation on energy efficiency in China a few years later, most of his slides came from Art! One in particular is quite famous. Art calculated how much power could be saved by energy efficiency in China compared with what would be produced by the Three Gorges Dam. It was nearly identical! Art’s work helped show that energy efficiency was an enormous resource to be harnessed, rather than a burden. He really brought the idea home to people in China.

Yet Art was humble enough to engage and absorb outside ideas and suggestions from China on energy efficiency. On one of his trips to China, when I went to pick him up outside his hotel room, he noted that all the hotel rooms had automatic on/off switches that required key cards to operate. So if you left the room, the lights would turn off. Art remarked he was going to have to get this adopted in California. He was on the California Energy Commission at the time. And he did!

So now when you check in to an American hotel and insert your key to keep the lights on, that is Art’s handiwork in bringing Chinese ingenuity to the United States. Energy efficiency is always a two-way street and we can always learn from one another. Art never forgot that.

I also greatly appreciated that, when we would bring high-level American delegations to China, they would sometimes stay in fancy hotels in Beijing.  But Art would always stay with the NRDC staff in lower-priced hotels. He said, “What was good enough for NRDC was good enough for me”.

A couple of years ago, when Fran Schulberg, former Alliance Executive Director, and I went to visit Art at his home, he was very frail and wheelchair bound. We had to wait for him to finish his regular call with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. He was full of ideas and insights until the very end – a tireless champion for a cleaner Earth.

Art Rosenfeld was a giant, representing the very best of science and humanity.  And he changed all our lives for the better.