Dec 15, 2015

GREEN$...G.E. Ecomagination campaign has made $200 billion, and is driving the future of the company.

In 2005, when GE's CEO Jeff Immelt announced that the industrial giant was putting significant resources into a program called Ecomagination, designed to emphasize energy efficiency and ecologically friendly products, you wouldn't have been wrong in scoffing. GE was considered one of the most notorious polluters in American corporate history, infamous for ruining large sections of the Hudson River with run-off from its factories. And a decade ago, revamping an enormous business in the quest to produce less carbon wasn't a mainstream proposition. At best, you might have said Ecomagination was a PR ploy, designed to gloss over GE's environmental record and continuing production of industrial machinery.

Ten years later, Ecomagination has proved the skeptics wrong. It has become the lynch pin of a remarkably successful reinvention of GE, the foundation of the company's future, and the vanguard of the global movement towards corporate environmentalism. It's a slogan that seems perfect for a moment when corporate customers are investing heavily in the products the program is building, when governments seem to be on the verge of major environmental agreements that will funnel government dollars toward clean energy, and when the idea that businesses can do good for the planet has been widely accepted. GE expects that corporate purchases of eco-friendly machinery will drive enormous changes over the next five years. It predicts that fuel cell installations will grow by 400%, that two-thirds of all new electric power added to the grid will be from renewables, that shipments of LEDs will quadruple, that global transportation will become 10% more efficient, and that one in every four new jobs in the energy sector will be focused on clean technology. To be an environmental leader at a moment like this seems like a significant business edge.

But the program—which GE says has generated over $200 billion in sales, while also serving as the spur for cutting its own water usage and greenhouse gas emissions by 42% and 31%—didn't succeed because of great slogans or radical new ideas. It succeeded because of the painstaking way GE delivered on some of the most basic tenets of business management. Ecomagination is a great reminder of the fact that innovation means nothing without consistent, thorough execution.

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