GE ecomagination at 5: Unleashing action and measurement

General Electric

When we launched ecomagination in 2005, we had only a glimmer of what it would become for GE. Five years later, it’s both exciting and humbling to see what our employees, customers and partners have done to make ecomagination the innovation engine it is today. And as you can see in our new ecomagination Annual Report — which we’ve issued today to mark its fifth anniversary — we’re planning to double down and commit to even more R&D and new technologies in the next five years.

 

High five!: The full annual report is available online by clicking here. Overall, in the first 5 years, GE invested $5 billion in clean-tech R&D and generated $70 billion in ecomagination revenues.

Our rallying cry over the last five years has been the simple mantra that “green is green” — that clean solutions can and should drive profitability and growth while being better for the planet. At the same time, a global race has kicked into high gear in the areas of clean technology and energy efficiency. This space has emerged as a major investment sector for venture capital. Renewables such as wind have taken root at breakneck speed — with more efficient solar almost within grasp. And governments are making efficiency pledges and investing in clean-tech in the hopes of gaining global talent and creating jobs. So what have we learned as ecomagination turns five?

Our biggest lesson is that vision has to be inextricably fused with measurement. Businesses can drive change, but only if big goals are set and then the progress toward them is rigorously defined and measured. Of course, revenues are an important measurement because they confirm that our offerings resonate with customers enough so that they’ll pay for them. But if you just count your revenues, you can miss this fundamental point: the clean-tech race is about raising the bar of technological performance in an economically sustainable way. And setting standards focuses and galvanizes action.

With ecomagination, a critically important innovation is the rich “scorecard” process we developed to track the performance of our R&D, products, services, and solutions on a number of levels. This process is flexible enough to cover incredibly diverse industries, since ecomagination creates, compares, measures and launches products as small as a light bulb or as big as a jet engine.

 

Click the data visualization to enlarge it.

Ecomagination has been strengthened by input from a variety of partners. In its early months, we looked more to partner within GE, matching internal capabilities across our businesses. But we soon came to realize the power of external partnerships. When you’re teamed with a partner who shares a common vision and commitment and complementary capabilities, a new kind of energy is created. That partner can be an NGO advisor — such as World Resources Institute or Pew Center on Global Climate Change — who have pushed us to stretch more, as they did with our own greenhouse gas emissions goals. (We started with an absolute reduction goal of 1 percent and in 2009 we ended up with a reduction of 22 percent). Or we have partners such as GreenOrder, which helps us validate our offerings on multiple levels of performance, helping ensure that the effort is credible, valuable, and stands up to scrutiny by others. Then there’s the venture capital role we are playing by investing in and working with tech start-ups.

 

Beth Comstock

With ecomagination, we’ve learned that sustainability is as much a change-management challenge as it is a business or scientific challenge. It’s a journey to get the right players involved and invested in moving forward. Today, teams of GE employees scour our manufacturing and other processes to make them more efficient – and these energy efficiency “hunts” have saved GE over $130 million dollars. Today, GE technologists are partnering with clean-tech start-ups to further accelerate new technologies, as can be seen in our advanced battery work with A123 Systems and our thin film solar R&D with PrimeStar Solar Inc. And today, global governments, from the cities of Portland and Rotterdam to the National Development and Reform Commission in China, are working with GE to put clean-tech to work in their communities.

Change happens when others see opportunity — and change their behavior, join in and make it their own. Ecomagination’s mantra is no longer just GE’s. And that’s just fine with us.

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