General Electric: ‘We overcame our sceptics with Ecomagination’

Deb Frodl, global executive director of Ecomagination at General Electric

General Electric (GE) has come a long way since it famously polluted the Hudson River with toxic chemicals between the 1940s and 1970s. When it launched its Ecomagination strategy in 2005 to focus on cleaner technology innovation, environmentalists were dubious about whether GE would pull it off.

“There were some sceptics around when we launched Ecomagination both internally and externally but now we have really overcome that,” says Deb Frodl, global executive director of Ecomagination at GE. “The proof is in our results and the positive impact that we've had with our customers in reducing our own footprint.”

The 130-year-old technology company invested $15 billion in cleaner technology research with the commitment to reduce the company’s footprint in greenhouse gas emissions. Frodl says she is really proud that GE has now gained back $232 billion dollars in revenue, saying it’s real proof that customers really value the technology of Ecomagination.

“[We heard a lot of] ‘customers are not going to like Ecomagination’, it's all about the 'green movement', and that's not really what it was. We had to work hard on innovation and bringing costs down. It wasn't just about renewables. We were going across the GE portfolio in trying to make things efficient and reduce emissions. I think we have overcome many of those barriers.”

And the results are showing. GE has lowered its energy intensity, GHG emissions and fresh water use by more than 30 per cent between 2005 and 2014. The Drum recognized GE among its top “B2B Sustainable Brands of the Year.” This award recognition, as well as a new study about sustainability’s growing role in the business, was created in conjunction with leading global B2B agency Gyro.

Commenting on GE’s complete turnaround, Kate Howe, managing director at Gyro, says much of this can be attributed to strong leadership.

“Companies like HP, Veolia, and GE with its Ecomagination program, have reinvented their entire business model to drive the circular economy. These companies have very strong leadership from the top of the organisation. Where you've got a very well connected CEO and a corporate responsibility team, you see this coming through and becoming very impactful on the organisation’s success.”

Frodl attributes much of GE’s environmental success to its top-down and also bottom-up approach, something that has also steered it towards gaining a strong competitive advantage in the market.

The Drum partnered with Gyro to examine whether marketers see sustainability as a competitive advantage. The research found that 41% of marketers think investing in sustainability will put them in a strong position in the market over the next five years.

“I think it’s absolutely an imperative for companies to have the CEO as their champion and the voice for the company around strategies. When you have commitments, it mobilises all the stakeholders. I think that's a real testament to some of our success,” says Frodl.

The full report, “The Drum Market Insight Report: Sustainability in B2B Marketing,” will be available to download soon. The winner of ‘Sustainable B2B Brand of the Year’ was announced at The Marketing Can Change the World Awards, part of Do It Day, on Thursday, 10 November 2016.

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