GE, the 'Industrial Internet' and radical efficiency

Neither was “ecomagination,” once a prime focus of the company. Despite the star power GE brought to the event — in addition to Immelt, there were at least three other GE corporate officers present — Mark Vachon, who heads ecomagination at GE, wasn’t there, nor were any of his lieutenants.

Perhaps this had to do with Immelt’s apparent souring on green messaging, based on Reuters’ report of comments the CEO made last year:

"If I had one thing to do over again I would not have talked so much about green," Immelt said at an event sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Even though I believe in global warming and I believe in the science ... it just took on a connotation that was too elitist; it was too precious and it let opponents think that if you had a green initiative, you didn't care about jobs. I'm a businessman. That's all I care about, is jobs."

So, is ecomagination over?

I asked Beth Comstock, GE’s chief marketing officer, about ecomagination’s absence at the San Francisco event. “It wasn’t intentional,” she responded. She went on to describe a variety of initiatives done under the ecomagination banner — a greener mining business unit and a battery storage play, for example, both launched in 2012 — explaining that “ecomagination is not a special campaign, it’s just the way we work.”

Perhaps. But at one time it was a special campaign. In searching press releases on GE’s corporate website as well as its ecomagination site, it appears that ecomagination has become a secondary messaging platform at best. Internally, it’s a program GE uses to validate environmental metrics (via third-party verification) in order to establish solid underpinnings for its marketing claims. Externally, the brand seems to have lost juice within the company.

Maybe that’s just as well. Given that “green” and “clean” (and “eco”) have become politically problematic language in some circles — at least within the United States — it may be wise for Immelt and his team to quash the sustainability talk. (It’ll be interesting to see if the messaging for the Industrial Internet is different outside the U.S.)

Indeed, it was significant, albeit not surprising, that Immelt — the first to take the stage at the San Francisco event — mentioned the word “revenue” within the first 20 seconds of his presentation. GE’s newest marketing message is all business: productivity, innovation, revenue growth, and a world-class opportunity.

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