From Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications VOL. 3 NO. 2
Corporate Use of Environmental Marketplace Advocacy: A Case Study of GE's 'Ecomagination' Campaign
To further explore the use of marketplace advocacy in today's market, this research looked to General Electric's "Ecomagination" campaign as a case study. "Ecomagination" serves as an example of the effectiveness of a marketplace advocacy campaign to influence public opinion and policy surrounding environmental concerns.
Case Study: General Electric's "Ecomagination" Campaign
General Electric (GE) is a corporation that researches, develops and manufactures a variety of technologies for use in a wide-range of industries. These include the health care, transportation, city infrastructure, home construction, finance, entertainment, and power generation industries. The global corporation has over 300,000 employees and 3,000 facilities (GE, 2012). Since 2005, GE has been implementing the "Ecomagination" campaign to increase public awareness of the commitment GE has made to develop clean technology and sustainable infrastructure to solve environmental challenges while increasing financial gains (GE, 2012). The campaign takes the form of a companywide strategic business initiative to promote GE's environmentally friendly practices and products (Creamer, 2005). It is targeted at a vast audience including investors, consumers, corporate customers, lawmakers, and employees (Miller, 2012).
The campaign kicked off with eight-page inserts in four major newspapers, advertisements in magazines, TV commercials being aired during prime time and large amounts of news coverage. The company also conducted an internal communications effort featuring a children's magazine that explained "Ecomagination" to employees and their children. At the beginning of the campaign, GE estimated that it would double its revenue from environmentally friendly products to $20 billion in five years (Creamer, 2005).
Over the past seven years, GE has utilized various communications tactics as part of their "Ecomagination" campaign. These tactics include television commercials, a high-tech website, social media, news coverage, internal communication initiatives, and a print advertisement campaign. In 2006 alone, GE spent $150 million on advertising for the campaign (Miller, 2012). Advertisements range on topic but always showcase the innovative technologies GE has created to help solve environmental problems. One example of an advertisement is of a young boy catching the wind. This ad aired during the 2009 Super Bowl. The boy catches the wind in a jar and runs home to use the wind to blow out the candles of his grandfather's birthday cake. The voice over explains, "Capturing the wind and putting it to good use—Wind Energy from GE, the cleanest renewable energy on earth" (GE, 2012). This advertisement, promoting GE's wind turbine technology, gained widespread attention and was nominated for an Emmy.
To further increase consumer engagement, GE also created competitions and consumer interaction opportunities. The "Ecomagination Challenge" gave businesses, entrepreneurs, innovators, and students a chance to share their ideas on designing renewable energy technologies, grid efficiency technologies and environmentally friendly homes and buildings. GE partnered with four other organizations to award the winning entries with a total of $200 million to help fund their projects. The "Ecomagination Photo Project" encouraged the public to upload photos representing Light, Wind or Water to Flickr, a photo sharing website. For each photo that was uploaded, GE donated money to three different charities working in rural Peru. The final contribution provided 4.8 million gallons of clean water through fresh water wells, 17 million hours of light through solar powered lanterns and 45,000 kilowatt-hours of energy through wind turbines. One last engagement example is "Tag Your Green." This social media based campaign let users share ideas and show how they were being environmentally responsible in their daily lives. Customers could use YouTube, Flickr, Howcast or Foursquare to showcase environmental innovations in their area or create their own media advocating for a more sustainable future (GE, 2012).
In the political arena, GE's "Ecomagination" advisory board fully supports political changes to promote and require cleaner technology. The "Ecomagination: 2010 Annual Report" explains that it is necessary for GE to know that its investments are aligned with policy and supported by government (GE, 2010). To this end, Jeffrey Immelt, GE's CEO, has been active in helping to draft environmental government rules. In 2006, Immelt asked the U.S. government to limit carbon-dioxide emissions and has since recruited other CEOs to do the same (Kranhold, 2007). Government support and regulations would allow for GE to continue building clean, efficient technologies and increasing its revenue.
"Ecomagination" fits into marketplace advocacy not because of the large amount of planning and money spent on audience engagement, but because of the message and the integration of the campaign into the core business model. In the "Ecomagination 2010 Annual Report," GE specifically states that the campaign is a business strategy. The message of the strategy is that GE does not harm the environment when it brings good things to life (Creamer, 2005). This message and strategy have since been integrated into every aspect of the corporation. The integration starts with products. Every product that has qualified to be part of the "Ecomagination Portfolio" must significantly improve consumers' operating performance and environmental performance. GE has partnered with an organization called GreenOrder that ultimately decides if a product meets the necessary criteria (GE, 2010).
GE is also incorporating the eco-friendly practices into their own facilities and offices. Each GE division is encouraged to invent and restructure products to be more environmentally responsible and a team has been hired to oversee the campaign (Gwynne, 2010). The company doubled its investment in clean technology research and development, reduced its green house gas emissions and improved water reuse (GE, 2010). Employees are also responsible for holding to the set environmental standards. GE links its external communication efforts with its internal efforts to better penetrate the campaign goals. All efforts are supported and encouraged by Jeff Immelt, GE's CEO, who also participates in political efforts to take a stand for environmentally responsible efforts (Kranhold, 2007).
With its global reach and integrated components, "Ecomagination" fully meets the criteria to be considered marketplace advocacy. A careful look at the advertisements and communication efforts reveal that GE is not attempting to sell a specific product, but instead is promoting a general idea. The idea is centered on environmental responsibility and the opportunity for growth in the clean technology sector. GE has the ability to rise greatly in this arena and earn higher revenue if clients decide to invest in environmentally responsible products. By forming this positive image of both the corporation and innovative technologies, GE is impacting the public's opinion and altering the politics around clean energy. GE's lobbyists have already discussed with Congress about reviving the wind industry's tax incentives, standardizing rules for connecting solar panels to energy distribution systems and multiple other clean energy related policies (Fairley, 2004).
Marketplace advocacy campaigns are designed to protect a company's market by generating both public and political support. GE has met these criteria with its "Ecomagination" campaign by engaging with multiple stakeholders to convey the importance of clean technology. It has also strengthened relations with original supporters and shareholders by showing that innovation can lead to both better environmental practices and increased stock prices. GE earned more than $85 billion in "Ecomagination" product sales in its first five years of implementation (GE, 2010).
Often with marketplace advocacy campaigns, however, the company is attempting to reduce public calls for government intervention and regulation (Miller, 2012). GE is a huge corporation and emits a large amount of toxins from its facilities. In GE's first official greenhouse gas inventory, completed in 2004, the corporation estimated its yearly emissions at 11.26 million metric tons. This is equal to the yearly emissions from two million cars. The inventory, however, did not include GE's investments in power plants. GE continues to sell coal-fired steam turbines and seek opportunities with nonrenewable energy facilities (Kranhold, 2007). The corporation is investing in research and development to make these energy processes cleaner, yet some of the public have called out GE for not being transparent with its practices. A search on environmental news sites like TreeHugger and Grist brings up headlines like "Greenwash Watch: Slick Movies from GE Ecomagination" and "General Electric fights for change from the inside … of a coal industry front group!" GE has, however, cut its emissions to set an example of "Ecomagination," but for some, the campaign will not be considered trustworthy until the corporation stops supporting nonrenewable energy sources.
Another environmental issue that was brought up by critics and the press soon after the announcement of the "Ecomagination" campaign was that of GE's pollution catastrophe in the 1970s. One of GE's facilities located on New York's Hudson River had been discharging toxic polychlorinated biphenyls into the Hudson River for over a decade. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, GE battled with regulators and advocacy groups over whose responsibility it was to clean up the river. It was not until 2001 that the new CEO of GE agreed with the United Sates Environmental Protection Agency to develop a cleanup plan (Kranhold, 2007). Marketplace advocacy campaigns can work to overshadow issues like these and show the public all of the good the corporation is doing to avoid possible environmental devastations in the future.
"Ecomagination" as a whole has made great strides toward innovative technologies that help increase environmental responsibility. The corporation has seen much success surrounding the campaign. According to the "Ecomagination: 2010 Annual Report," GE generated more than $85 billion in revenue from "Ecomagination" services since the launch of the campaign. In 2010, there were 22 new products introduced that met the necessary criteria to be considered an "Ecomagination product." These products provide value to investors because of their increased value proposition and environmental performance. The report states that GE has exceeded every "Ecomagination" goal originally set including $5 billion dedicated to clean-tech research and development, a 22% reduction in facilities' greenhouse gas emissions, a 30 percent reduction in facilities' water use, and $130 million in energy efficiency savings (GE, 2010).
GE itself does not claim any heritage to environmental responsibility. The campaign instead talks to the future opportunities of clean technologies. It highlights the positives of the technologies, but does not make false claims about the corporation's sales or investments (Garfield, 2005). Nevertheless, "Ecomagination" serves its marketplace advocacy purpose of showcasing the opportunities GE has to offer to this innovative field while impacting the public's opinions and the political environment surrounding GE's industry developments and financial goals.Continued on Next Page »