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VSA’s Jeff Walker Uses His Ecomagination

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So all this talk about sustainability here at Compostmodern is great, but what about those evil gigantor corporations that Alex Steffen showed slides of in his presentation? You know, like, say, um…General Electric? VSA Partners’ Jeff Walker (who we are not related to, but did share a cab with last night) was charged with greening GE using a program called Ecomagination. Don’t roll your eyes quite yet.

Walker says that VSA has actually been working for GE for a long time (along with lots of other big brands) and the difference between GE’s strides and their other clients are that GE sees green as a business proposition. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. GE’s decision to greenify came after the corporate disasters like Enron and after the company’s leadership shifted from Jack Welch to Jeff Immelt. It was also part of their moving towards a more creative core mission (and we say, a design-centric one) that went all the way back GE’s founder, Thomas Edison: invention, innovation, and imagination.


Armed with a dedication to transparency–we keep hearing that word here–they set their three-year goals: Double R&D, Increase Revenues (they’d have to add a company the size of Nike every year to do that), Walk the Talk, and Keep the Public Informed. They decided that trends facing humanity are the same ones that effect their company, and aligned their initiatives behind those. And they got started. But none of this would matter unless people knew GE was making those changes.

We can hear your BS meter turning on right about…now. But we think VSA succeeded. Obviously the decisions that VSA could make in GE’s actual design artifacts are small but notable–paper and production choices, for example–but what they were really able to excel at was using a mix of marketing, PR, ads, websites, etc. to tell the story with a truly unified vision that really blew GE’s visibility through the roof. But the key was authenticity. The message wasn’t preachy, it wasn’t depressing; it was entertaining, and folksy, and fun.

Okay, but again, what’s the measure for success? VSA says when they hear from people that they got the message in a simple and successful way, which they have. As for GE, they have new and increased lines of revenues just because of these decisions, and they’ve invested over $1 billion in new R&D that has already proved profitable. Plus, they’ve been recognized by environmental groups for their dedication. And GE was named most admired company by Fortune. And perhaps the ultimate level of success, the GE-owned NBC Universal show 30 Rock had a particularly clever plotline that skewered corporate greenwashing (with an appearance by Al Gore). “That would have never happened three years ago,” says Walker. See? Entertaining, folksy and fun. Check it out.

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