Ben Waters

By Tina Perinotto

5 April 2013 – Well GE certainly has some fans. And some strong opinions…which is maybe connected.

This was clear at the 14 March function at Sydney’s Museum of Modern Art with none other than global boss Jeff Immelt presiding to personally award five lucky clean tech inventors a cool $100,000 each to further their proposals in this important area.

A who’s who of the business and technology world attended and there were plenty to speak glowingly of Immelt’s suave mastery of his craft and the excitement generated with the company’s big picture view. Well you would expect that from one of the world’s biggest companies.

ecomagination director in Australia Ben Waters also had some strong opinions. One set was reserved for those who wanted to see the end of the carbon tax, or price as he pointed out. And the other – more by way of “touch niggly”–  was for The Fifth Estate.

So what was Waters niggly about?

He wanted to put the record straight with The Fifth Estate’s interpretation of the Industrial Internet strategy launched by Immelt at the end of last year, which doesn’t mention green.

It’s true that  the strategy, when you drill down past the very obvious absence of any words linked to ecology or environment or green, is about saving energy, which has the most urgent and important impact on saving the planet from global warming.

But no green words. Not one. Not even a faintly ecological nod to the six degrees of separation we’re approaching between this pleasant blue place and a nasty roiling climate.

Waters is understandably a passionate defender of his company and its environmental credentials. After all his patch – ecomagination, the existing and still continuing, strategy, he wanted to point out –  does a lot of sustainable work.

According to Waters Immelt makes no apology for the absence of any green tinged words in the Industrial Internet strategy; and why should he?

“ecomagination and the Industrial Internet overlap rather nicely,” he pointed out, after being bailed up for a quick interview on the hop, despite the distractions of fine wine, food and views from the top of the MCA.

“Ecomagination is about resource productivity in a resource constrained world. And if you think about this in this century it’s pretty clear we’re in we’re resource constrained…and that’s the story Jeff was giving [about the Industrial Internet as well].

“It’s got to be about good business, not about green. He doesn’t use the word green; he says he’s seen the word green too much. It’s got to be about good business, that’s why ecomagination survives and will continue to survive because it’s a business initiative and it’s an R & D investment [research and development] R & D is about $2 billion and “40 per cent of that goes into ecomagination.”

The points is, Waters says, is that making things more sustainable doesn’t need to be about anything more than good business sense. He’s right there.

“It’s not an ideological position, it’s a business proposition which means it’s not a CSR [corporate social responsibility] initiative, it’s not a marketing initiative and it’s not a marketing initiative. It’s a commercial initiative.”

Within ecomagination, he said, “It’s actually been our best business initiative ever. It’s gone from strength to strength.”

Right.

In that case, what did Waters think about the political and business environment for sustainable and climate issues right now?

“Never been better,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate we’ve got such a contentious toxic debate on what makes such good business sense and such good economic sense to have a price on carbon to drive renewable energy.”

The carbon price, he said, was “doing the right job for Australia and continues to do so, so why would you mess around with that?”

But the politicians are messing around with it, we pointed out.

“The politicians are certainly making it making it a football and that’s unfortunate because business is getting on with the job of transition. The last thing we want is to go backwards like that.”

But was it losing the battle?  Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who is enjoying such favourable polls in the lead up to the September election, has sworn a blood oath to remove the tax.

Andrew Petersen, Sustainable Business Australia, Amy Kean, Pinpoint

“Yes, well, he says he’s going to repeal something that doesn’t exist.

“It’s a fixed price period of an emissions trading scheme and [business] wants to transition to an emissions trading scheme sooner rather than later and we agree.”

There was some bipartisan  support for “certain things”, Water said.

“The names of things will be changed but the price on carbon will remain.”

Really?

“Absolutely, and most of business thinks that as well.”

Waters said research in the middle of last year showed three quarters of leading businesses agreed.

Winners of the GE’s first ecomagination Challenge in Australia and New Zealand, who were presented with $100,000 by GE chairman and chief executive officer were:

Engineair – Melbourne engineer Angelo Di Pietro has invented the Di Pietro Engine, a carbon-free alternative to internal-combustion and electric motors. The rotary air engine, powered by compressed air, has up to 94 per cent  efficiency and zero polluting emissions.

Hydroxsys – an Auckland-based company, started by engineer Daryl Briggs, has designed membrane technology that captures and recycles 90 per cent of water and around 85-90 per cent of energy from industrial processes to be fed back into the manufacturing process.

Bombora – renewable energy generation technology invented by a West Australian company, which takes advantage of Australia’s significant wave resource. Each Bombora device could supply electricity for up to 500 homes, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 3300 tonnes annually – the equivalent of taking 825 cars off the road. ??Greensync – Melbourne-based Greensync has developed an advanced software tool that enables electricity network planners to find alternatives to capital infrastructure projects. The technology reduces energy consumption by three per cent and costs by 10 per cent by monitoring and managing loads at peak times.

Outpost Central – New Zealand-based co-founders James Riddell and Jedd Forbes have developed smart water meters that can help water utilities, mining and farming organisations achieve 20 per cent savings in water usage within the first year.