On the secret agenda of the global giants, landfill for Christmas and a tram for who? Me?

14 December 2012 — GE two weeks ago released its new strategy to much fanfare in the US. It’s the Industrial Internet and it is the next big shape for attention and business strategy for this global giant. There was no mention of green and no mention of environment.  But one astute observer said, at heart it’s an energy efficiency strategy.

“The move is really a rebranding effort for a few sectors that GE has long been working on, including smart grid technology, the internet of things, and smart transportation,” said Katie Fehrenbacher in Gigaom. “But the major driving force at the heart of the movement is using digital technology to enable industry to reduce energy consumption and better manage resources.

“Most of the sectors that GE’s newly coined effort covers — transportation, aviation, locomotives, power generation, power distribution, oil and gas development, and industrial processes — are highly energy-reliant (if not all about energy) and the use of digital technologies in these sectors is meant to enable the use of energy (electricity and fuel) as efficiently as possible. That’s where a lot of the cost savings lie. The one exception in the mix is GE’s attention on digital health care.”

In aviation for instance, a one per cent fuel reduction is a saving of $30 billion over 15 years; the same efficiency in gas-fired power plants globally could deliver $66 billion in savings and in rail networks, $27 billion worldwide.

There’s no mention of greenhouse gas savings in any of the discussions. (That matches recent attention in Australia on how to save electricity/money.)

And yet, to save energy is to save the planet. To save money is to make available investment funds for some other need – maybe more investment in more resource efficiency. Read “green” if you link resource efficiency with cleaning up our act on the environment, reducing waste, making better things last longer.

GE chief executive Jeff Immelt said: “If I had one thing to do over again I would not have talked so much about green”.

We believe his words, but not his intent. We think he’s responding to the politicisation of green and climate change.

It’s George Orwell’s 1984-speak in reverse. Instead of hiding evil intent such as war under the “Ministry of Peace” the smartest and most powerful corporations on the planet are hiding good outcomes (if not intentions) under value-neutral dollars.

“Even though I believe in global warming and I believe in the science,” Immelt says (well, no-one wants to be taken for a fool, especially in his position,) …”[green] just took on a connotation that was too elitist; it was too precious…”

Sorry, “elitist?” So does this mean that our newly humble corporates will no longer lay claims to “leadership” and “excellence”  lest it make the also-rans feel insecure?

Immelt thought if you said you were green it might be seen that you didn’t care about jobs. “I’m a businessman. That’s all I care about, jobs,” he said.

Well, Immelt can care about jobs and still be green. There are plenty of jobs in this massive Industrial Internet revolution that will save enormous amounts of money otherwise spent on energy (but let’s not mention the secret greenhouse gas reduction that will go in parallel). And there are plenty of jobs in finding more resource efficiencies (along with the other really, really top secret revolution to reduce our footprint.

Here are GE’s numbers:

  • achieving a 1 percent fuel savings across the entire global airline fleet would save $30 billion over the next 15 years
  • A similar 1 percent improvement in the efficiency of gas-fired power generation would save $66 billion over that same period.
  • A 1 per cent improvement in railroad efficiency adds $27 billion to the total global savings.

Mmm let’s see, that’s $123 billion invested in greenhouse gas reduction for the planet, without governments having to lift a finger.

Nice one GE.

See our post on highlights from the Industrial Revolution White Paper, GE’s White Paper on the Industrial Internet: highlights

A present for Sydney?

The citizens of Sydney must have pinched themselves as they looked up to the sky for signs that there is a Santa Claus after all. A tram system for Sydney? A real live, above-ground smooth rail-gliding people-mover, all the way from Circular Quay down to Anzac Parade? Something to sit on for a few hours, back and forth, just for the wonder of it.

NOT those giant, hulking, smoking, grunting buses shoved somewhere under ground, to create some kind of Dante’s Inferno? As proposed by a former chairman of a tobacco company and former NSW Premier.

But Santa doesn’t come alone. He often brings gremlins with surprise packages of their own. This one came with the uncomfortable familiar notion that we’ve seen these types of announcements before. Only to be revealed as a magician’s trick, to get us through to the next political paycheque.

The nice news came just after the unveiling of the new look Darling Harbour.

There were complaints that there was no public competition and public discussion. But why bother when the last time they held an competition – an international one at that, for Barangaroo – the entire process was ignored anyway?

Architects have long complained that the competition process is time consuming, expensive, and a waste of passion. Better to select a candidate and work from scratch on something useful.

So Lend Lease, which has been announced as the luckiest of Christmas giftees with the Darling Harbour package, now gets to book-end Sydney’s western fringe – Barangaroo in the north and Darling Harbour in the South. While Westfield has claimed its heart.

Christmas gifts and Christmas rubbish

Speaking of Christmas, fans of The Guardian’s George Monbiot got a beautiful Christmas present this week: a column that identifies the landfill shopping industry for what it is. Some gifts don’t even have a shelf life of three days, he points out, especially the silly stuff bought for a laugh, made with a dollar in mind, but not the planet.

Monbiot points out the tragedy of extraction and consumption of rare and diminishing raw materials in the service of this insanity. Read the whole story https://www.monbiot.com/2012/12/10/the-gift-of-death/

It was green architect Tone Wheeler who first mentioned that a key ingredient in sustainability is beauty. Beauty, we thought? Isn’t it an indulgence, even frivolous when it comes to sustainability? One we might not be able to afford.

It took a while for the logic to sink in: if something is destined to be beautiful it will be made with better design, more care, more love. Those things we want to keep and “can’t bear to throw away.”

Elizabeth Farrelly, writing the first of a short series of articles for The Fifth Estate, talked about the need for seduction and beauty in sustainability, if we are to turn it from a worthy duty to an object of desire that will rival the popularity of Apple products, which is what we need.

Retail property in for change

Certainly in terms of retail property the big landlords are starting to call a structural change to explain the prolonged downturn in consumer activity.

At an AMP Capital Christmas bash on Thursday night in Sydney the talk was of consumers seeking “experiences” rather than stuff.  At a new supermarket in Marrickville in Sydney, the architects, FJMT, will aim for a centre that responds to the local culture. Already some supermarkets and shopping centres (GPT’s Rouse Hill, for instance) have installed community gardens. It’s symbolic, sure, but a powerful message that change is under way.

The outlook is… What the hell, let’s the risk

Speaking of change, what’s the outlook for the economy from this slice of the capital markets brains trust on Thursday evening?

As you might expect there was quite a variation – from an upbeat, “there’s a lot of money around and things are really improving”, which surprisingly dominated the balance of chatter – to a feeling, from a wary/wily minority,  that the burst of positive energy in recent times also happened last year, only to lose steam over Christmas.

Our call? People get bored with a slow life. The fear of inertia will drive the human desire for risk. Besides with the news so fearsome from the scientists, what have we got to lose?

Especially if your business is green. May as well risk a bit now because the risk of us not taking the chance doesn’t bear thinking about.

Let’s just go for it!

But big movements take time

Tim Horton, South Australia’s Integrated Design Commissioner until the end of the year when his position ends, along with a raft of great environmental policies that were really making SA sing, (and there wasn’t even a change of government) is phlegmatic about how hard it is to get a big new movement off the ground.

Chatting at the formal launch of the Co-operative Research Centre for Low Carbon Communities at the University of NSW, Horton said “it’s not a sprint, it’s a relay.”

Sometimes the baton is passed neatly, sometimes, it’s dropped, but the point is it keeps moving.

Nice thought.

It ties is well with comments from Robert Hill who is chair of the CRC program and as a former environment minister shows some sharp political skills as putting a positive spin on our chances. (Well, you couldn’t be a politician without being an optimist.)

Things take time, Hill said. There are always advances and push backs in any movement, and the sustainable property industry proves that change can be fast once it takes root.

How does he rate our chances to survive? Hill first pointed to The Fifth Estate: “Well, you must see something in it,” he said. Well, there’s nowhere to hide, we responded. Exactly, he said.

Anita Mitchell

Nice to see Anita Mitchell, general manager sustainability for Barangaroo South Lend Lease, recently win what looks like a very tough competition for the The Financial Review’s Boss and University of Sydney Business School award for Australia’s Top Emerging Leader.

Mitchell, one of the most passionate champions for a healthy planet from an industry full of passionate champions, won the award after submitting an opinion article on leadership and participating in an assessment master class from 100-shortlisted competitors.

The prize includes a scholarship to the University of Sydney’s  new MBA program.