GE's Immelt Sees Green In Being Green

July 13, 2005
His "Ecomagination" initiative includes a doubling of GE's investment in cleaner technologies and a commitment to reduce the company's own emissions.

Jeffrey R. Immelt succeeded the legendary John F. "Jack" Welch Jr. as General Electric Co.'s chairman and CEO on Sept. 7, 2001. In less than four years, 49-year-old Immelt has put his own stamp on $152.4 billion GE, with particular emphasis on innovation, notably the company's Ecomagination initiative announced May 9. That program, which reflects the diversity of GE's businesses and is designed to incorporate GE's manufacturing, technology, energy and infrastructure expertise, includes the planned development of solar energy, hybrid locomotives, fuel cells, lower-emission aircraft engines, lighter and stronger materials, efficient lighting and water purification technology. Not insignificantly, GE pledges to cut its own greenhouse gas emissions 1% by 2012 and to reduce the intensity of those emissions 30% by 2008, compared to 2004. GE figures its greenhouse gas emissions would have risen 40% by 2012 without further action.

IW: What is the scope of the Ecomagination program?

Immelt: Ecomagination consists of four distinct, measurable behaviors. First, doubling investment in R&D. GE will invest $1.5 billion annually into cleaner technologies by 2010, up from $700 million in 2004. Second, introducing more Ecomagination products. GE will double the amount of products and services it offers that provide significant and measurable environmental performance advantages to its customers -- from $10 billion in 2004 to at least $20 billion in 2010. Third, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. GE is committed to offering products and services to help its customers reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and decrease the intensity of the company's own facilities' emission. Fourth, keeping the public informed. GE pledges to publicly report on its progress in meeting Ecomagination goals in measurable and transparent terms on an annual basis.

IW: Why launch it now?

Immelt: Our known reserves of oil and natural gas are expected to be depleted by 2045; the global climate is changing; and more than a billion people lack access to clean water. Increases in population, consumption, and urbanization, increased regulation in many economies, as well as an increased emphasis on corporate social responsibility all combine to create increased demand for cleaner, more efficient solutions. GE's research finds that helping its customers meet their environmental challenges constitutes an important business opportunity for the company, its shareholders and its interested constituents.

IW: What's in it for GE?

Immelt: This is not just good for society, its good for GE investors -- we can solve tough global problems and make money doing it. GE aims to be the partner of choice for our customers around the world -- whether homeowners, business leaders or government officials -- by offering advanced technology to improve efficiency and reduce pollution in cost-effective ways. We intend to put our global capabilities, technology leadership and market knowledge to work to take on some of the world's toughest problems -- and we think we can make money doing it. This is good business.

About the Author

John McClenahen | Former Senior Editor, IndustryWeek

 John S. McClenahen, is an occasional essayist on the Web site of IndustryWeek, the executive management publication from which he retired in 2006. He began his journalism career as a broadcast journalist at Westinghouse Broadcasting’s KYW in Cleveland, Ohio. In May 1967, he joined Penton Media Inc. in Cleveland and in September 1967 was transferred to Washington, DC, the base from which for nearly 40 years he wrote primarily about national and international economics and politics, and corporate social responsibility.
      McClenahen, a native of Ohio now residing in Maryland, is an award-winning writer and photographer. He is the author of three books of poetry, most recently An Unexpected Poet (2013), and several books of photographs, including Black, White, and Shades of Grey (2014). He also is the author of a children’s book, Henry at His Beach (2014).
      His photograph “Provincetown: Fog Rising 2004” was selected for the Smithsonian Institution’s 2011 juried exhibition Artists at Work and displayed in the S. Dillon Ripley Center at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., from June until October 2011. Five of his photographs are in the collection of St. Lawrence University and displayed on campus in Canton, New York.
      John McClenahen’s essay “Incorporating America: Whitman in Context” was designated one of the five best works published in The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies during the twelve-year editorship of R. Barry Leavis of Rollins College. John McClenahen’s several journalism prizes include the coveted Jesse H. Neal Award. He also is the author of the commemorative poem “Upon 50 Years,” celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Wolfson College Cambridge, and appearing in “The Wolfson Review.”
      John McClenahen received a B.A. (English with a minor in government) from St. Lawrence University, an M.A., (English) from Western Reserve University, and a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies from Georgetown University, where he also pursued doctoral studies. At St. Lawrence University, he was elected to academic honor societies in English and government and to Omicron Delta Kappa, the University’s highest undergraduate honor. John McClenahen was a participant in the 32nd Annual Wharton Seminars for Journalists at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. During the Easter Term of the 1986 academic year, John McClenahen was the first American to hold a prestigious Press Fellowship at Wolfson College, Cambridge, in the United Kingdom.
      John McClenahen has served on the Editorial Board of Confluence: The Journal of Graduate Liberal Studies and was co-founder and first editor of Liberal Studies at Georgetown. He has been a volunteer researcher on the William Steinway Diary Project at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., and has been an assistant professorial lecturer at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.


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