GE CEO unveils policy

The Jack Morton Auditorium hosted General Electric’s Chief Executive Officer as he announced the company’s new environmental initiative and spoke on corporate environmental responsibility.

Jeff Immelt, who heads up the largest company in the world by market share, spoke in front of a packed hall filled with business school students, press and corporate investors and supporters. Immelt announced GE’s Ecomagination program, an effort to introduce new environmentally friendly products that will also make the company money.

“I think one of the points we are making today … is that good environmental programs and good business practices coincide,” Immelt said.

Immelt said his company will develop more products that address environmental challenges, invest $1.5 billion annually in cleaner technologies by 2010 and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade. He emphasized that GE plans to take the lead in a market that needs to pride itself on environmental responsibility.

“Our point is that green means green,” Immelt told The Hatchet during an interview before his announcement. “Typically people have thought of this as a trade-off.”

During his speech, the CEO also criticized the federal government and businesses for not doing enough to spur environmentally friendly innovation and warned that the United States is being beaten by Europe in developing cleaner technologies.

“Our failure to push the envelope on cleaner power and environmental technology is disappointing,” Immelt said. “So, too, is our failure to develop a coherent energy policy.”

He emphasized however, that the private sector should take the lead in developing green technology.

“I believe we must have a proactive business policy or we will get a reactive government policy,” Immelt said. “By combining the innovative spirit of America’s entrepreneurs with a focused and forward-looking policy, America can lead in the energy sector.”

Following Immelt’s address, Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute, responded to GE’s announcement with optimism.

“It’s enough to make even a gloomy environmentalist hopeful,” Lash said. “What GE has announced today goes beyond measuring, reporting and managing their own emissions.”

Lash said it is important that more companies take initiatives to develop cleaner technologies and that GE’s new policy is a step in the right direction. He said that issues such as global warming should be a top concern for the public and private sectors.

“Although GE is taking a leadership role in the private sector, there is an urgent need for government policy that sends clear signals to companies and citizens to reduce emissions now and in the future,” Lash said.

Following Lash’s remarks, Immelt fielded questions from several business school students and professors who were invited to the event. During the queries, he reiterated the main points of his speech.

“We can’t view it as a zero-sum game,” Immelt said response to a question about how GE formulated Ecomagination. “It has to be a maximization game and innovation has to be the edge.”

During his interview with The Hatchet, Immelt said while environmental improvement in the private sector will not show improvements overnight, they are still essential in the long term.

“In the atmosphere, in my lifetime and even in yours we may never see improvements,” he said, “but over time gradual improvements can make a big difference.”

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