Last Monday, General Electric unveiled a program that it calls Ecomagination. The program is a new effort by the country’s fifth-largest company to go green and promote its new products which are designed to do less harm to the environment. The plan outlines a slow path to reducing its emissions as well as increasing both research and spending on more environmentally friendly products.
The plan calls for the company to double its cleaner technologies research and total sales of cleaner technologies by 2010 as well as reducing its emissions by 1 percent by 2012. The 1 percent reduction may not seem significant, but GE was expected to have increased its emissions by 40 percent by 2012 if otherwise not committed to this reduction.
Ecomagination seems to be exactly what the country is looking for in a time when it is dealing with global warming and increasing environmental problems. The only question that really remains is incredibly significant and has to do with the health of our environment: Is GE going to play fair while it’s trying to manage both the environment and its bottom line?
Over the past 50 years, the bottom line has clearly been the motivating factor. One of the company’s most recent events, according to www.cleanupge.org, is an attempt to have the Superfund Law of 1980 overturned so that it will no longer be responsible, as the law says it should be, to clean up nearly 80 contaminated sites in various parts of the United States.
The biggest site, the Hudson River, would cost GE $500 million to clean up alone, so it’s easy to see why the company would be more dedicated to the bottom line than to doing the right thing.
GE is one of the primary producers of nuclear power plants, having created 91 of them in 11 different countries. Its commitment to a clean environment doesn’t extend to the nuclear power plants yet as it continues to produce plants that have a known defect, as reported in 2001 by the Multinational Monitor.
If any one of the plants fails and melts down, there is a 90 percent chance that some of the radiation would end up in the atmosphere.
The Ecomagination program doesn’t mention anything about nuclear power or about changing the process.
Starting in the 1940s and ending in the 1960s, the company did nuclear radiation testing by releasing radioactive particulates into the air and seeing how far down wind they could be found.
The company released an amount of radiation about 1,000 times greater than that of the Three-Mile Island explosion during its experimentation.
GE isn’t known for being truthful to its customers nor the government. In the 1990s, the Pentagon set up an entire division just to monitor its dealings with the company and eventually recovered about $200 million in cases of criminal fraud.
While the company has a past that is pretty dark, its future may be headed toward becoming a more environmentally friendly company. With the exception of attempts to change the Superfund Law, there has been a reduction of negative incidents since 2001 when the current CEO Jeffrey Immelt took the reigns from Jack Welch. Immelt has increased research every year that he has been with the company and has begun to change the company into a more proactive and innovation-based company rather than one dedicated solely to the bottom line.
In an effort to become more environmentally minded, Immelt’s version of GE has begun to acquire a number of new companies that are dedicated to clean energy.
In 2003 the company acquired a major stake in a hydroelectric production company in China, and in 2004 it acquired companies that sell products to reduce emissions of power plants, collect solar power and make coal burning a more efficient process. Although the company is only a few years away from a history of abusing the environment, if it can change to a more environmentally freindly company in the next half-decade, then there may be hope that other companies will find it profitable to do the same.
If you would like more information on GE’s new program, go to www.ecomagination.com.
Cody Boyte is a first-year literary journalism major.
Filed Under: Opinion