Most of us know General Electric, or GE, as the company that manufactures our refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines and more. But GE's innovation goes far beyond mere household appliances. When it comes to GE and the environment, imagination rules – wait, make that ecomagination rules.

Earth-friendly 'Ecomagination' products are just one part of GE's corporate sustainability strategy, which has rapidly expanded over recent years.

Many companies set out to improve their environmental impact, but what sets GE apart is a strong drive to prove that sustainability isn't just a feel-good boost to their reputation: it can be profitable, too.

“Our goals are to make money, make it ethically and make a difference,” says GE in its 2009 Citizenship Report, entitled Renewing Responsibilities, upon which much of this article is based.


GE, the fifth-largest U.S. company, is so confident in the money-making abilities of sustainable technologies, it has invested an unprecedented $1.5 billion in clean tech through the 'Ecomagination' project – in 2010 alone. Its total investment exceeds $5 billion.

So what, exactly, is 'Ecomagination'? When the project was announced in 2005, GE CEO Jeff Imelt explained that it would focus on producing “solar energy, hybrid locomotives, fuel cells, lower-emission aircraft engines, lighter and stronger materials, efficient lighting and water purification technology.”

In the five years since the project's launch, GE has generated $70 billion in revenues from the sale of over 90 products. These Ecomagination products, ranging from new types of recycled plastics to aviation fuel solutions, aim to increase performance while decreasing a product or consumer's impact on the environment.

Progress on Green Goals

Of course, GE isn't just concerned about the carbon footprints of its consumers; the company has also made marked improvement in the way it manages its own resources and waste.

According to the company's most recent annual citizenship report, GE reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 22 percent in 2009 and cut its energy use 16 percent from 2004 levels. Water consumption dropped 30 percent over 2006 levels. In all, GE's energy efficiency has improved by 37 percent in the past three years.

In order to make this kind of progress on green goals, GE made some big changes. The company no longer burns coal for any of its operations, relying instead on natural gas. It also installed ultrasonic water flow meters at some of its facilities, and has begun recycling and reusing water when possible.

Looking to the Future

GE has big goals for 2010 and beyond. The company has updated its commitments, setting its sight on even more dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. GE has pledged a 50 percent improvement in energy intensity over 2004 levels by 2015.

It also plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by another 25 percent during the same period, and will continue long-term water use reductions to meet a goal of 25 percent less water usage.

In addition, GE has committed to double its research and development spending on Ecomagination products and technologies to $10 billion between 2010 and 2015.

Most recently, GE announced a partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on a software-based platform expected to make better quality water available to more people while also using 10 percent to 15 percent less energy. In August 2010, GE also revealed another addition to its wind power projects – a wind farm in Idaho that stands to become the state's largest.

For more on GE and the environment, check out the company’s latest citizenship report.

Editor's note: General Electric is a Mother Nature Network sponsor.