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Imagine this: GE plans $10B for green-tech R&D by 2015

Imagine this: GE plans $10B for green-tech R&D by 2015

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In 2009, revenue related to company's ecoimagination technologies grew 6 percent to $18B

Here's a company that's not waiting around for the government to fund its green technology and sustainability research and development (R&D): After spending $1.5B in 2009, bringing the total spent so far to $5 billion, GEO plans to double its R&D investment between now and 2015. That means it will spend $10 billion on projects to back its "ecoimagination" philosophy.

Ecoimagination encompasses GE technologies and products that are designed to make the planet more sustainable, such as such as new battery chemistries, wind turbines and solar, desalination technology, energy-efficient appliances, new aircraft engines, new locomotive engines -- the list goes on. Since the company established the ecoimagination initiative five years ago, it has generated $70 billion in ecoimagination revenue. Last year alone, that total was $18 billion, and its annual goal for 2010 is $20 billion.

In its latest ecoimagination annual report, GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt along with the Ecoimagination Vice President Steven Fludder report that its ecoimagination line has helped GE become more competitive.

They write: "This strong revenue performance is a testament to the competitiveness of our ecoimagination products and innovations, the direct result of our R&D commitment. As for our own operations, we committed to reduce our environmental footprint and, in 2009, our greenhouse gas emissions were down 22 percent compared to 2004, well ahead of our goal."

For perspective, GE operations reported 5.79 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2009.

Another goal that is well worth reporting, since it is a growing focus for many companies: GE has reduced its water consumption by 30 percent compared with its 2006 baseline. That number is still really big: GE's water usage last year was 10.7 billion gallons (across operations that employ something like 30,000 people worldwide).

GE used its own GE Sensing Ultrasonic flow meters technology (shocking, I know) to figure out that it had a problem in one of its largest facilities. The improvements made at the site were relatively simple: new valves, variable speed drive pumps, closed loop cooling. The company has discovered that its baseline numbers for 2006 actually were higher than expected, as well, so it may potentially reevaluate its long-term water reduction goals.

Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute and an advisory board member for ecoimagination, wrote a brief statement about water usages in the GE report. He says, one of the biggest problems with water is that it really isn't priced according to its worth:

"Water reuse technologies can help public and private sector decision-makers in water-scarce regions throughout the world successfully tackle the growing problem of water scarcity. However these technologies cannot be deployed in sufficient quantities as long as withdrawing water from a river or a well is less expensive than conserving or reusing it. So the next big challenge lies in identifying and implementing institutional, legal and regulatory reforms that boost the price and marketability of water supplies while providing adequate social and environmental safeguards."

[Blogger's note: Lash estimates that 5 billion people face water scarcity issues by 2050, compared with 1 billion now.]

Just to close out this post with some stats about GE's other environmental metrics, such as its carbon footprints.

The company is updating its goals: By 2015, it seeks to improve "energy intensity" of its operations by 50 percent. It is seeking a 25 percent in absolute greenhouse gas emissions by that same timeframe.

GE's success story is another wake-up call to business leaders that scoff at the notion that sustainability can't be a revenue generating activity.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure