wind power division is helping to make the U.S. a world leader
in wind electricity generation. Is the wind division a P.R. move
to outshine the company's less than stellar environmental history
or a sign of things to come from one of the world's biggest and
oldest corporations? Or, is it greenwash.
When I first began to
research a series of articles on the topic of renewable energy
technologies I did not expect to be writing about major corporations
like GE in any favorable light. I expected to be writing human-interest
stories about “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” types fighting
to get major corporations to shift to renewable fuel sources and
clean up their acts with respect to pollution. While researching
such a story, I came across a large amount of data that I could
not ignore, mostly because I was surprised to find it.
My research revealed
that an increasing number of companies are beginning to implement
environmentally friendly business practices. It would be nice
to report that this shift is based on a new respect for our shared
biosphere, but it is more accurate (and perhaps more promising
for both our citizenry and our economy) to be reporting otherwise.
What some companies are discovering is that keeping informed of
advances in renewable resource technologies may help them recognize
and corner new markets. Additionally, implementing green business
practices can make good fiscal sense in that they can yield a
competitive advantage by helping a company become more energy
efficient and maintain a happier, more productive employee base.
So, rather than a new trend
in environmental altruism, the environmentally beneficial changes
in most companies I am following are rooted in careful intra-corporate
study of the bottom line and research of strategies that will
keep the business profitable well into the future. The upside
for the rest of us is that these shifts could also offer a healthier
planet to cohabitate without the added costs associated with funding
government programs to legislate environmental change in the corporate
world. History has shown that legislative environmentalism has
often failed and been costly to tax payers in the congressional
process (costs associated with researching and enacting new laws
at the State and Federal level) as well as the costs of enforcement.
Historically, there have been additional costs absorbed in getting
resistant corporations to conform to new legal standards.
Presently, several technologies
are finally allowing an economically feasible realization of ideas
that have existed among environmentalists for decades. What corporate
scientific study and bean counting is finding is that environmentalism
and capitalism may no longer be mutually exclusive terms.
Prime examples of a new
trend in natural capitalism are the developments over the course
of 2003 within General Electric. GE is currently becoming a world
leader in the wind power generation business. One question that
initially came to my mind was whether the company is engaging
in this business to help offset public image problems with respect
to their environmental record. Also of note is the legal battle
being joined in Cape Cod between the energy companies vying to
build what would become America’s first, and the world’s
largest, offshore wind facility off the coast of Cape Cod against
a citizens’ group trying to stop them. GE designed and is
manufacturing the new offshore wind turbines that would populate
Cape wind project.
…And the Wind Cries
GE’s moves in wind power development have been fast, widespread
and significant. These moves have also brought them considerable
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