We believe the world’s most pressing environmental challenges present an opportunity to do what we do best: imagine and build innovative solutions that benefit our customers and society
GE has focused for years on driving pollution prevention and toxicity reduction in its operations and products, and continues to do so with the development of advanced technology manufacturing solutions. In addition, we have long focused on designing the most efficient products for our customers, thereby creating economic value with reduced impact on the environment. Our Life Cycle Management (LCM) strategy helps us better understand the environmental impacts of our products and solutions for all phases of the product life cycle. We also understand that our operations and products have an impact beyond our own facilities, and that the environmental issues—such as water scarcity, Scope 3 emissions, and protection of natural resources—warrant our attention, innovation, and vigilant management.
LCM is not new to GE. Since 2008, through our Ecoassessment Center of Excellence, we have worked to apply our knowledge of LCM to drive transformational change in our products for our customers, our businesses and the industries that our products support. We are building on these successes to champion a more strategic approach to LCM within the Company that better addresses the breadth of our products and services along with evolving stakeholder expectations.
With this evolved approach, our long-term vision is to inspire, design and build products and technologies that address the world’s challenging environmental and natural resource needs. We believe that a “one size fits all” approach to LCM is too narrow and prone to miss out on important innovation and value-creation opportunities. To this end, we are developing a variety of tools and resources for GE’s research and design specialists, providing everything from basic screening to detailed life cycle assessments (LCA) that can be customized for specific products or business applications in order to drive meaningful outcomes. LCM applied in this manner presents an opportunity for GE to create even greater value for our customers by focusing on the most promising opportunities for real change.
We have undertaken a variety of efforts that demonstrate our different LCM approaches. Some of our most recent life cycle assessment studies include:
GE Healthcare’s WAVE Bioreactor™—used for vaccine and other biotherapeutics production—enables cell culturing without requiring cleaning or steam-sterilization because it uses disposable bags rather than large stainless steel tanks. Detailed LCA work helped determine how the disposable option reduces water and energy consumption and staff-time requirements compared with the option of the stainless steel bioreactor it replaces. Although single-use bags introduce new needs in the production, distribution and disposal phases, this approach also reduces or eliminates large quantities of steam, sanitizing chemicals, process water and ultra-pure water needed for washing and sterilization of traditional processing equipment. The insights gained through this detailed LCA study are helping our customers evaluate and optimize their biotherapeutics process technologies with an eye towards increased productivity and reduced net environmental impact.
GE Transportation’s Durathon™ energy storage system enables efficient and cost-effective storage, distribution and utilization of energy wherever it’s needed. Durathon battery modules and complete energy-storage solutions—designed for use in the telecom, utility and motive power industries—were put through comparative LCA with traditional lead acid batteries as they function in the UPS and telecom industries. With LCA and other performance-related analysis, Durathon batteries were found to have a longer life, store more energy per unit weight, offer better performance in extreme conditions, require minimal maintenance costs, and prove more environmentally responsible and safe over the product’s entire life cycle. With energy demands climbing and aging infrastructure on the rise, effective, reliable backup power has become critical for hospitals, data centers, and other business entities. Our analysis helps our GE business development teams understand the competitive advantages of a new technology, and provides our customers with the insight they need to make fully informed purchasing decisions.
GE is dedicated to optimizing the use of resources in its own manufacturing operations. For example, as part of an analysis on materials used to increase the strength of superalloys in several of our products, including turbine engines, GE undertook a study to evaluate opportunities to reduce use and waste by recovering grinding waste, recycling returned parts and developing superalloys with diminishing availability of increasingly constrained materials.
GE has been working to address many of the constrained resource areas that were identified, either through the development of alternative processes or through improved materials recovery. Through these efforts, GE has identified, and is implementing, cost-effective solutions that address many of our constrained materials concerns, as well as providing an environmental benefits throughout the value chain by reducing the net consumption of raw materials.
GE’s goal is to optimize the use of materials in the manufacturing facilities and design of our products and processes, approaches that minimize waste. As such, we have not set a numerical goal on the amount of hazardous waste generated from our operations. We have been aggregating hazardous and nonhazardous waste data for several years. This strategy has given us a clear line of sight to the volume of scrap metal GE routinely recycles, which exceeded 280,000 metric tons in 2012.
Over the years, individual GE facilities have set individual targets to reduce hazardous and nonhazardous waste volume over time. Our experience indicates that this approach may seem to be focused only on waste categorization, as opposed to true source reduction. We have an extensive program to manage classification and proper disposition of our waste.
We continue to pursue projects in GE’s businesses with the support of the Global Research Center to link materials utilization and recycling activities. Many of these projects involve new manufacturing technologies, new service or remanufacturing approaches, and the reuse of materials in our own operations.
Historically, GE has worked with its partners across value chains to reclaim and reuse products at their end of life in order to comply with regulatory requirements in various jurisdictions, and protect intellectual property associated with our advanced technology designs. This reuse also allows us to manage those end-of-life materials in an environmentally mindful way. For example, for over ten years, GE’s Healthcare business has operated a take-back process for equipment in the U.S. and Europe. Once our customers determine they have no more use of a product, our Healthcare business collects it, reclaims any usable parts, recertifies it for reuse, and manages any irrecoverable scrap material for recycling potential.
In another example, GE’s Appliances business has worked with its channel partners to direct many refrigerators that have been removed from service to an EPA-certified recycling center that reclaims GHGs entrapped in insulation foam in the refrigerator cases. (Note that GE’s Appliances business is migrating to a much less GHG-intensive insulating foam.) The recycling center is a source of scrap material for plate steel that eventually ends up in GE’s Transportation production facility in Erie, Pennsylvania, for use in locomotive manufacturing operations.
Several of GE’s larger locations have active programs to protect and create wildlife habitats. Five of GE’s largest locations have protected nearly 250 acres of wildlife habitat under the Wildlife at Work program by the Wildlife Habitat Council. In addition, GE is supporting one of the most complex projects to occur in biodiverse protected areas by supporting Chevron with equipment to develop the Gorgon and Jansz-Io gas fields, located within the Greater Gorgon area, between 130 and 220 kilometers off the northwest coast of Western Australia. Barrow Island will be the project’s home—occupying 1.3 percent of its uncleared land mass. Although a Class A Nature Reserve, it is recognized internationally as a location where industry and the environment co-exist. GE has worked with Chevron to develop a quarantine process in order to ensure no non-native materials become entrained on equipment, and is working to preserve and ensure the future of the Class A Nature reserve.