GE and Unilever step forth to write agenda

How two leading sustainable corporations have utilised sustainable initiatives, to move to the front of the industry

How two leading sustainable corporations have utilised sustainable initiatives, to move to the front of the industry

The 2010 Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations is a list of companies who have profited through the recognition and implementation of sustainable initiatives. Among the top 10 companies were the General Electric Company of the US and Unilever Plc of the UK. The rankings of the companies were determined by rating them on strategic governance, human capital/labour relations practices and environmental initiatives, among many other criteria. The question is, how have these companies utilised sustainable initiatives and what research and development have they used in the process?

Back in 2005, General Electric committed itself to utilising clean technologies and reducing their environmental footprint. Since then, a hybrid-engine train has been put into development, a state-of-the-art wind-turbine blade has been manufactured and a super-efficient washing machine and coal-gasification technology have seen the light of day. Meanwhile, the multinational corporation Unilever also demonstrated its commitment to investing in energy efficient power and steam generation technology and hence attempted to make headway towards reducing the energy intensity of its own manufacturing processes. In the past few years in Europe alone, Unilever has built CHP plants that generate electricity through utilising waste steam and hot water, while in Vietnam one Unilever factory utilises energy from the sun to preheat water for the generation of steam.

These sustainable initiatives have been put into place with the knowledge that going green is not just good for the environment, but good for business too. Both companies’ devotion to pioneering the next generation of clean, green technologies and to lowering emissions and enhancing energy efficiency could be described as being broad and ambitious yet it cannot be denied that the enthusiasm of these companies alone is worthy of them being placed in the top ten of the 2010 Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations. General Electric in particular should be noted for its pledge to double its investments in the research and development of environmentally-friendlier technologies. The total budget for research and development went from the $700m in 2004 to $1.5bn in 2010.

While Unilever Plc and General Electric have utilised several sustainable initiatives to date, there is still more that can be done. General Electric is committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by one percent and to improving energy efficiency by 30 percent by the year 2012. These sustainability targets were developed by General Electric with the aid of the World Resources Institute. In the not so distant future, Unilever’s ice cream freezer cabinets are set to be replaced with energy-efficient alternatives and the company plans to lessen indirect environmental impacts by educating both their customers and suppliers on the issue of sustainability. Furthermore, Unilever is committed to reducing the carbon intensity of their manufacturing operations by 25 percent by the year 2012. In its research, the company measures its manufactured goods against a total of four green indicators: greenhouse gas emissions, water, waste and sustainable sourcing. Research has shown that almost half of the volume of raw materials utilised by Unilever are derived from agricultural and forestry crops. Unilever has acted on this research to encourage the growers and suppliers of their products to comply with the Unilever guidelines for good agricultural practice.

General Electric and Unilever have benefited from implementing strong environmental policies.  These two companies have come to the realisation that they can use their global capabilities, market knowledge and technological leadership to aid in solving some of the world’s greatest challenges while making money in the process.