My Microwave, GE, and a Failure of EcoMagination

I’ve long been a fan of General Electric’s (GE) Ecomagination initiative.  I believe that CEO Jeff Immelt believe that more efficient and renewable energy products will be strong growth industries for years to come.  I quoted him in early 2007, “Renewable energy, energy efficiency, environmental technology – we’re going to own it."

But being green goes much deeper than selling Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency products.  It’s also about product lifecycle.  A truly green company makes sure that the lifecycle of their products will have low impact on a Cradle to Cradle basis.

That’s where my microwave comes in.  I bought it a year and a half ago, and it started losing power at the oddest moments, and then coming back on unpredictably.  It seems to me the most likely problem is loose power connection, which should be simple to repair.  GE provides only a 1 year warranty, but I hate to recycle something so new that it looks like I just got it off the shelf of the store, so I looked for a place I could drop it off to get it repaired.

GE doesn’t do drop offs after the warranty date.  Instead, they want to send a service technician out, at a cost of $70 for the house call, plus parts and labor.  In other words, I’m practically guaranteed to have to spend more than the microwave cost new to get it repaired.  

If it had been during the warranty period (1 year), I could have dropped it off where I bought it.  Why can’t I do that after the warranty period, if I pay for the repair?

In sum, I see some easy improvements that GE could make to become greener with their appliances, not just their wind turbines and locomotives:

  1. Stop building appliances so cheaply that they fall apart so quickly.  This is the subject of an excellent book I finished recently, Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, which is worth a read.
  2. Extend the warranty to a reasonable length (say 5 years) and advertise it heavily.  After all, if the appliance were built right, warranty service would not be expensive to implement.  Am I the only one who hates to have to recycle (or worse, throw away) an appliance after 18 months?  I doubt it.
  3. Better yet, institute cradle to cradle practices, taking the appliance back at the end of its life.

In April, GE announced that they had started an initiative for lifecycle assessment of their products.  It’s awfully nice that they’re doing a study, but I really don’t need a study to tell me that not giving me the option to drop off my microwave for repair when it’s 18 months new is not helping its lifecycle environmental impact.

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6 Comments

  1. Antiquated Tory said

    If your microwave cost less than $70 new, surely this price was in part dependent on shoddy construction and planned obsolescence? How much of the consumer durables market these days lives on planned obsolescence?

  2. Tom said

    I think the microwave was about $150 new. The service charge would be $70 *PLUS* parts and labor.

  3. Great Article,
    I’m also a fan of GE , but more from the side that it continues to be and innovative corporation after a century o f being in business

    -Alexg

  4. There are so many companies out there that could do a better job of being green. The problem, of course, is the other green. Stand-alone microwaves, toasters, toaster ovens, irons, these are all commodity items. They don’t make a ton of money off of them and they want you to buy new ones every few years. After all, get too green and GE ceases to make money.

    They should start some type of small appliances recycling program. The company does a good job when it comes to anything with toxic chemicals (http://www.ge.com/citizenship/performance_areas/environment_health_safety_epa.jsp) but all those small appliances add up, too.

    Great post! Thanks for writing it.

  5. Diana Reid said

    So far I had to replace my GE Profile refrigerator after 5 years. My GE Microwave after 6 years and my GE dryer after 13 months. I no longer will buy GE. No wonder they needed a bail out. Built to break.

    • Christopher Parker said

      Very excellent comment in the way that it adressed the large providing coops actually losing money if they go TOO green but it still leaves that planet destroying “black eye” of excess waste all for the sake of making money. I also believe that a small apliance recycling program needs to be implemented, for the planets, and all of its inhabiting figures health because those discussed appliances, though they may be small, they still take up volume.

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