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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.