A core part of the GE culture and business strategy is ecomagination—a focus on sustainable solutions that benefit the planet, society and the economy. At GE Appliances, our sustainability efforts are centered on innovative product design, improved manufacturing processes in our U.S. factories and end-of-life recycling programs.
Innovative product design
GE makes hundreds of appliances that meet the EPA’s ENERGY STAR® guidelines for efficiency. For consumers, there is a potential to save hundreds of dollars on energy bills over the lifetime of certain products. For the environment, that means fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Stop sending money down the drain with a high-efficiency water heater
Most consumers aren’t aware that their water heater is one of the top five largest energy drains in their home behind their heating and air-conditioning system. In 2012, GE opened a new factory in Louisville, Ky., to produce the GeoSpring™ hybrid electric water heaters. GeoSpring water heaters use heat pump technology, which is more efficient than a traditional electric water heater. On average, GeoSpring can cut a homeowners’ water heating expenses in half by saving about $365 a year on their electric bills versus a standard electric water heater.1
Next generation refrigeration technologies
For the past 100 years, the way refrigerators preserved food has been rooted in technology dating back to the mid-1800s. GE researchers are now developing the next leap in home refrigeration technology—magnetic refrigeration (magnetocaloric refrigeration). The technology does not use refrigerants, and is 20 percent more efficient than what is used today. In addition, the technology can be applied to other heat pump applications, such as HVAC and has the potential to impact nearly 60 percent of the average U.S. household’s energy consumption.
The system uses a water-based fluid rather than a chemical refrigerant, such as Freon, to transfer heat from inside the refrigerator and achieve the cooling process. Instead of a compressor, magnets are used to create a magnetic field that agitates particles in the fluid causing it to cool. The strength of the magnetic field determines how cold the fluid becomes, and in turn, how quickly it cools the refrigerator.
Today, the team’s research is progressing rapidly, and is on track to move from the lab to residential homes within the next five years.
Manufacturing and facility improvements
At our facilities and manufacturing plants, from how we build appliances to how we manage our properties, the GE team is focused on reducing greenhouse gases (GHG) and our carbon footprint.
From plastic waste to reusable containers
GE Appliances’ Plastics Center of Excellence (COE) at Appliance Park in Louisville, Kentucky is proving anew that GE’s reputation for environmentally sound products and practices is fairly earned. In 2015, a team of GE engineers developed a process to use scrap plastic parts that were dinged, discolored or damaged to produce reusable containers, or totes, for shipping small parts to and from suppliers, and between buildings at Appliance Park. The actual press being used for the plastic injection molding was an older press that was also rehabbed and retrofitted for the recycling project.
Refrigeration plants convert to cyclopentane foam
GE has converted its refrigerator manufacturing facilities in Decatur, Ala., and Louisville, Ky., to utilize cyclopentane foam in the manufacturing process for refrigerators. Cyclopentane is the blowing agent in foam insulation that is used in the walls and doors of refrigerators.
The conversion at the two plants reduced GHG emissions from foam-insulating processes by more than 530,000 metric tons of CO2-equivalent emissions annually. This is equal to:
- The annual greenhouse gas emissions of 110,000 cars on U.S. roads.
- The annual CO2 emissions from the electricity use of 79,000 homes.
- The annual amount of carbon sequestered by more than 434,000 acres of U.S. forest, an area equivalent to nearly 30 Manhattan Islands.
This reduction from replacing the previous foam-insulating agent with cyclopentane is so significant that it reduced the GHG emissions of the entire Decatur manufacturing facility by more than 80 percent.
Bringing down the watts at GE’s Appliance Park in Louisville
In 2010 and 2011, GE underwent a major relamping effort and replaced 14,000 fluorescent bulbs and ballasts at seven of the buildings on campus with newer, more efficient T8 bulbs and electronic ballasts. In addition, the team added motion sensors to turn off lights automatically. After relamping the estimated 850,000 square feet of space—almost the equivalent of nine and a half Major League Baseball fields—GE saved 4.3 million kilowatt hours of electricity or $225,000 annually.
Appliance Park, GE Appliances’ headquarters in Louisville, Ky. uses a combination of natural gas and methane gas harvested from local landfills to generate power and heat for the massive manufacturing complex.
In 2013, the company invested in boilers for a new point-of-use steam heating system that saved 493,920 kWh annually and avoided 2,108,774 pounds per year of carbon dioxide, which is the equivalent of planting 95,686 trees.
First to Waste Not: GE Product Recycling Program
As the first and only appliance manufacturer to partner collectively with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Responsible Appliance Disposal Program, GE is helping to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and the amount of waste entering our landfills, protecting our air and water.
Reducing old refrigerator and appliance waste in landfills
Approximately nine million refrigerators are disposed of annually in the U.S., and only a fraction have the insulating foam in walls and doors recycled. GE and Appliance Recycling Centers of America (ARCA) have teamed up to provide an appliance-recycling program in 12 Northeastern and Middle Atlantic States at a unique recycling center in Philadelphia, Penn. Close to 250,000 refrigerators and freezers have now made their way through the UNTHA Recycling Technology system, and more than one million appliances have been processed. GE’s approach saves approximately 47 pounds of material from a recycled refrigerator—an 85 percent reduction of waste—that would typically go into a landfill. This initiative has diverted 5.5 million pounds of material from U.S. landfills.2
Designed for recyclability
When GE engineers and industrial designers worked on the latest dishwasher design, they took a thoughtful approach that included a plan for recyclability at the end of the product’s life cycle. The team designed the latest line of GE plastic tub dishwashers so that 80 percent of the materials can be reclaimed for recycling.
GE’s commitment to government programs and building partnerships
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Energy (DOE)
GE Appliances participated in a number of ENERGY STAR co-marketing programs through trade shows, meetings and presentations, and also in many EPA and DOE campaigns, including sponsoring four university schools in the Solar Decathlon competition.
GE Appliances is the first major appliance manufacturer to partner collectively with the Environmental Protection Agency in four voluntary programs: ENERGY STAR, RAD, SmartWay® and WasteWise.
GE Appliances is a five-time winner of the EPA's sustaining manufacturing partner of the year award.
Homes inspired by ecomagination
GE has simplified the building of innovative, comfortable homes that help reduce home emissions, energy and indoor water use by 20 percent. The ecoHomeBuilder program is a straightforward five-step action plan for builders to use to build greener homes, from LED lighting technology to ENERGY STAR appliances:
- Install 60 percent of the home’s lighting using GE CFL or LED lighting.
- Install an ENERGY STAR GE dishwasher.
- Pick two out of the three to install: ENERGY STAR GE refrigerator, ENERGY STAR GE laundry pair or GeoSpringTM Hybrid Water Heater.
- Partner with Masco Environments Living Program or follow Masco’s checklist to measure the envelope of the home.
- Build at least 25 homes following the guidelines.
1 Based on DOE test procedure and comparison of a 50-gallon standard electric tank water heater using 4879 kWh per year vs. the GE GeoSpring Hybrid Electric Water Heater using 1830 kWh per year and national average electricity rate of 12 cents per kWh.
2 Based on ARCA Advanced Processing file dated August 2012 re: Material not sent to landfill