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by Aman Singh Das | November 13, 2009


The Net Impact Conference started today in Ithaca, New York hosted by The Johnson School at Cornell University. An interesting discussion between General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt and David Skorton, President of Cornell University, kicked things off this morning.

Mr. Immelt highlighted several challenges that lie ahead for proponents of clean energy as well as the increasing need for public policy to get things moving. "Twenty years ago, business and government worked separately. There was no meeting of the two, the baby boomers were making money, we were at peace and oil was at $10 a barrel. Today, not much can move ahead without definitely public policy. The free market decides nothing, public policy does," he said.

Calling GE the merger between capitalism and sustainability, he talked about how wind energy was a misnomer a few years ago and now it was everyone's idea for clean tech. "We have created a business model that makes money as well as impacts and makes an effort to solve the world problems. This is possible," he said emphasizing that corporate sustainability had a definite business case and that GE was an example of that.

Eventually questions turned to the economy and how he saw green jobs emerging among a mix of pessimism and a downturn. Mr. Immelt predicted that 10 million new jobs would be created by 2015 but the bigger question was where. "Will they be created in China, India, Russia, Europe? Or the US?" he said adding, "Without innovation and technology these jobs will not enter the US. And significant public policy."

Later, taking questions from the audience, which represented 23 countries, 40 states and 300 universities globally--marking Net Impact's biggest conference to date--GE's CEO emphasized that we needed to recognize that "U.S. is no longer the only influencer of change, of technology, the giver of aid, and innovation." "A lot of entrepreneurship, innovation and growth is happening outside our country. The influence from China is staggering," he said warning that if corporations and public policy did not cohesively recognize this, all the growth could realistically escape America.

Some strong words there and a rigorous start to a two-day event that promises to feature several seminars, workshops and a career fair hosting over 75 Fortune 500 companies.

Click here to get more details about the expo and the conference.


Filed Under: CSR