From: Paul Geary, ENN
Published September 29, 2005 12:00 AM

GE Plastics Seminar Includes Environmental Component

New York City — GE Plastics, a subsidiary of General Electric, sponsored the New York City Innovation seminar last week, with a strong environmental component comprising part of the program. The seminar, held at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, was geared toward design professionals and engineers whose products include a plastic component. About 200 design professionals attended the seminar.

Jacquelyn Ottman, the founder and president of J. Ottman Consulting, was the keynote speaker. Ottman's company specializes in helping businesses find a competitive advantage through green marketing and innovation. The firm is the principle organizer of Design:Green, an educational initiative with the goal of jumpstarting eco-design education for US product designers.

The one-day seminar included workshops on color theory and trends, aesthetic technology, material selection, and metal replacement.

One workshop devoted specifically to the environment was an overview of Weee and RoHS regulations. "Weee," or "waste electrical and electronic equipment" regulations refer to a product's end-of-life, and make the manufacturer rather than the consumer ultimately responsible for the disposal and recycling of electronic components. RoHS, or "regulation of hazardous substances" regulates and in some cases prohibits the use of certain substances in the manufacturing process.

Both are initiatives that are being phased into European Union law, and many American companies are adapting to those regulations despite their nonexistence in the United States. Workshop presenter Christine Murner of GE Plastics pointed out that regulations in the United States are more focused on safety rather than environmental protection. The fact that US companies are adopting these standards is evidence that "the market is moving faster than the requirements," according to Murner.

Murner pointed out the importance of these issues, considering that the world's population is expected to increase to about 9 billion by 2050, with most of that growth expected to be in Asia and Africa. Also, the economies on those continents are expected to shift from subsistence economies to consumer economies if they haven't already.

Jacquelyn Ottman's keynote speech also focused on the environment. Ottman asserted that companies which do not have a green focus "will have to sooner or later, and probably sooner." She pointed out that in order for a company's green initiatives to be successful, the customer must be concerned and feel like he or she can make a difference. Also, the customer must believe a company's claims, feel confident that the product works, and that any price premium is worth the money.

Ottman urged companies to think creatively, and to consider radical changes that will cause people to live differently. She gave a hypothetical example: the toothbrush. In order to be more environmentally friendly, the toothbrush could be made with less plastic, with recyclable plastic, or be made to be less disposable. But more radical thinking would include the creation of chewing gums or food additives that remove the need to brush at all.

The seminar was part of GE's current "ecomagination" campaign.

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