At HBS, GE's Immelt, Other Big Shots Demand Greener Energy Policy

My colleague, Cathy Arnst, is up at a Harvard B-school confab this week and sent in the following snapshot. Big business leaders are clamoring for strong green investment policies from the next administration. In Cathy’s words: GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt came out of the managed economy closet this morning. In front of some 1,600 business people at Harvard Business School (HBS), the citadel of capitalism, he had this to say about federal government investment in environmental technologies in order to create jobs:

I’ve been a Republican all my life. I believe in free markets. But the notion that the government isn’t a catalyst for change in this country is purely garbage.

The crowd erupted in sustained applause. Immelt made his remarks at a giant party HBS is throwing itself to mark its 100th birthday. The confab is called the Global Business Summit. Not the best timing for a celebration of business, perhaps, but some a lot of business folk are still spending Oct 13 and 14 listening to the likes of Bill Gates, Immelt, Larry Summers and other illustrious names give their views. And a lot of them view a full court press to develop environmental technologies a good thing. Monday morning’s panel discussion on leadership sounded like a session at an environmental convention rather than an HBS meeting, given the tone of the remarks. The speakers were Immelt, noted Silicon Valley entrepreneur John Doerr, former EBay CEO and McCain advisor Meg Whitman, Anand Mahindra, Vice Chairman of the huge Indian truck and tractor maker Mahindra and Mahindra, and British financier James Wolfesohn, who headed the World Bank for a decade.

Green technology was one of the main topics of the discussion, with speaker after speaker saying that this is the one sector that could really get the economy moving again. In particular Doerr, who has a lot invested in cleantech startups already, said environmental technologies would be a more powerful engine for growth than Internet or biotech startups, but there isn’t venture capital money around to reach the level of investment need in environmental research as a job creation. That’s when Immelt threw in his two cents.