After more than a decade of warnings from the scientific community and Al Gore, company executives are waking up to the scope of the threat posed by climate change. But, while the problem has come into better focus, only a select few seem to appreciate the vastness of an effective solution. "Tackling climate change means re-working the entire global energy system–and therefore the entire global economy," says Jim Dooley, a scientist- engineer with not-for-profit research organization Battelle and senior staff engineer with the College Park, Md.-based Joint Global Change Research Institute. "It's going to need much, much more investment and deployment of new technologies, and that hasn't registered yet for a lot of companies."

Among those notable exceptions: General Electric Co. Two years ago, the global conglomerate launched its Ecomagination initiative, combining in-house emissions cuts with a commitment to produce more of the cleaner, greener technology that other companies will be using to cut their own emissions. GE, as is its custom, was hardly first to acknowledge the growth possibilities of green business, but when it did move, it moved decisively–and the strategy is already proving to be shrewd and profitable. Take, for example, wind turbines. Acquired from Enron Corp. in 2000 for $258 million, revenues this year will be close to $4 billion. "We've gone from picking this business up a few years ago to being number one in the U.S. and number two in the world," says John Righini, a Fairfield, Conn.-based director in GE's marketing initiatives group. "The basic strategy is that we won't do anything unless it has both a commercial or competitive upside, as well as a positive environmental impact. We need to see returns. Otherwise, it doesn't work. But we've found lots of ways to get both at the same time."

Good for GE, but not every company can go out and build windmills. According to Fred Wellington, chief financial analyst with the World Resources Institute (WRI), a Washington-based environmental think-tank that advised GE on its green business, they don't have to. Switching to a low-carbon economy has implications for everything from neon signs and personal computers to new homes and cars. It will touch industries as different from each other as paper manufacturing and insurance. As lowering emissions becomes the order of the day, there will be a multitude of opportunities for companies to cash in on an emerging market or just to save themselves money, he says.

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