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GE To Slash Water Use 20 Percent

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BEIJING — General Electric Co. will cut its global water use by 20 percent over five years, CEO Jeff Immelt said Wednesday.

Immelt also spoke of leading acquisition candidates for GE's appliance unit, which the company said this month was up for sale.

"We believe just like greenhouse gas emissions have been a big societal challenge, the same thing is true for water," Immelt said at a news conference in the Chinese capital. "We are committed to using our technology both inside and outside the company to reduce our water consumption by 20 percent by the year 2012."

The Fairfield, Conn.-based company said it used 10 billion gallons of fresh water in 2006 for cooling towers and other manufacturing processes. GE will re-evaluate its worldwide water usage, Immelt said, and will reduce it by about 1.8 billion gallons a year.

GE also raised sales targets for its three-year-old initiative to promote environmentally friendly technology, Immelt said.

GE sales of energy efficient, water saving and pollution reducing products and services exceeded $14 billion in 2007, Immelt said.

GE's previous revenue target for its "ecomagination" initiative was for $20 billion in annual sales by 2010. Immelt said the company is now raising that target to $25 billion.

Speaking earlier Wednesday in Seoul, Immelt said South Korea's LG Electronics is a leading candidate to buy GE's appliance unit, which is being sold or spun off.

Asked in Beijing whether China's Haier Electronics Group might also be a potential buyer, Immelt said, "Much still has to be decided in that area and whether LG or Haier or Electrolux or others participate remains to be seen."

In Seoul, Immelt said Haier and Mexico's Controladora Mabe, a unit of Controladora Comercial Mexicana, were companies that could make bids, and said interest has also come from Turkey.

LG Electronics Inc. said Wednesday in a regulatory filing it has made no decisions on a possible bid. The Korea Exchange had earlier asked LG to clarify media reports it might be in the running for the appliance unit.

LG Electronics Chief Executive Yong Nam had said Tuesday that his company was closely watching developments on GE's proposed sale, saying that the entire appliance industry could be reshaped by the outcome.

Haier already has a partnership in some areas with GE and made an unsuccessful bid in 2005 to buy the U.S. appliance maker Maytag.

GE also plans to sell its consumer finance unit in Japan. Immelt said GE expects to name a buyer from among several Japanese bidders by the end of June and close the deal this year.

GE shares fell 3 cents to $30.37 Wednesday.