"If you look to the future, there is going to be a day when we have standards of some kind pertaining to carbon," he said. "I think most business people are planning for that implicitly, even without anything that's overt." The Bush administration has opposed such controls.
Mr. Immelt made the remarks after a speech and news conference that coupled an announcement of a new corporate strategy - increasing the emphasis on products to sell to an environmentally conscious world marketplace - with a plea for government commitment to clarify energy policy and commit to "market mechanisms" to achieve energy and environmental goals.
The speech, news conference and assorted gatherings were the result of a year's planning and packaging of the company's "ecomagination" initiative.
As part of it, Mr. Immelt said that General Electric would double its research budget for energy and environmental technologies to $1.5 billion and that such products were expected to bring in revenues of $20 billion by the year 2010, compared with $10 billion last year.
In a speech at George Washington University's business school, Mr. Immelt pledged to work with its customers and provide "the financing that supports the development and application of new technologies."
He also pledged that in the next seven years, the company's energy efficiency would improve by 30 percent and its worldwide greenhouse gas emissions would decrease by 1 percent - adding that they would have increased by 40 percent otherwise.
The ecomagination initiative comprises 17 technologies, some of which have been in use for years, and some of which are still under development. The company is a leader in most of the technologies, but not all.
For example, Mr. Immelt listed the H System gas turbine, which produced more electricity from a thousand cubic feet of gas than any competitor when it was introduced in 2000.
Another technology included was the engine for Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, which is designed to use 20 percent less fuel a seat mile. Engineers say the engines are an impressive technical achievement; their specifications had already been announced.
The technology that Mr. Immelt and two executives of major coal-burning utilities who joined him at the news conference dwelled on most heavily was for making electricity from coal. The coal is exposed to steam, creating a flammable gas, which is then burned in a turbine.
The technique produces more electricity from a ton of coal, allows much easier cleanup of sulfur, mercury and particulates and raises the possibility that in later years an adjunct system could be added to capture the carbon dioxide.
Two government-backed plants are now running, but Mr. Immelt pledged to make the system - which now costs 20 percent more than a standard coal-burning plant - commercially viable, if the government would give a subsidy to build more so engineers could learn how to cut costs.
Mr. Immelt also said that his company was developing a hybrid railroad locomotive that, like car hybrids, would recapture energy ordinarily lost in braking and use it later for extra horsepower on acceleration, reducing fuel consumption and air pollution.
A rival in British Columbia, RailPower, has delivered six hybrid locomotives since the end of last year, and has a backlog of 80 orders.
In an interview, Mr. Immelt said that packaging these and other technologies, and adding promises like cutting the company's own carbon emissions and making public reports, was "connecting the dots in the breadth of G.E., and putting a finer point on it."
With a liberal sprinkling of euphemisms like "carbon constraints," Mr. Immelt managed to have environmental advocates like Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute, and their adversaries in the Bush administration embrace his vision as an affirmation of their own views.
"They have forthrightly embraced the need for government policy" on heat-trapping gases, Mr. Lash said.
In the interview, Mr. Immelt said the legislation introduced by Senators John McCain and Joseph I. Lieberman that would create an emissions-trading system for heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide includes elements "that make sense," but said he was not prepared to endorse specific legislation.
Senator McCain, Republican of Arizona, issued a news release thereafter saying that Mr. Immelt had called for emissions caps and market mechanisms - he did the second explicitly but the first only implicitly - and saying "those are precisely the principles behind the Climate Stewardship Act that Senator Joe Lieberman and I introduced."
At the same time, David Garman - assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, said he had lunch with a senior G.E. executive and came away with the message that "G.E. is highlighting innovation as a solution to technological problems. We sort of view G.E.'s pledge as the president's climate policy put into practice."