2011 Report Overview

Perspective from the GE Citizenship Advisory Panel

Current Members

  • ISABEL HILTON is an international journalist and broadcaster. She is CEO and founder of China Dialogue, a website that publishes information and debate on environmental issues in English and Chinese.

  • JANE NELSON has been working with businesses, governments and multilateral agencies on sustainable development since the first Rio Earth Summit in 1992. She is director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s CSR Initiative, and a senior fellow at the school’s Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business & Government.

  • VALDEMAR DE OLIVEIRA NETO has set up a series of organizations and programs in Brazil promoting human rights, corporate social responsibility and social entrepreneurship. He is regional representative for Fundación AVINA in Latin America.

  • NICK ROBINS has more than 20 years’ experience in the financial, business and policy dimensions of sustainable development. He leads the Climate Change Centre of Excellence at HSBC in London, researching and communicating the implications of climate change for the bank and its clients.

  • THERO SETILOANE is a veteran of South Africa’s mining sector, working at the interface of business strategy, community engagement and economic development. He is the CEO of Business Leadership South Africa, an association of South Africa’s largest companies committed to addressing the challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

  • SALIL TRIPATHI is a writer and journalist on economic, political and cultural issues. Through his work at Amnesty International and now as the policy director of the Institute for Human Rights and Business, he supports the involvement of business in advancing human rights.

The panel is convened by Dr. Simon Zadek, independent adviser to GE. Panel members advise GE in a personal capacity.

What We Do

The GE Citizenship Advisory Panel supports, challenges and advises GE on its approach to sustainability. The panel engages with the Corporate Citizenship team and with business and functional leaders to support the company in understanding social, environmental and economic issues.

In 2011–2012 , the panel spent time with GE’s chairman and CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, as well as with business and functional leaders at GE’s China headquarters, in Shanghai, and with senior scientists and technologists at GE’s Global Research center in Niskayuna, NY.

Panel Commentary

As a panel, in recent years we have questioned and debated with GE on many issues, including human rights, engagement with investors, public policy influence and taxation. Our discussions have explored how the company should support the rule of law; low-carbon competitiveness; and the development of people, economies and communities. Over time, we have seen a significant shift in the company’s thinking, as its view of Citizenship has evolved from a focus primarily on compliance and philanthropy to its becoming part of how the business understands and responds to material social, economic, environmental and governance risks and opportunities.

In the past 18 months we have shifted our focus to engaging with GE executives to understand how the company is implementing its vision, and whether and how leadership and thinking on these issues are being integrated into decision-making at country and business-unit levels at different stages in the investment, R&D and operations cycles.

This year we met with some of GE’s most senior officers to explore whether Citizenship strategies are embodied in company leadership and technology development. We welcomed the openness and responsiveness of the discussion, as well as the level of seriousness, understanding and strategic concern it demonstrated about global issues at the core of the business.

GE is a U.S. corporation with global reach; we also welcomed its first China Citizenship report, which was not produced for China but from China. We look forward to future reporting that shows how GE contributes dynamically to national development priorities in the regions where it operates.

We engage with GE because we see its challenges and opportunities as part of a broader question of how incumbent institutions can become drivers for solving the complex and systemic challenges of the twenty-first century. How GE “disrupts itself” is a critical issue not only for the company, but also for the world.

Thomas Edison vowed to “make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles,” but today one fifth of the world’s population remains reliant on dirty, dangerous energy such as kerosene lamps, while another fifth is locked into patterns of energy use that endanger both the global environment and prospects for poverty reduction and development.

It is clear that technology is critical to providing access to clean, safe and reliable energy, as well as sustainable access to water, healthcare and many other critical needs. At the same time, technology companies need to think strategically and carefully about any unintended consequences of new technologies, particularly with regard to potentially underexplored impacts, such as those on human rights.

In our discussions with Jeffrey Immelt; Mark Little, director of GE Global Research; and other technology leaders; we have explored how GE targets its research and investment in light of global challenges, and how it deals with environmental-design considerations and human rights issues. We were particularly interested in the opportunities for and constraints in bringing GE’s technologies to the “base of the pyramid,” to meet the needs of people who are currently “off the grid” for energy, modern healthcare and sanitation. We look forward to GE publishing more case studies and thought leadership on this subject.

The panel believes that GE can and should assume a stronger role in shaping a robust understanding of the role of technology in advancing sustainability in public policy spheres and broader circles of public interest. GE can and should apply its unique expertise and voice to dispelling the myths, clarifying the realities and demonstrating in practice how technology can contribute to solving global challenges in a manner that is profitable and competitive. We would urge the company to continue to contribute to these debates, and to take a leadership role in global experiments and public-private partnerships that address issues such as lack of access to energy, water and healthcare.

The Rio+20 Earth Summit in 2012 highlighted once again that policy makers will not set out clear pathways to a sustainable economy in the near term, making it even more important that GE works in leadership alliances to create new markets that deliver development benefits and protect the environment.