On July 20, GE issued its sixth annual Citizenship Report, which charts GE’s progress and efforts — and includes in-depth analysis and discussion — in areas such as water, human rights, energy use and emissions, labor practices, education and healthcare. As former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, who’s on GE’s board of directors, writes in the report, GE’s goal is a business strategy that creates “a positive human impact” as well as long-term business success. “Citizenship is not a spectator sport,” says Nunn. “Companies with global reach and impact like GE must set commercial priorities to increase shareholder value while recognizing that our business foundation rests on forward progress on public policy imperatives.”
|Fresh look: Click the image to visit the newly re-launched Citizenship website and view the online Citizenship Report, which is structured around a discussion of three pillars of GE’s strategy — energy and climate change, sustainable healthcare, and community building.|
At its core, the report provides a type of annual scorecard that evaluates GE’s work vs. its commitments on a wide range of business issues, corporate responsibility initiatives, and stakeholder engagement. As Nunn points out, charting that progress is vitally important as “this report represents the evolution of GE’s effort to continually challenge ourselves to be more transparent, more accessible, and more cognizant of our impact on society and the environment. It provides a snapshot of how we are progressing on this long term journey towards sustainability in an ever-evolving global marketplace.” Nunn notes that it’s not just a matter of company policies, but the sum total of all of GE’s actions that count. As he explains it: “Millions of decisions made by hundreds of thousands of GE employees determine each day whether GE is living up to its own commitments and expectations: to have a positive and sustainable impact on society and the environment.”
This year’s report again features 20 essays on key responsibility issues — which we’ll spotlight in our series this week — from external thought leaders, customers and GE employees. Some feature calls to actions, others raise questions, and some track progress that’s being made in the field — such as the one by Andrew Jenkin, general manager for innovation, technology transfer at Rio Tinto, Australia. As Andrews explains it, “In Australia, companies like Rio Tinto face a great deal of pressure in relation to the issue of climate change. The resources industry consumes large quantities of energy in the mining, moving, and mineral recovery processes that are required to deliver the minerals and metals in strong demand across the world.”
|A thirsty enterprise: The mining dilemma: In 2008-09, the minerals sector accounted for eight percent of Australia’s gross domestic product and 48 percent of the nation’s total trade. It also has a significant environmental impact, as it releases carbon dioxide and methane gas into the atmosphere and is a large consumer of Australia’s most precious resource: water.|
Andrew notes that Rio Tinto and GE set up an alliance late in 2008 to innovate in this area by developing new technologies to significantly reduce energy consumption and reduce water use.
“We’ve examined a number of concepts that could significantly alter the energy footprint of both our company and the mining industry as a whole,” he writes, and “we’ve already made some progress with the approval of a program to demonstrate the potential value of a GE road surface product at our Mesa A mine, located in the Pilbara region of Northwest Australia. Dust can be a big problem in places like that, especially for the safety of vehicle drivers on haul roads. Typically, companies like ours will spray water on the roads to help reduce dust. But water is often a precious resource in Australia, and the watering process itself introduces many additional costs and EHS issues to be managed.”
For example, some of technologies increase the ability of water to adhere to and spread over a dust particle — or they bind to the ore itself, which can create dust when being moved or when blowing wind hits piles of it.
“In projects like this, the timeframes involved are measured in years, not months,” Andrew writes. “Assuming the new road surface performs well, we expect to measure significant improvements in the areas of water consumption, fuel consumption, and vehicle maintenance.”
|Dusting off solutions: At a gold mine in Nevada, GE’s dust control technology helped reduce water usage by 90 percent.|