SOURCE: General Electric (GE)
In mid-September 2012, GE’s Citizenship team experimented with a new practice of in-depth online stakeholder engagement. Specifically, we invited 50 sustainability experts from around the world into a weeklong virtual dialogue on the OpenEyeWorld (OEW) platform to provide feedback our new Citizenship Web portal.
This strategy enacts what Jane Nelson of Harvard University, a member of our Citizenship Advisory Panel, outlined in a video accompanying last year’s Citizenship Report: social media will “provide platforms for companies themselves to engage much more creatively with stakeholders from an accountability perspective and get feedback from stakeholders on things that the company is doing and help ongoing engagement for stakeholders.”
The “asynchronous” nature of this Expert Exchange distinguishes it from existing practice of in-person and online stakeholder engagement (such as Webinars and TweetChats), which typically happen in real-time. On OEW, stakeholders weighed in across multiple time zones at their convenience, allowing a longer arc of dialogue to develop. For GE, this kind of “virtual CSR expert convening” extends our strong existing practice with the Citizenship Advisory Panel and other thematic expert gatherings onto the Social Web.
The Expert Exchange, facilitated by Bill Baue for Addison asked stakeholders to “broadly assess specific strengths and areas of potential improvement” on design and content in separate threads devoted to specific reporting areas:
- The GE Citizenship Website containing “evergreen” information
- The Planet section of the GE Citizenship Website
- The 2011 Sustainable Growth Report Microsite
The “evergreen” thread generated more than half of the 40 comments that came in over the 5 days, with almost half of the invited experts participating in the overall Exchange. Issues generally fell into two broad categories: Reporting processes and practices; and reporting on management and governance of sustainability performance
In general, stakeholders liked the site design—for example, the layout of the People, Planet and Economy infrastructure. Here are some of the highlights of constructive feedback:
- Strategic Sustainability Consulting CEO Jennifer Woofter suggested an opportunity for better integration and flow between the evergreen site and annual reporting microsite;
- Center for Sustainable Organizations Executive Director Mark McElroy asked why GE’s Citizenship reporting does not incorporate the Global Reporting Initiative Principle of Sustainability Context, which calls for reporting of environmental and social impacts against “relevant norms, standards, or thresholds for what its impacts would have to be in order to be sustainable”;
- Natural Logic CEO Gil Friend and astoneco management Managing Director John James Aston questioned GE’s embedding of sustainability throughout its 130-year history; Friend applauded the business rigor of GE’s ecomagination initiative, while Aston sought evidence of ‘state of the art’ practice of life cycle analysis across the five capitals of sustainability;
- Two Tomorrows North American CEO Todd Cort sought reporting on how GE integrates sustainability objectives within core business decision-making processes, globally and regionally; Cort listed five issues he wanted to see addressed, including discussion of thresholds to allow comparability between sustainability issues and financial issues, and feedback loops to show learning from outputs;
- StakeWare CEO Natan Zaidenweber asked how GE arrives at its determinations of relevant stakeholders and material issues, and whether it differs across geographic locations.
- Investor Environmental Health Network Counsel Sanford Lewis documented extensive examples of initiatives supporting the shift from potentially harmful chemical ingredients to safer alternatives, including companies identifying substances to avoid as well as their efforts to develop safer alternatives, and wanted to see more information on GE’s work on this front;
- SRI-Connect Editor Mike Tyrrell initiated a new thread focused on reporting sustainability information to investors, specifically advocating for integrating sustainability performance data into communications with mainstream investment analysts and portfolio managers;
- Independent Scenarios Planner Barbara Heinzen encouraged GE to contextualize its reporting and performance in relation to increasing strains on social cohesion and natural capital resources, expanding its time horizons to anticipate potential shifts in social and environmental dynamics.
Following up on these stakeholder inputs, GE Citizenship is currently analyzing which suggestions identified in the Exchange can be addressed, either immediately or in the near future. For example, we plan to:
- Improve site usability by adding more descriptive “rollover” text, removing one or more layers of navigation for accessing “Performance Against Commitments” data, and adding a further layer of detail to the sitemaps
- Expand our tagging to more comprehensively include terms used by our stakeholders;
- Add more direct interlinking between the GRI Index and the report Webpages that include information about specific indicators and enhance cross-linkages between GE’s Citizenship reporting and its ecomagination, Healthymagination, Annual Report, and Investor Relations Websites;
- Clarify the information GE shares with our Citizenship Advisory Panel, which form the basis of their annual “Panel Commentary” Letter;
- Expand information on GE’s interaction with key stakeholders.
We will also continue to explore online engagement, pushing ourselves (as well as the broader corporate sustainability community) toward interactions that continually enhance performance and reduce adverse impacts, guided by our Citizenship Advisory Panel.
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KEYWORDS: Marketing, Media & Communications, People, Social Action & Community Engagement, Technology. Innovation & Solutions, Stakeholder engagement, experts, Reporting, Transparency, openeyeworld, sustainability, Disclosure, csr, GE