As part of the GE Citizenship Expert Panel, it was interesting being back in Brazil one year after Rio+20 to discuss the challenges of implementing sustainability.
International businesses need to operate globally but also respond to local priorities. We heard how GE is driving its businesses to be local development partners—with leadership of the business focused regionally and nationally while also closely linked to local business opportunities. But that raises two key questions—How does a company link its core technologies to local needs; and What responsibility does a company have to steer those needs versus just responding to them?
Internationally, governments are in the process of defining a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that they hope to agree on and launch in 2015. Business is already engaged in what the goals could be and what our role will be in implementing whatever commitments the United Nations finally establishes. That in itself is a major change from the original Rio conference, at which business was viewed as the problem rather than as part of the solution.
Balancing local and global standards will continue to be a tension for companies. The ability to implement more sustainable approaches and to work creatively in local contexts may well be a key differentiator of successful companies in the future.