Tolerance for other business sectors by CSR / Sustainability professionals

You might have heard or read on this blog that my life has changed dramatically over the past year. We have gone from A to Z in terms of changes in our lives as a family. I will not go into detail here but we totally changed our life’s to say the least.

A a consequence of these changes, we decided to move back to Germany at the end of 2010 to start a new chapter in our lives.

I took over the family business next to my own business and Anne, my wife, recently started her new job as a Senior Manager at Accenture in the Sustainability Services team here in Düsseldorf, Germany.

Over the past weeks I had several interesting and in a way eye-opening conversations with CSR / Sustainability friends about the new role running the family business. And with eye-opening I mean, that these conversations basically went this way.

  • Person 1: So what do you do now?
  • Me: Oh, next to my own CSR / Sustainability business I run a business called PMM Services together with the rest of the family. This business is very different to what I did over the past years but in the end it is business and a vehicle to earn money to feed the complete family. I am also passionate about this topic as I helped found the company around 12 years ago and feel strongly about the necessity of this service we provide.
  • Person 1: (after taking a minute to look at the site): Hmm. I am not so sure about this business to be perfectly honest Fabian. I really did not think you would do this kind of thing. Defense you know……..
  • Me: What do you mean?
  • Person 1: Well, being in the defense business and all. I really need to have to think about this Fabian. Hmm…….

The conversations usually then went on to focus on other topics but the tone really changed in most conversations from that point on. I felt that this association with the new business in a way shocked people to say the least .

But what is there to be shocked about? We as PMM Services assist the German Army to properly train their staff so that they can defend German soil and their own as well as allied troops the best way possible. Someone needs to provide this service and we as a business have provided this for 12 years now.

The lesson I learned from this so far is that it is important to stand up for the changes you do in your life. No matter what they are. In my case the changes might be quite drastic but I always thought that CSR / Sustainability people in particular had a high tolerance for different points of view and would not judge as quickly as they did in many conversations.

This is a new challenge for me and my family and just because it is not necessarily CSR / Sustainability related does not mean that I am a bad influence for some people all of the sudden. My point of view has not changed and will not change either. CSR / Sustainability is what I believe in. End of story. And it is your decision whether you would like to further have contact with me or not.

I am not sure whether this is how you will react when you read this but I would be much interested in your point of view on this topic.


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  1. Fabian, in my view we all have our challenges in our sectors. Wouldn't have jobs if there weren't challenges ! Seems to me that the key to CR for any business in any sector is to be transparent and authentic about the material sustainability and ethical dilemmas faced and how those are resolved within the context of the profit imperative.

  2. God Bless the day we don't need military operations but until that day comes, we will need businesses such as yours. There are many businesses that are not "CSR" by their very nature, with your experience and knowledge, there may be opportunities for change in a positive way within that industry.  Kudos to you for taking steps to support your family even in the face of major changes for you personally.

  3. Fabian  — I agree with Kevin, every busines has its challenges. I don't know enough about your company to understand its range of sustainability challenges and what you will do about them.  That story has not been told yet – from what I can gather on the website of this company – and I know you will tell that story, manage that impact, create opportunity and inspire your industry peers like no one else could.

    I'm glad you put the question out there up front. We need to be very careful in the world of corporate sustainability that we don't fall into rigid thinking, 'holier than thou', intellectual dishonesty.

    Remain intellectually honest – as I know you will -, keep moving your business model in the right direction and I'm sure most everyone you know  in the area of corporate sustainability will stay engaged. Those that don't stand much more to lose than you.

    Best of luck to you and Anne in meeting all these new life changes.

  4. Thank you for the comments James, Cindy and Kevin.

    At @twitter-10774532:disqus Honesty is the most important aspect of CSR in my view as well. This is what I always tell people getting into the CSR field. It was also the reason for the post. Very well spotted. 🙂
    At @CJ_Esposito:twitter I agree. And this will be one of my goals I have to say. I would l also like to give kudos to you and @3blmedia:twitter for the work you do to promote CSR. 
    At @twitter-67014989:disqus : Very true Kevin. I think you as a telecoms person know what it means to live up to your responsibility. Best of luck for your future challenges. 

  5. Hi Fabian, I think your dilemma is a fascinating one and it goes to prove a couple of things.

    First, that tolerance is a two way thing. Some people see defense (which more often than not is offense rather than defense) as outside of the realm of corporate responsibility. They cannot always make the distinction between aramaments manufacture and supply and training activities. I think you need to understand that there are people who think that way, and it's legitimate. While it does not detract from your sustainability expertise, working with you may represent a risk for a company who wants nothing to do with the defense industry.

    Which brings me to my second point. Sustainability is holistic. For example, a company cannot be carbon neutral on the one hand and abusing human rights on the other. People will always look at your total profile and total set of activities.

    This new reality is clearly going to be challenging for you. I agree that it is right to clarify, unapologetically, your position and explain things fully, You might find that you lose clients and contacts. However, what I think will be true is that many new opportunities will open up with people who understand the value you can add to their sustainability thinking and practice. Those who get lost by the wayside will be the ones who come off worse.

    Good luck to you and Anne

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