Many ideas and people have influenced me, my actions and my ideals. It is impossible to talk about corporate social responsibility without talking about my views and my values on corporate structures, political entities, economic trends or religious upbringing. I’ll argue that without communicating these views to others, my actions and beliefs are less clear, or totally unclear.
Marilyn Pratt shares her opinions on CSR in a Thanksgiving: A Time to Link Personal, Civic and Corporate Activism but prior to that she and I communicated several times on what she feels SAP is responsible for. The green building addition being constructed in Philadelphia, the changes in the SDN points system, and a series of social responsibility wikis on SDN are examples of the beliefs and leadership stances Marilyn and others on her team have taken. Craig Cmehil also blogged Forget the 1 Million….”, on the role an individual plays in the larger community, sharing his views that everyone matters, and what everyone in the community does is important.
Although the “topic of the month” is CSR, I have not seen a lot of writing on the SDN system, which is understandable considering people are searching for technical answers on this system, not for political commentary. But I can’t pass up the invitation in the month’s topic to share.
In no particular order, here are my role models, heroes, anti-heroes and gurus.
Thomas Friedman is a reporter, often seen on television, and unfortunately, no longer published regularly in my local newspaper (the Baltimore Sun). His experience in the world around us have driven him to write several books, notably, The World is Flat, commenting on social and technology drivers in the 21st century. My understanding of the motives of Indian and Chinese citizens, their economic and environmental impacts, and how these changes affect me, my family and my home country have been altered profoundly by his insights. If you are not familiar with his work, go to www.thomaslfriedman.com/.
My company operates in China, as do many others. Like many other corporate decisions, I can see many sides to decisions about where and how to create products. Our material world shapes our choices, and our capitalist framework.
When I was in college, I happened to attend a lecture given by R. Buckminster Fuller, who was in his late seventies at the time. I don’t recall having heard of him beforehand, but after that I will never forget who he was. In a style that can only be described as unique, he shared his visions of the world, of corporate structures, of engineering and architecture, and most importantly, his drive to change the world. He tossed off many critical ideas in an hour or so, including defining the now overworked term synergy, describing how imperialism shaped our modern world, and introducing the concept of “energy slaves” to represent how much automation and mechanical advantage we enjoy compared to our ancestors, as well as to others around the world. I had known from my environmental studies that we in the United States are wealthy, but had never clearly seen before how much energy we use. In the context of responsibility, it became obvious to me that not only are we privileged, but that those privileges are at the expense of others, and at the risk of massive negative impacts to the earth.
It is a fact of our modern life that we control our actions and choices.
Although I never met Abbie Hoffman, I did see a snapshot of him in a New York loft once, and read a few of his books in the Seventies and Eighties and I still have a copy of the only LP record he released (“Wake Up America”). To me, he’s an anti-hero like a Bonnie and Clyde, or Butch Cassidy. He had great ideas, and he had stupid ideas. His mistrust of THE SYSTEM, born out of the material excesses of the Fifties and Sixties, and the total stupidity of the Vietnam War, made him a person worth listening to (but perhaps not to follow). His subsequent decline, arrests and alleged suicide served to make him more enigmatic in death than in life. His portrayal by Vincent Donofrio in “Steal This Movie” was a flawed gem of a story that still has inspirational potential for those facing environmental peril, overwhelming economic trends, and personal dissatisfaction with the status quo.
Another cultural icon made famous, even immortal, by the Sixties in America, is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Living in a city on the border between North and South, where the manufacturing was already beginning to change, I learned very early about racial equality and inequality. I attended the last Baltimore City elementary school with only white students, and didn’t have any black friends until junior high school. My father was worried about what the neighbors would do or say when I asked if Chester could visit once. On the other hand, when I foolishly tried to tell a joke at the expense of others, my parents made it clear they would not tolerate that attitude. I saw and heard the prejudice of others around me, and often felt powerless to intervene. The assassination of Dr. King in 1968 was a dramatic moment in American history, and I recall the newspaper and television stories sharing the horrors of riots, looting and deaths. My parents were afraid for me to return to my integrated junior high school, as the rumors intensified, but I was determined to go back and to try to understand what my friends felt.
I later learned that my father had attended the seminary school (Crozer Theological Seminary) that Dr. King attended, and that he heard him preach (not far from where SAP HQ is in Newtown Square PA). My father was proud of this experience, and I know that his successes in Baltimore city schools, and at the Maryland Rehabilitation Center, were partly a result of Dr. King’s teachings.
In college, I learned about the theories of Karl Marx from Dr. David Harvey, when we read Das Kapital (in English). David led the group as a facilitator, challenging us and taking challenges from us. His interpretations of the meaning of socialism, communism, capitalism and many other -isms bent my previously safe and snug world askew. He brought in a banker to talk about rates of returns. We debated finer points of “externalities”, where critical factors in a system might be ignored for convenience. We saw how construction techniques, building rehabilitation, and farming and ranching impact our daily lives and our quality of life.
My earliest experience with environmental activism was from Ralph Nader’s book Unsafe At Any Speed, a scientific yet opinionated critique of the automobile industry. I borrowed this from my school library in eighth grade, and it scared me silly. I had thought, based on those wonderful commercial jingles, that companies were just out to help us. But they exist for the bottom line, the dollar, for profit. Nader’s book, his Nader’s Raiders group, and related offshoots like Common Cause, serve as corporate watchdogs, reminding executives and boards that companies should serve their customers, be environmental stewards, and that health, safety and quality of life are as necessary as beating the competition.
Mahatma Gandhi said that what you yourself do is not important, but that is is very important that you do it. This twisty phrase captures the contradictions in life, comparing the smallness of our lives to the hugeness of the universe and the problems that we face, yet relating to the tiniest insects, who individually contribute minutely to the group, but where the sum accomplishes miraculous changes.
Al Gore’s award-winning movie An Inconvenient Truth is a sobering review of the problems we have created for ourselves. The movie A Crude Awakening – The Oil Crash offers an image of the post-apocalyptic world of no more cheap energy.
One of my favorite writers, Robert Heinlein, espoused many ideas about how people can work together, including the odd Stranger in a Strange Land, a book I identified with in high school. His phrase “TANSTAAFL” (there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch) should be a motto for those who want to understand the dependencies of life, and of how to look past the surface to discover motives.
By now, you might be thinking, “what is CSR” and “why do I care”, or “what has Jim done” about all these problems. CSR is Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability, which is where part of this blog is lodged. I won’t go on at length about what I’ve done, since, as noted above, it is not important. But while I own a car, I have owned only 3 in my lifetime, extending their use as long as possible. And each has gotten higher mileage than the last. My wife and I ran a recycling station for our neighborhood. It wasn’t much, but it was important to do. My current project at work is trying to cut down on the water bottle distribution – one of the strangest trends I have ever seen. “Drink Tap Water”. I can share other experiences if you contact me directly.
[All opinions expressed are mine, not my employer’s]
p.p.s My home carbon footprint