Tim Preisenhammer already discussed sustainability in his ISM days. Back then he debated with his fellow students, today it’s with his clients. The ISM graduate has made sustainability his job and, after working in London, Beijing and Hong Kong, is now working in New York for a Californian company specializing in sustainability in building management. He spoke with us about the importance of sustainability for himself, his job and society.
Tim, you made a conscious decision to work in the field of sustainability – although you were advised against it. Where does your passion for the topic stem from?
In short, you can say that I came to sustainability through arguing. I’ve always loved to debate with people and when I came to ISM, corporate social responsibility and sustainability were still marginal topics that many fellow students didn’t consider important. For me, this was a perfect opportunity for controversial discussions. There were still new truths to be discovered in this field and that inspired me. And I realized that sustainability is a growth topic. The catastrophe in Fukushima happened during my first semester at ISM and Germany was planning to phase out nuclear power. All of a sudden everybody was talking about sustainability and I wanted to be a part of this movement.
What does sustainability mean to you personally?
Our planet has systems that make life possible. Sustainability for me means that we don’t destroy these systems in the long run. Many people associate the topic with the feeling of doing something good. For me it is simply about the survival of humanity.
What do you see as the greatest challenges in this respect?
There is good news here. We have learned a lot in the last few years. We know both the political tools such as CO2 taxes and the technological means such as solar energy and batteries to make our society sustainable. Millennials are already fully committed to sustainability and so will their children be. We just need to bring all the strands together. This is often easier said than done. I don’t think there is one single problem, but many different ones. In my industry, for example, we need to find a better way to explain to clients what sustainability has to do with their investments. We experiment with different messages, fail and try again.
Does your ISM degree help you in this?
For the many contract negotiations, courses like Negotiations and Contract Law have given me a very good basis on which I can quickly build. In addition, my Excel skills are sustainably good thanks to ISM. To this day, the network has been particularly helpful. My best friend is also a former ISM student and these deep connections help me when I have a bad day.
You have lived and worked in many different countries throughout your career. How does the perspective on sustainability differ across national borders?
Sustainability is now understood in a similar way, the differences lie in the details. Take sustainable cities, for example: Germany actually understands it to mean the sustainable renewal of the current building stock, whereas China sees it as the construction of new cities according to sustainable concepts. This difference is, of course, historically determined. Germany has many buildings from the post-war period, China’s major cities are only just being built. In the USA, too, a large part of the population now sees sustainability as an important issue. Unlike in Germany, however, people here hope that they can “invent” themselves out of their problems – that they don’t have to change their lifestyle and prefer to rely on technologies that simply solve the problems. In Germany, there is greater awareness that people must also change their own behavior.
For you, internationality was already an integral part of your studies. What was particularly formative for you?
I was part of the second generation of the Model United Nations at ISM and flew to New York with a team of inspiring fellow students. It was a lot of fun and I wrote in my diary that I wanted to live here someday. Voilà.
What three tips would you give current students?
Take a lot of time to build and maintain great connections. Perseverance often beats intelligence. Always apply, even if it sounds far-fetched.
Interview: Laura Krause