Companies are increasingly committed to incorporating sustainability throughout their existing business models, demanding skilled individuals to take the lead.
Strategies must be focussed, creative and holistic and, as sustainability needs to be incorporated across all business practices, organisations can acquire a head-start by giving their staff opportunities to increase knowledge and advance skills.
The University of Cambridge’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) offers just this, and has put nearly 4,000 students through their paces in part-time Masters degree programmes and postgraduate diplomas specifically designed for mid- and senior-career professionals who want to enhance their ability to respond to sustainability challenges.
“The professionals who enrol in this programme are often already well informed and passionate about sustainability but sometimes lack either the knowledge or the confidence to take the action they can see is needed,” said CISL fellow Dr Jenny Pope.
“The programme brings together practical knowledge and academic rigour in a way that empowers students and offers tools to enable them to navigate complexity, to identify where impactful change can be made within their sphere of influence, to make a convincing case for change and then to bring about that change within the context of an organisation,” she added.
With degrees in sustainability leadership, the built environment, sustainable business and value chains, the Institute welcomes applicants from the public sector and NGOs but has a specific focus towards sustainability in a business context.
The courses have provided students with a deepened understanding of sustainability in their workplace and has encouraged many to develop initiatives which have benefitted both employer and employee.
“It was a wonderful experience as it was enriching, insightful and enjoyable, because of the faculty, curriculum, beautiful environment and my talented classmates,” said Natasha Walji, Managing Director for telecom, the public sector and technology at Google Canada, adding that the programme offered “a unique opportunity to follow my passion while continuing to accelerate my career.”
Although Natasha had already spent three years at Google and an additional eight years in various management roles before enrolling on the degree, her experience at Cambridge improved her understanding of systems thinking, which she then utilised when working on the company’s response to the Ebola crisis.
It also helped her consider the extent to which sustainability is taught: “I do wonder whether sustainability and leadership are sufficiently integrated into the modern education system, which is why CISL is such an innovative program.”
Another CISL student commented on how both the lessons and the people were similarly invaluable.
“I am certain that I will be able to apply the information and lessons learned during this course in my daily work at GlaxoSmithKline” said Caroline Ruter, Supply Chain Sustainability Manager at GSK, adding that the in-person residential workshops “provided good networking opportunities, which I believe will be helpful in my daily work and in my future career within sustainability.”
The Institute notes that the programmes are similarly as important for the businesses who support their employees through the programmes as they are for the students themselves. By supporting a member of staff through these programmes, organisations will gain a sustainability leader who will be able to respond effectively to the economic, social and environmental challenges facing the business world.
“There’s increasing business commitment to take action and not just manage risks and generate positive PR messages,” said Ian Ellison, CISL senior associate and tutor for the Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Business.
“Many organisations are seeing the need for a systems approach, so sustainability can be integrated with post-Covid recovery rather than competing with it,” he added.
You can find out more about postgraduate programmes and their benefits to both students and employers online.