Our staff and Senior Associates bring a rich mix of ideas and enthusiasm from their experience across the world. Hear their stories of working with leaders at CPSL.
A Day in the Life: Polly Courtice, Director, CPSL
Polly Courtice and Dr Wangari Maathai at The St. James's Palace Nobel Laureates Symposium
My interest in the natural environment and its links to social justice comes from growing up in South Africa. I’m driven by the immensity of the challenges we face and by the thought that my children might look back in years to come and ask, particularly about climate change, ‘Why didn’t you take action when you knew what was happening?’
Most of my serious thinking takes place when I’m out of the office – including while I’m out jogging with my dog first thing in the morning. I generally get up around 5.30 a.m. to deal with email and talk to colleagues working in different time zones, so by the time I get to the office I’m fired up for the day ahead. We have around 40 staff here in Cambridge, and people in Australia, South Africa, the US and Brussels.
Managing these relationships takes a great deal of my time, so my days are packed with meetings and phone calls. At the same time I’m determined to keeping running a number of my own projects, and I try to keep time aside for that, which isn’t always easy. Luckily I have a great team here that shares a lot of the load, so it’s manageable and, above all, hugely enjoyable.
I joined CPSL a couple of months after it was established and can hardly believe that we’ve celebrated our twentieth anniversary. We are now entirely focused on leadership for sustainability. What we try to do is help leaders in business and government deepen their understanding and responses to global challenges such as climate change, poverty, social justice, food security, ecosystems and sustainable consumption and production.
Cambridge has so much to offer in this area. Whether you’re running a short policy dialogue, a four-day seminar or a longer programme, the aim is to create a stimulating experience that combines expert input, group work, dialogue and debate in just the right proportions. The participants themselves have so much to offer that it’s critical to create opportunities for them to learn from each another, not just from the experts.
In my own projects I spend a lot of time on programme design, which means keeping in touch with the debate, finding just the right leading thinkers and practitioners, and discussing with them how to get the ideas across and create space for productive debate. Working with such a diverse group of people – ranging from academics and technical experts to business executives, policymakers and politicians – is one of the most interesting aspects of the job.
In 1993 The Prince of Wales invited me to set up his Business & Sustainability Programme to help senior executives address the challenge of achieving profitability and sustainability. It’s now one of our flagship programmes, expanded to many regions of the world and boasting an alumni network that numbers over 2,000. The Prince takes a real interest in what goes on, and regularly meets the leaders who take part. He hosts a number of events each year for us, and we have regular meetings with him to review progress. He’s always keen to know how he can increase the programme’s impact. We’re now working with him on a number of projects that link climate with specific sectors, such as pensions, insurance and banking. I greatly enjoy our discussions, and always come away from meetings feeling really energised – usually with a long ‘To Do’ list!
In the end, though, I’m an optimist. We are part of a sustainability movement whose time has come: so many people we work with now recognise the challenges and are urgently seeking the right course of action. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning –the sense that what we do at CPSL can make a difference, no matter how small.
Original interview by Sarah Woodward, CAM
My CPSL: Emma Mee, Communications Manager
Polly Courtice, Director of CPSL; Jonathon Porritt, member of the Core Faculty of The Prince of Wales's Business & Sustainability Programme; Emma Mee, and Lindsay Hooper, CPSL's Director, Executive Programmes
My CPSL is about the constant energy we have for taking on new challenges in the drive for changing the direction in which we all feel we are hurtling. Yet while our ‘corporate’ focus is on large, transformational change of global systems, I have seen that it is really down to individual characters and personalities to be the driving force of this change.
My work over the last 6 years at CPSL has been enriched by these personalities, and this has made me acutely aware of some of the traits that are necessary to lead – humour, honesty, and optimism, yet also an acceptance of things we cannot change all help to take people with you on this journey.
The biggest change I see in people who engage with us is when they arrive with a keenness for finding a single solution, and yet leave with a greater understanding of the whole problem. It seems to slow people down, they become more grounded and through it, more empowered to take on the root causes of bigger issues; they seem to take it onboard personally.
Despite all the froth around cases like ‘climategate’, there is a visible groundswell of support from people wanting to address issues that up until recently weren’t even known about. It is this expediential growth in awareness and innovative ideas that keeps me interested in what we do. Whenever I feel the problems are too large, too complex, or that we aren’t even close to understanding the problem, I try to look back to see how far we’ve come and how quickly the world has changed over the last 10 years, the last 5, even the last 2. At this rate, I daren’t go home at the end of the day in case I miss something…
My CPSL: Stacy Gilfillan, Project Manager
Photograph of Stacy Gilfillan and Williams Johnson from Great Place to Work at The Prince of Wales's Business & Sustainability Programme's London Lecture, 2010
I grew up in a town whose legacy was a river that caught on fire. Then the steel and auto industry left and Cleveland, Ohio became another notch along the rust belt of the Great Lakes in the USA. From this, I was always astutely aware of how we relate to the environment and how business affects a community and the environment that it operates in.
After leaving university I set up a non-profit that looked to lessen the impact hospitals had in the disposal of medical equipment while serving the most vulnerable. Hospitals in the United States discard more than $6 billion worth of medical equipment and supplies while the World Health Organization estimates that 1 billion people globally are without adequate heath care (2003). The non-profit I set up was to serve as a conduit for the collection and redistribution of medical equipment and supplies around the world. This meant that those organisations that cared for the most exposed would have access to resources and donating hospitals now had an excellent marketing piece and an alternative to a landfill. I was excited to make an opportunity from this waste and create a positive alternative.
I find that at CPSL we have the opportunity to make this business case for sustainability broadly across sectors working within businesses locally with a global impact. I currently work in the Leaders Groups team and focus on The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change which is currently 30 cross-sector corporate leaders from major UK, EU, and international companies who believe that there is an urgent need to develop new and longer term policies for tackling climate change. The Group aims to trigger a step-change in policy and action need to meet the scale of the threat posed by climate change, and to grasp the business opportunities created by moving to a low-climate-risk economy.
Working with the Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change has been absolutely fantastic. The group is creating a political space for a new message on climate change as a catalyst for innovation, prosperity and growth. Operating through statements, compendiums, policy documents, summits, roundtables, communiqués and high level political meetings the CLG focuses not only on their own backyard but also pushes for a larger international framework demonstrating what is possible and that a transition to a low carbon economy will increase not decrease competitiveness, growth and employment . I am proud to be a part of something that is working to create a better and sustainable future. I am challenged and encouraged by all the enthusiasm and hard work of my colleagues. I am thrilled to sit down to a different desk every morning as the work is challenging but with those challenges comes unbelievable opportunity for business and communities.
A Personal View of CPSL: Peter Willis, Director, South African Office
Peter Willis (second right) and the BSP faculty
When Polly Courtice, Director of CPSL, hired me in early 2002 to set up CPSL’s South African office in Cape Town I warned her that I was a restless soul and would take on the job for three energetic years and then would likely want to move on to a fresh challenge. So here I am, eight years later and with a plan for the year ahead that, once again, fills me with excitement. Should a job be this much fun, I sometimes wonder?
Right now the two possibilities that hold my attention most forcefully are:
1. Designing and convening a new kind of national leadership dialogue, ‘owned’ by neither the government, business nor civil society but engaging the most committed and able members of each sector in a process to map the optimum pathways for each sector to pursue in responding to climate change over the next 10 years. The trick in this process will be to persuade leaders to leave their institutional and sectoral egos ‘at the door’ and understand the space we create as one where collaborative thinking can flourish in place of the normal negotiations. Indications thus far are encouraging.
2. Creating a workshop process for individual large companies that helps them to think through new business ideas they could develop that would align them profitably with the approaching ‘green economy’. The process we’ve piloted successfully so far involves bringing in globally recognised experts on relevant topics or technologies (drawing on our vast Cambridge-based network) while having a group of diverse, innovative thinkers challenging the company’s thinking in the room for the duration of the workshop. The combination, which is a first cousin to CPSL’s Collaboratory model, is clearly quite potent and we see all kinds of applications for it as a model to stimulate far-sighted, out-of-the-box thinking.
At the time of writing this, my colleagues and I are preparing to run our 9th annual BSP (The Prince of Wales's Business & Sustainability Programme) seminar in Cape Town. These seminars demand a lot from us – I think of each one as hand-made, with nothing taken for granted and every moment and detail thought through in advance – and are correspondingly satisfying to run. Witnessing a room full of highly accomplished men and women start to grapple personally and profoundly with the true state of the world and their potential role in creating a viable future for humanity is about as satisfying as work can get, I feel, and – ironically, perhaps – we always manage to have a huge amount of fun along the way. Highlights for me have also included having the chance to invite some of the world’s most refined thinkers in the field of sustainability to join my Core Faculty for these seminars. To be able to secure people of the calibre of Jorgen Randers (co-author of the Limits to Growth series of books since 1972), Jonathon Porritt, Professor Tom Gladwin, Paul Gilding, and mix them into teams with younger, emerging sustainability thinkers and doers is an extraordinary privilege. The fact that each of them is personally delightful and capable of turning the most sombre of subjects into a moment of side-splitting hilarity just underscores our belief within CPSL that it is the person who matters, not the theory, the strategy or the technology.