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.
Dr Louise Driffill (left) and Cohort 3 Master's Students, Field Visit September 2013; photo credit: Zoe Arden
If I am honest, when I first joined CPSL, I never imagined I would enjoy my job as much as I do. I knew that CPSL occupied a unique position within the University and I was excited about being part of an organisation committed to bringing about real change. But I didn’t expect my role to be quite as varied, stimulating, inspiring and fun as it has turned out to be.
I have an academic background in sustainability from the University with a PhD looking at environmental policy and stakeholder engagement, and have always had a strong sense that I wanted to be involved in applying this knowledge directly so that it makes a difference to society. It’s why I moved from academia to government, but over the years I have come to realise the incredible potential and power of business to be a force for positive change.
I really enjoy the fact that CPSL plays that crucial role of bringing research and practice together, and I relish even more my role in making that happen on our graduate programmes. As course director for our Postgraduate Certificate, and deputy course director for our Master’s in Sustainability Leadership, I have responsibility for content development and design. The curriculum development essentially gives me the freedom to have fascinating discussions with interesting and diverse people, as I seek out cutting-edge academic research and industry practice, from use of natural resources to human rights in the supply chain.
The highlights for me though are our residential workshops in Cambridge, where our students arrive from all across the globe to meet with each other, leading academics and industry experts, as we wrestle with how business can respond strategically to global challenges and leverage meaningful change. These workshops are intensive, consolidating the face-to-face teaching component for our part-time courses. My key ambition has been to make these sessions as stimulating as possible through the inclusion of interesting speakers, debates, site visits, business simulations and ‘creative labs’, as we help students to engage in innovative and intelligent ways with the opportunities and challenges that sustainability presents.
I am inspired by the rich source of knowledge on our doorstep in the University, our network of industry leaders from across all sectors, and the high calibre of students from all over the world. I find it both humbling and enriching to be in the company of those who are so committed to making a difference, and if I play even a small part in being part of this movement for change, then that’s job satisfaction enough for me.
I first experienced CPSL in the late 1990s when we in BP approached what was then the University of Cambridge Programme for Industry to put on a series of one-week workshops in sustainable development for our most senior managers as part of their executive education. I found myself being drawn into a new world. I was struck by the effect on and change in those managers. I was struck by the power of bringing together academics, business people, advocates, in a place and an atmosphere that led to open questioning and discussion. Many years later, I've 'gone over the wall', I'm now a Fellow of CPSL. With CPSL I've worked with people from most sectors of business, at levels from CEO to new young staff, from some of the world's most well-known companies, with academics in economics, engineering, philosophy, geography, development, physics, ecology, even Islamic studies, and some I've forgotten, and with civil society representatives from leading NGOs, religious organisations, think tanks, with governmental organisations, health organisations, the UN, the World Bank, regional development banks.
I'm part of the Faculty, a tutor, on public and customised programmes. I give talks on global system pressures and trends, energy, poverty and social development, storytelling, listening, leadership and ethics. CPSL continues to give me the opportunity to develop my thinking in these areas, to explore new topics and work with others in and outside the University.
To be frank, when I started working with CPSL I thought it would be a small and probably short-lived part of my life. But it has a way of engaging you. For me the stimulation has never worn off. I find myself sitting in, or often talking to, rooms of smart people who have real impacts on lives and ecology, and real opportunity to change things. Apart from the privilege of spending time in this company, I continue to learn from students and colleagues. CPSL is a powerful convenor of effective people and thinking, a catalyst for doing things better. That's why I'm here. That and because I simply enjoy it.
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…
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 Business Platforms team and focus on The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group (CLG) 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 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.
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.