Polly Courtice, LVO, is Director of the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership (CPSL). She is also Co-Director of The Prince of Wales's Business & Sustainability Programme.
Polly is a member of the University of Cambridge’s Board of Executive and Professional Education and Academic Director of CPSL's Master of Studies in Sustainability Leadership. She is a Non-Executive Director of Jupiter Green Investment Trust, an Advisor for the Lloyds Banking Group Sustainability Advisory Group and is also an Advisor on the CR Advisory Board for Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP. In 2008 Polly was made a Lieutenant of the Victorian Order (LVO) announced in the Queen's Birthday Honours list.
Polly Courtice and the late 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, Easter 2007
Polly Courtice - See Britain through my eyes
Video: Lion Television/FCO
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