The overall objective of the MSt in Sustainability Leadership is:
…to develop leaders who have a wide awareness and deep understanding of the economic, social and environmental challenges facing the world, and to equip them to respond more effectively and lead others to achieve positive change.
As an applied, practitioner-oriented Master's, the programme is designed to support personal and professional development. This is reflected in the content, which includes developing a robust business case for sustainability, a focus on sustainability leadership aims and responses, and change management. It is also reflected in the learning journey (see Figure 1), which is focused on collaboration, reflective practice and applied learning, and includes peer-learning groups, extensive feedback and assignments that are focused on professional or institutional contexts.
Figure 1: MSt Learning Journey (click on the image to see it in larger format)
The course is structured around 12 modules, explored over the course of four residential workshops over the two-year programme. Each workshop looks at three modules in particular. Students engage virtually between the residential workshops through a mix of online forum-based learning, e-modules on specific topics (e.g. leadership, philanthropy), and virtual webinars on specific topics.
The first workshop of the sustainability Master's provides an opportunity to engage with the broad debate around sustainability, looking at global sustainability challenges (module 1) and developing a system-wide understanding that recognises the interdependency of natural, social, political, cultural, economic and technological dimensions.
Students then consider the purpose and objectives of business in response to these challenges, exploring possible leadership aims (module 2), what we want the future to look like, and what business/policy leaders might aspire to achieve. Finally, we explore what effective strategic leadership for change would look like, in being able to deal with risk, uncertainty and complexity, and examples of strategic leadership responses (module 3).
The remaining three workshops are devoted to exploring in more detail these leadership responses, each workshop covering three 'levers for change' (modules 4–12) including:
- Organisational Culture & Governance
- International Agreements & Institutions
- Communication, Advocacy & Education
- Sustainable Design & Technology
- Government Policy & Regulations
- Sustainable Enterprise, Finance & Investment
- Operational & Employment Practices
- Cooperation, Collaboration & Partnerships
- Sustainable Production & Consumption
Figure 2: Levers for Change
Students are encouraged to think about the relative impact of these different levers for change in response to the key global challenges identified at the beginning of the course.
- What can they achieve and how can they be used most effectively? How do they relate to other parts of the system?
- Do we need to become better at using them, or do we need scaling up?
- Do we need innovation, or do we need to consider whether a particular lever is appropriate at all?
The common thread throughout the programme is leadership for change – understanding the nature of change, the agency of different actors, what it means to bring about systemic change, and what strategies are likely to be most effective.
For more information on the content of the modules, please download a brief description of the modules covered.
The Master of Studies in Sustainability Leadership is delivered part-time over 2 years via four week-long residential workshops and intermediate e-learning sessions.
The residential workshops encompass:
• Lectures and talks by leading academics and practitioners;
• Facilitated discussions and group activities;
• Face-to-face tutorials and supervisions to support the completion of the assignments and research dissertation;
• First-hand exposure to some of the University’s impressive facilities and traditions.
Twelve interdisciplinary modules are taught over the four residential workshops and additional modules are delivered via e-learning. The first workshop introduces the sustainability challenges and a broad spectrum of leadership responses, which are then explored in more detailed over the next three workshops.
While the focus is in on leadership responses, one or two sustainability challenges are ‘spotlighted’ at each workshop. Cross-cutting leadership and change topics are also embedded within and/or interspersed between the sessions covering the various leadership responses.
The residential workshops are highly intensive and there is little free time; hence participants wishing to experience Cambridge’s many attractions should make arrangements to do this outside the compulsory residential periods.
Workshop 1: 4–10 August 2013, Cambridge
Workshop 2: 16–22 March 2014, Cambridge
Workshop 3: 3–9 August 2014, Cambridge
Workshop 4: dates tbc, Cambridge
During the first academic year of the Master of Studies in Sustainability Leadership, participants undertake two 3,000 word individual assignments and a group project of 5,000–7000 words. In the second academic year a research dissertation of up to 15,000 words must be completed.
Participants complete two individual assignments of relevance to their professional settings, namely:
This consists of a detailed, critical analysis of a sustainability challenge of relevance to their organisation. The analysis makes use of relevant conceptual frameworks and theories, supported by current thinking in the field and practical examples.
Strategic Action Plan
Participants formulate recommendations to their organisation regarding how to respond to a sustainability challenge or opportunity. This usually builds on the case review findings.
Research towards a dissertation is undertaken under guidance from a supervisor. The research must follow a recognised qualitative and/or quantitative methodology, but can be applied (e.g. action research). The research can address a topic of relevance to a specific organisation, or focus more generally on a sector, challenge or location. Participants are encouraged to choose research topics that are practically focused and of relevance to the most pressing sustainability challenges. The dissertations are expected to be at the same level as would be required on a full-time Master's programme.
Read examples of previous dissertation topics.
In parallel with the individual assignments, participants work in small groups of 6–8 to develop an original piece of thinking on a sustainability topic of mutual interest. It can take the form of a research paper, or a proposed model/tool with recommendations for its use. With the help of an expert Tutor, each group decides how to approach the project and then develops the ideas and content so that it draws on the collective experience of the group members. Participants must be willing to work collaboratively, share ideas generously and contribute to the fullest extent.
Examples of Group Project Topic Areas
Financing the future
- How do we cause the finance sector to embed sustainability factors into their general lending and investment activities?
- How can they finance the transition to a low carbon sustainable future?
- What it would take to shift financial capital at scale into climate solutions and natural asset classes?
Role of business in shaping a sustainable economy
- What role can business play in shaping a more sustainable economy?
The last 30 years have shown us that our current economic paradigm is not working as well as it could. Even though we have succeeded in lifting many people out of poverty and have seen technological progress unimaginable to previous generations, we are also facing an environmental, social and economic crisis of significant proportions. Since the Second World War, the objective of any society has been to further economic growth, but this has come at the expense of people, planet and even economic stability. There is a growing consensus within government, business and civil society that a new approach is needed, but still uncertainty as to what that new approach should be. The group will explore the failures of the current economic paradigm, consider the potential of a new, more sustainable paradigm and define how business can thrive by enabling the transition between the two.
Business as a vehicle for positive change
Businesses that adopt sustainable practices and strategies can have influence along the value chain far beyond their operations. By analysing companies that are at the forefront of transitioning to more sustainable business models we can gain insight into questions, such as:
- What enables business leaders and/or organisations to act strategically, to manage complexity and to drive change?
- Why are some businesses more responsive to sustainability challenges or opportunities?
- What distinguishes transformational companies in terms of leadership and organisational culture?
- How do financial actors and/or indicators motivate businesses to become more sustainable?
- What are the key performance indicators and measurement tools that assist businesses in following through?
The group will explore such questions, by engaging with theories of leadership/ change and researching relevant cases.
Aligning planning and decision-making with sustainability
- Conceptual frameworks and definitions of sustainability have proliferated in recent years, but what do they mean in the context of business planning and decision-making?
- When we develop an investment strategy how can we ensure that more sustainable options are selected over less sustainable ones and that proposals, plans and strategies are as sustainable as possible?
- How sustainable is ‘sustainable enough’?
- What if the industry within which we work could be argued to be fundamentally unsustainable?
- Where should the lines of responsibility between business and government be drawn?
- What if our stakeholders have different concepts of sustainability?
The group will explore how sustainability is ‘operationalised’ in the context of real world planning and decision-making.
The role of business in society
- Is the business of business "business", as Milton Freedman wrote?
- Or should business have a higher calling and contribute to society in more ways than simply commercial ones?
- Can business be ethical?
- Can a business be motivated beyond commercial concerns?
- What is the role of an oil or coal company in dealing with climate change?
- What is the role of a pharmaceutical company in fighting malaria in poor countries?
- Can a water company help bring clean water to a developing country?
- How does a publicly owned company take its shareholders with it if it wants to contribute more to society, or does our model of company structure and shareholder value mean business is pushed to unsustainable actions?
The group can explore any aspects of the role of business in society, researching cases and models.
Between the residential workshops, students participate in ongoing virtual/online and other non-residential learning activities, which include:
1. Virtual tutorials, supervisions and discussions/ seminars;
2. Three content-based e-modules (see the indicative Programme Structure download);
3. Working through preparatory prescribed readings/videos/audios and participating in content-based discussions and webinars.
Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)
A Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is the main platform through which these activities are facilitated. The VLE also provides an avenue for communications between the participants and the Programme team, to make available supplementary material, such as slides used by presenters and links to useful websites, articles, among others. The VLE has been developed using Moodle. This robust and user-friendly open-source software is widely used by providers of online learning, including the UK’s Open University.
The Master's in Sustainability Leadership VLE can be accessed via the internet using a standard internet browser. (A username and password is required to enter the site.)