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Master of Studies in Sustainability Leadership

The Master's in Detail


…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.

Learning Approach

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.

 Learning journey

Figure 1: MSt Learning Journey (click on the image to see it in larger format)

Delivery Model

The course is structured around 15 modules, 12 of which are explored over the course of four residential workshops over the two-year programme, and three of which are e-modules. Each residential workshop looks at three modules in particular. Students engage virtually between the residential workshops through a mix of online forum-based learning, the e-modules on specific topics (e.g. leadership, philanthropy), and virtual webinars on specific topics.

It is estimated that over the course of the Master’s participants will need to set aside 360 hours, apart from the 24 days of residential workshops, to complete the programme successfully. This is an average across the whole programme for a typical student, and variations in individual approaches to scheduling and learning can result in weeks where the workload may be heavier or lighter. Students are provided with all substantive tasks and deadlines at the start of the programme, so they can plan in advance in order to help spread the work evenly across the two years.


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 the nature of these challenges as systemic and complex. Students then consider the purpose and objectives of business in response to these challenges, exploring possible leadership aims (Module 2). Finally, we explore what effective leadership for change looks like, and begin to explore examples of strategic leadership responses (Module 3).

In this first workshop – and throughout the programme – the wider context in which business operates is emphasised, as well as the many actors and stakeholders within the system with which business must engage effectively in order to bring about meaningful change.

Figure 2: The broader business context covered in the first workshop and throughout the programme

Figure 2: The broader business context covered in the first workshop and throughout the programme

The remaining three workshops provide an opportunity to explore specific leadership responses or ‘levers’ for changing the system (Modules 4–12), three modules at each workshop.

These levers include:

  • those within an organisation’s direct control, such as its operational and employment practices, or business model and strategy;
  • those parts of the wider system that business can seek to influence such as international governance or government policy and regulation;
  • or they might be cross-cutting levers such as collaboration, co-operation and partnerships or communication, advocacy and education.

Levers for change

Figure 3: Levers for change (modules) considered over the course of the programme

The programme also develops participants’ leadership perspectives and practices through a series of cross-cutting content over the two years:

 Cross-cutting content

Download an outline of the Master's modules.

Download a full list of the Master’s modules.


 Master's Students in a workshop

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 Dates for Cohort 5

Workshop 1: 14–20 September 2014
Workshop 2: 28 March–2 April 2015
Workshop 3: 30 August–5 September 2015
Workshop 4: 10–16 April 2016

Workshop Dates for Cohort 6

Workshop 1: 30 August–5 September 2015
Workshop 2: 9–15 April 2016
Workshop 3: 31 July–6 August 2016
Workshop 4: 26 March–1 April 2017

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.

All the assignments are designed to offer real business value, critically examining sustainability challenges relevant to the students’ organisational and sector context, and applying learning to real-time business challenges and opportunities.

Individual Assignments

Participants complete two individual assignments of relevance to their professional settings, namely:

Analysis Paper

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 Analysis Paper findings.

Group Project

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.

Download examples of Group Project topic areas.


Research towards a dissertation is undertaken with support and guidance from an academic supervisor. The research must follow a recognised qualitative and/or quantitative methodology, but can also take the form of applied research (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 in addressing pressing key sustainability challenges. The dissertations are expected to be at the same level as would be required on a full-time Master's programme.

Previous Dissertations

Chris Urwin (MSt Cohort 3) presents the findings of his Master’s research into climate change adaptation and community resilience at the 150th Year DNV GL Anniversary event in London in July 2014.

Read about the research undertaken by one of our Cohort 1 students, published on the University of Cambridge Research website.

Additional publication and initiatives arising from the dissertation research are listed in the MSt Student & Alumni News & Achievements page.

Read other examples of previous dissertation topics.

Virtual Learning

Virtual learning is an important part of the programme experience, providing opportunities for students to learn from each other as they engage with the latest sustainability thinking, applied to critical business issues.

Between the residential workshops, students participate in a regular e-learning programme and other non-residential learning activities, designed to complement the workshop themes and support students’ learning journey. This includes:

1. Virtual tutorials and supervisions to support the assignments and dissertation process

2. Three content-based e-modules (see the indicative Module Overview download)

3. Working through preparatory curriculum documents, including prescribed readings/videos/audios, in advance of each workshop

4. Participating in content-based online forum discussions and webinars

5. Undertaking short blogging exercises.

The e-learning programme is supported by a dedicated online tutor.

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, and to make available supplementary material, such as slides used by presenters and links to useful websites, articles, and other resources. 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.)

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Apply Here

Applications for the MSt are made via the Institute of Continuing Education website.

For any queries, contact

Course Distinctives and Benefits


Download an Indicative Programme Structure

Download an Indicative Programme Schedule

Contact Us

Fergus Kirkpatrick
Graduate Programmes Manager

T: +44 (0)1223 768816