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Our Director, Polly Courtice LVO

Leadership for sustainability

Polly Courtice
Photo: Chris Loades
I first began to engage seriously with the ideas behind sustainability and sustainable development in the late 80s/early 90s, around the time of the Brundtland Report and the first Earth Summit in Rio. The thinking and the debate surrounding these events greatly resonated with me personally but they also coincided with my joining the University with a remit to provide industry with greater access to Cambridge’s research strengths, which includes incredible breadth and depth across the field of sustainable development.

 

The chance to put some of these insights and ideas to the test in a more systematic way came in 1993 when The Prince of Wales invited me to set up his Business & Sustainability Programme (BSP). The intention was to help the most senior leaders from business and government explore how to find a convergence between profitability and sustainability and integrate environmental and social considerations into their decision-making processes. Our ambition was to build a group of progressive business leaders and companies who would drive this agenda forward, aided by the best available thinking and practice. BSP is now one of our flagship programmes and has expanded to many regions of the world, with an alumni network of almost 3,000 senior leaders.

"Our ambition was to build a group of progressive business leaders and companies who would drive the sustainability agenda forward, aided by the best available thinking and practice from the University of Cambridge."

Sustainability leadership at the heart of everything we do

Sustainability and leadership now lie at the heart of everything we do – in our executive programmes and our business platforms – with a focus on how how to protect and enhance stocks of natural, social and human capital in tandem with securing economic growth and robust financial returns. Innovation and change are central themes of our work, as is leadership. Drawing on our long-standing experience and on the great strengths of the University I think we have an important role to play in deepening leaders’ understanding and encouraging and inspiring progressive, ambitious and courageous leadership in both business and government. The recognition that businesses cannot tackle this agenda on their own led us to build a whole series of initiatives that have brought the academic, business and policy communities into much closer partnership to develop solutions, starting with The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group which I set up in 2005.

"I think we have an important role to play in deepening leaders’ understanding and encouraging and inspiring progressive, ambitious and courageous leadership in both business and government."

An optimistic view

Having spent almost 30 years thinking about these issues, working with business leaders, policy makers and academia, I am convinced that we can address many of these challenges through real transformational leadership. Being part of a passionately committed and ever-expanding team in a thriving network that continuously innovates and works with real conviction on corporate sustainability is what really gets me out of bed in the morning – the sense that what we do can make a difference, no matter how small.

Biography

Polly is Director of the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. She is also Founder Director of The Prince of Wales's Business & Sustainability Programme and Academic Director of our Master of Studies in Sustainability Leadership.

Polly is a member of the University of Cambridge’s Board of Executive and Professional Education, the University’s Environmental Policy Review Committee, and the Northwest Cambridge Development Quality Panel.

She is a Director of Jupiter Green Investment Trust, and is on the environmental / sustainability advisory boards for AstraZeneca, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, Lloyds Banking Group and Nespresso. She is also a member of Northern Ireland’s Prosperity Advisory Panel. In 2008 Polly was made a Lieutenant of the Victorian Order (LVO) announced in the Queen's Birthday Honours list.

Polly is a graduate of the University of Cape Town and has an MA from the University of Cambridge.

Polly Courtice: See Britain through my eyes

Video: Lion Television/FCO