The butterfly effects of sustainability education
Profile of Master's in Sustainability Leadership graduate
"The view from our window as we arrived into Baltra airport was spectacular: jagged rocks and azure blue seas that are so typical of Galapagos but which took our breath away. We were met by a wall of hot humid air as we finally set foot on the Islands. On the way to passport control we noticed the photovoltaic panels above the walkway and the natural ventilation system of the terminal, our minds already on the job."
These words were written by Amie Shuttleworth, Head of Sustainability for the UK operations of Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, a leading British building and civil engineering company. They are part of a blog she kept about the Galapagos Sustainable Building Project, where she and other professional volunteers were responsible for designing and constructing a naturally ventilated library, which re-used as many materials as possible. Concurrently she worked with the architects at the Prince’s Foundation on Santa Cruz to develop a prototype low-impact house for the Galapagos Islands.
Amie’s involvement in this project was one indirect result – a butterfly effect, if you like – of her participation in our Master's in Sustainability Leadership, which she completed (with Distinction) in 2013. During the course, she met fellow Master's student Ian Dunn, Chief Executive Officer at Galapagos Conservation Trust, who invited her to contribute her sustainable construction skills (pro-bono) to this exciting and critically important initiative.
This is just one example of the kinds of unintended benefits that flow from engaging over two years with a cross-disciplinary, cross-sector group of professionals who are all interested in sustainability.
"The Master's was an opportunity to break out of my silos and develop a more holistic view of sustainability."
Like many working in sustainability today, Amie started out with a relatively narrow, technical focus, first studying Environmental Science and then working on various building projects in London, especially on sustainable design, procurement and construction methods, with a keen interest in healthy and responsibly sourced materials and biodiversity enhancement.
What Amie was looking for – and found in the MSt – was a chance to engage intellectually and pragmatically with the social and ethical aspects of sustainability, such human rights and poverty alleviation, in addition to the environmental issues she was more familiar with.
"The Master's also allowed me to explore more deeply how business can use its power and influence to drive sustainability. I found myself really, really challenged by the programme to figure out the business case for sustainability in my industry and my company."
As it turned out, doing the Master's challenged Amie in other unexpected ways too. "I’m someone who wants to crunch the numbers; I want it to be real", she confesses. "But I ended up using qualitative research for my dissertation and I really learned a lot about the value of that method." So much so that she still uses one of the techniques, called Rich Picture Analysis (see below), to explain life cycle assessment to McAlpine’s suppliers.
Building on the Master's, Amie subsequently moved up the ranks and now has strategic responsibility for sustainability in her company. This means she spends far less time on the technical aspects of environmental design, and far more time persuading others to adopt progressive sustainable business practices. "I’m now able to put into practice a lot of what we learned in the Master's about change management," she reflects. "It’s still not easy, but at least I feel more prepared."
And as for those progressive practices, Amie is promoting life cycle thinking and the adoption of more sustainable materials in the construction industry, in line with her dissertation research.
"Not only am I able to pursue my passion, but I’m also saving money for the company, thanks to sustainability. I will always be grateful to the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and the Master's for being part of my personal and professional journey."