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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)


June 14 – The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) hosted an event with HRH The Prince of Wales for over 250 leaders across business, government and finance to determine the transformative action required to achieve a sustainable, carbon neutral future.

The event at Buckingham Palace to celebrate CISL’s 30th anniversary fell in the week the UK committed to delivering a net zero carbon future, and provided a forum for senior leaders to share their insights on the individual and collective leadership needed over the next decade to achieve climate neutrality; the biggest barriers to achieve progress; and what new collaborations between business, governments and the finance sector are needed to unlock transformational change. 

The discussions focused on the individual and collective actions leaders can take to deliver to a net zero economy, to support and restore healthy ecosystems and ensure resource security, and the role of business in enabling inclusive societies.

Speaking at the event, CISL Founder Director, Dame Polly Courtice said:

“Nothing short of transformation is required right now to set us on a path to a safe and stable climate, a healthy environment, and fair and prosperous societies. This is an agenda we have been working on for thirty years with leading companies and individuals, under the Patronage of The Prince of Wales. It will now require the corporate sector as a whole to contribute innovative solutions and show strong leadership to let go of the old ways and to create the new. It will require the finance sector rethinking current operating practices and adopting longer term, more forward-thinking strategies. Ultimately it will require closer collaboration between all of these sectors to drive the systemic change needed for a sustainable economy – this is the focus of CISL’s work which has shaped the agenda for our discussions today.”

Contributions at the event included the incentivisation of actions on sustainability; scaling potential solutions to reduce emissions; preparing for the human consequences of climate change such as the movement of people due to resource scarcity, as well as the remedies; the pricing of materials in the economy, such as plastic and virgin resources, as part of transformation to a circular economy; using pooling as a way to spread risk for investors in smaller businesses; and the importance of ensuring people are part of the changes that a net zero transformation entails.

The event celebrated the impact of CISL’s global network of over 9,000 senior leaders and practitioners, driving change across every sector on every continent. While looking to current and future challenges, the event also acknowledged the radical ideas required to find convergence between profitability and sustainability that built the foundations of CISL three decades ago – a concept that the Institute’s work has helped to make mainstream.

The original bringing together of senior business leaders to increase understanding of environmental and social challenges became CISL’s Prince of Wales’s Business & Sustainability Programme (BSP) which has just run its 100th seminar. Alongside this core offering, CISL leads more than 70 executive programmes around the world every year, as well as graduate programmes that attract thousands of executive learners each year from all over the world.

The vision of CISL’s Patron, HRH The Prince of Wales, was also highlighted as speakers acknowledged The Prince’s prescience and leadership in increasing the understanding of the threat of climate change and a depleted environment many decades before these ideas gained mainstream attention.

Dame Polly added:

“More and more people are beginning to recognise what The Prince of Wales understood more than 40 years ago, that we cannot liquidate our natural capital without terrible consequences. Your leadership has been unwavering.”

Over the course of CISL’s growth and development, the Institute began working with groups of companies on complex challenges like climate change, natural capital and sustainable finance, leading to the creation of influential leadership groups such as the Corporate Leaders Group working on climate change in the UK and EU, the Banking Environment Initiative, ClimateWise for the insurance sector, the Investment Leaders Group and the Natural Capital Impact Group. These groups continue to develop thought leadership to engage policymakers, build solutions and drive change.

Peter Simpson, CEO, Anglian Water:

“Being part of the CISL network means working with companies from all sectors; companies that really want to make a difference. It encourages us to drive even greater levels of our own ambition. Recently we set a target to be carbon neutral by 2030 – that enthusiasm was driven by our work with CISL. We welcome the UK Government’s commitment to set a new, more ambitious, carbon target. At Anglian, we have seen first-hand how ambitious carbon targets can disrupt established practice, drive innovation, and significantly reduce costs and environmental impacts. This experience has convinced us that a net zero target for the UK is not only essential but it is also good for business.”

Jeremy Wilson, Vice Chair, Barclays:

“We value being able to collaborate on something that has such profound significance not just for us but for generations to follow. In our industry that’s rare - most of our business is about fierce competition in order to survive - but in order to survive we have to collaborate on this. That is what we are able to do through our work with CISL. The announcement of HM Government’s recent 2050 zero emissions target is welcome. It recognises the rising impact of excessive emissions and is another signal that more measures may be needed. In which case collaborative bodies like CISL are well positioned to fill a valuable role.”