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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

CISL works globally to transform economic systems to build a sustainable and resilient future for people, nature and climate.

We aim to catalyse and lead change at pace and scale by working with organisations and individuals committed to take leadership and use their influence and reach for positive impact.    

Delivering systems change at scale is complex. Most organisations and individuals today operate within deeply unsustainable business and economic models and practices.

In order to lead transformation, organisations and individuals need to change their own actions, rethink their purpose and performance, and work to change the system itself. 

Systemic transformation looks ahead of today’s mindsets, markets and needs to drive change right across the economy and wider society. Unlocking solutions to entrenched challenges requires bolder collaboration and innovation between business, finance, policy, technology and civil society.

Our work engages individuals and entrepreneurs alongside businesses, governments, financial institutions and civil society representatives, focusing on their shared potential to reshape economic, social and environmental systems.

Our network – a global community for action - numbers over 30,000 people worldwide, providing a platform for long-term engagement and collaboration on shared challenges and opportunities.


How we drive systems change 

CISL pursues four mutually reinforcing routes to impact in order to shape, scale and communicate a transformative agenda for people, nature and climate.      


We develop pioneering ideas, research and resources for better decision-making and system design.   



We empower individuals and organisations to lead change at scale.



We build transformative alliances across business, finance and policy. 



We catalyse entrepreneurial leadership to accelerate solutions to global challenges.  




How we make choices

We recognise there are challenging trade-offs when assessing the direct impact of engaging organisations as clients or partners and the wider potential consequences of such engagements.

The following objectives guide us – although not every collaboration will meet every objective:

  • Set a new bar for leadership and action based on what’s needed, not what’s comfortable or limited by short-term commercial horizons.
  • Create positive exemplars for others to follow, and catalyse the development of new, scalable solutions
  • Work with those best placed to influence or drive wider change, including through policy, regulation, societal and industry norms and narratives, and innovation.  
  • Address the dynamics between economic actors to unlock systems change, rather than working with separate actors in siloed ways. 

We apply core principles to guide decisions on who we work with:

  • we assess organisations’ ambition in relation to both their direct and indirect impacts as well as their openness to change.  
  • we are open to work with organisations that don’t yet have a strong leadership position if we believe they have the commitment and potential to change and develop in order to lead positive impact for the future, or that they can play a critical role in unlocking wider change.
  • we are likely to decline work with some sectors because of sector-wide challenges, but we may make exceptions if we believe an engagement is essential to drive transformation and are reassured that the net impact of that engagement will be positive.  

We will generally decline work with organisations who: 

  • have no clear pathway or ambition to transform themselves to play a positive role in a sustainable economy. 
  • have no realistic prospect of developing such a pathway or ambition by engaging with CISL. 
  • are locked into commitments incompatible with transformation and are unwilling to reconsider these. 
  • act in ways counter to, or which undermine, their public commitments or the impact of their work with CISL.
  • have no openness or commitment to change. 

Our evaluation of an organisation’s commitment to sustainability includes their governance, targets and commitments, their track record, public statements, and other factors as appropriate.

CISL’s work with individuals is based on the principle that our open and accredited education programmes are available to all individuals from any region or sector, provided they meet applicable selection criteria. Where we have more applicants than places, we consider a range of factors including their potential for positive impact.

We are committed to make high quality education available and accessible at scale. CISL has therefore built a portfolio of online courses to enable thousands of students to build their individual understanding and capabilities without the associated costs and travel required for in-person learning.

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Working with Fossil Fuel companies

We believe that an urgent phase out of fossil fuels is required, and that most fossil fuel companies[1] – particularly oil and gas companies - are poorly positioned for this transition and that many are obstructing the pace of change required to deliver global climate goals.

While we hope this will change, we do not prioritise work with fossil fuel companies on their transition plans.  We believe the best use of our time and resources is to focus on accelerating business, government, finance and citizen action away from dependence on fossil fuels, and towards a net zero carbon energy system.  CISL’s work - across our Foresight, Education, Convening and Innovation - therefore has a proactive focus on contributing to:

  • Political and policy action, nationally and internationally, that will drive and enable the phase out of fossil fuels
  • Shifting capital flows away from fossil fuels toward sustainable energy systems
  • Fostering and scaling innovations that will enable transition in the necessary timeframe
  • Work by business, government and financial institutions to inform and influence action by citizens and consumers to support transitions plans and policies.
  • Developing the evidence base that can accelerate an energy transition towards a more sustainable future.

Where we do engage with fossil fuel companies we would only expect it to be in one of two situations:

  1. Working with a fossil fuel company on a project or programme that we believe will contribute to systemic change and where any such company had aligned its business plans, targets, lobbying and other activities with a fossil fuel phase out by 2050 in a way that can be evidenced and assured.
  2. Being involved in dialogues and discussions that include fossil fuel companies, both ones that CISL organises but also ones held by governments, international organisations and other actors which are focused on collaborative action across regions and sectors to achieve fossil fuel phase out. Where we have the remit and capability to, we will work to ensure the independence and integrity of such discussions.

[1] We use the SBTi definition of fossil fuel companies: “Companies with any level of direct involvement in exploration, extraction, mining and/or production of oil, natural gas, coal or other fossil fuels, irrespective of percentage revenue generated by these activities, i.e. including, but not limited to, integrated oil and gas companies, integrated gas companies, exploration and production pure players, refining and marketing pure players, oil products distributors, gas distributors and retailers and traditional oil and gas service companies”


Driving impact for a sustainable economy

Research hub for sustainability