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Our Director, Dame Polly Courtice, DBE, LVO

Leadership for sustainability

CISL Director, Dame Polly Courtice, DBE, LVOI 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 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 (CISL). She is also Founder Director of The Prince of Wales's Business and Sustainability Programme, and Academic Director of the University’s Master of Studies in Sustainability LeadershipShe is a Director of Judge Business School Executive Education Limited, and a member of the University’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy Committee and the Board of Executive and Professional Education. 

She is a Director of Jupiter Green Investment Trust and a Non-Executive Director of Anglian Water Services Ltd. She serves on the environmental/sustainability advisory boards for AstraZeneca, Lloyds Banking Group and Nespresso and she is a member of the judging panel for the Queen’s Award for Sustainable Development.

In 2008 Polly was made a Lieutenant of the Victorian Order (LVO) announced in the Queen's Birthday Honours list. In 2015 she received Stanford University’s Bright Award for Environmental Sustainability which recognises ‘an individual who has made unheralded contributions to environmental sustainability’. 

In 2016 she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to Sustainability Leadership.  Also in 2016 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award at Ethical Corporation’s annual Responsible Business Awards.

Polly holds a BA from the University of Cape Town and an MA from the University of Cambridge.

Video: Stanford University's introduction to the 2015 Bright Award and Polly's work.