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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership

Centre for Business Transformation


CISL’s Centre for Business Transformation develops new thinking and solutions to enable business to play a transformative role towards a sustainable economy.

Business is at the centre of the global sustainability transition. No solution to the climate, ecological and inequality crises is possible without business action. At the same time the role, contribution and impact of business in society is under growing scrutiny. Current approaches to business excellence and leadership fail to provide companies with the tools and mechanisms to respond. As a result, even ambitious organisations that seek to lead progress are unclear how best to deliver effective solutions across markets and supply chains.

There is an urgent need to address this challenge. Over the next decade companies will need to align purpose, strategy, and ambition with long-term value creation for society to motivate their people and thrive commercially as a sustainable business. To achieve this, companies will have to adopt transformational practices and organisational innovations and implement ambitious strategies and programmes for change.

about the opportunities to work with the Centre.


Convening and collaboration

In many instances, even the largest and most ambitious business cannot make real progress alone. The Centre convenes organisations to examine the role of business, understand common challenges and barriers to progress, raise the collective level of ambition, and co-create or co-fund solutions.

The Centre's Business Transformation Group, a collaborative leadership group of forward-looking international businesses, is working to help companies set a truly sustainable business path across key areas such as nature, climate, circular economy and inequality. The Group, which includes Croda, dentsu international, Ingka Group (IKEA), and Majid Al Futtaim, will co-create and apply new thinking on inclusive, nature-positive, circular, net zero and resilient business strategies and models and this will inform the tools and new approaches to lead the corporate sector in meeting these ambitions.

Through its Business and Nature team the Centre also collaborates with companies to identify what the ecological crisis means for their businesses and take steps to transform their operations and strategies. The team provides the structured path that businesses need to establish sustainability solutions and create momentum at scale. 

The Centre also focuses on bringing together companies and academics to find market let solutions to the SDGs. For example the Centre’s Inclusive Development Programme explores how companies can become better agents of inclusive development in the global south.



The Rewiring the Economy plan identified four strategic tasks that business needs to address in order to create long-term value in the context of a sustainable economy. While some businesses are already making progress on these, we know that in many instances key questions need to be answered in order to unlock scalable, meaningful progress.

The Centre’s research programme aims to identify and respond to the most important questions that will shape the future of corporations. Drawing on the University’s world-class research, the Centre will create new workstreams to conduct practitioner-focused research and thought leadership to address the gaps in the evidence base that are barriers to business progress. This wide-ranging remit can be broken down in three principal ways: who we work with, what we study, and how it connects to practice. As part of our commitment to enacting real-world change, we have identified five ‘applications in practice’ which drive research at CISL:

  • Future risk and opportunity - A better understanding of sustainability risks allows companies to convert them into opportunities.
  • Business strategies and models - Sustainable business models enable companies to go beyond financial success into purposeful impact on society.
  • Measures, targets and disclosure - Key to trust is transparency, and sustainability provides the perfect performance framework.
  • Culture, capacity and leadership - Seeing problems differently demands leadership, yet this is exactly what companies must do to become agents of positive change.
  • Social and political change - Companies can use their influence to drive sustainability, aligning their ambitions with long-term value creation for society.

This may include harnessing existing research, commissioning new academic research or working with business to pilot new responses and inform our core research themes:

Zero carbon


Circular economy 


Protection of nature


Inclusive and resilient societies


 Possible lines of inquiry include:

  • What do the practices, processes, policies, structures and thinking of a sustainable business look like?
  • How can organisational purpose, culture, governance and leadership models change to deliver sustainability?
  • How best can companies create and distribute value for a sustainable economy, and how can business measure and optimise its impact and contribution to society and the environment?
  • What role should business play in addressing growing inequalities?
  • What business strategies can most effectively restore and regenerate the environment while remaining profitable and building competitive advantage?


Education and advisory

Our work with businesses over the last 30 years indicates that in many instances, even when leadership teams are enthusiastic and energised about their role in delivering a sustainable future, it is unclear what they need to do, how they should prioritise tasks, and which stakeholders they need to engage in order to be most effective.

The Centre will help individual organisations to find specific answers, develop scalable solutions to common business challenges that push the boundaries of leading practice, and help companies measure and optimise their impact and value to society.

The Centre will work with business to:

  • Diagnose where companies are on their transition, where they need to get to and how they can accelerate change.
  • Support companies integrate sustainability in their strategies in order to align with a net zero carbon transition, reduce economic inequalities, and protect and restore nature.
  • Design and implement sustainable business transformation programmes to leverage strategy, people and technology towards becoming a sustainable business.
  • Develop and pilot innovative commercial approaches and solutions across value chains to address specific risks and opportunities.


Latest business transformation publications

Assessing Nature-related Financial Risks | Upcoming use cases from financial institutions

6 October 2021

October 2021 – The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) has published a preview of financial assessments of nature-related risks that highlights how risks arising from nature loss threaten companies and their financiers

Community Health Enquiry

20 September 2021

September 2021 – This working paper summarises insights from pioneering interventions that promote community mental health.

Unleashing the sustainable business

30 July 2021

July 2021 – These working papers summarise why a purpose-driven approach to business is the optimum route to create a durable, equitable and sustainable future, and how to move from theory to practice.

Enhancing Biodiversity in Europe’s Oilseed and Cereal Industries

27 July 2021

August 2021 - A new report from University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) and Biodiversify examines what private sector actors in the oilseed and cereal industry can do to conserve biodiversity on arable farmland in Europe to ultimately inspire them to take action towards best practice. The aim of this work funded by an ADM Cares grant to the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability leadership was to examine the question: What can private sector actors in the oilseed and cereal industries do to conserve biodiversity on arable farmland in Europe?

Leading with a sustainable purpose: Leaders’ insights for the development, alignment and integration of a sustainable corporate purpose

25 November 2020

November 2020 – This report from the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) distils shared insights into how four leading multinational companies developed, aligned and integrated a purpose and strategy to transition to a sustainable economy.

Briefing on EU Biodiversity Strategy

21 April 2020

The European Commission is soon to publish the EU’s new Biodiversity Strategy, one of the key elements of the flagship ‘European Green Deal’ (EGD) package of economic and environmental policies.

Developing a corporate biodiversity strategy: A primer for the fashion sector

28 January 2020

30 January 2020 – Nature is declining at a rate unprecedented in human history, with one million species now threatened with extinction. This degradation of nature affects society as a whole, including businesses that rely on natural resources, like the fashion sector. This report sets out how companies can create strategies to address their impacts on biodiversity.

Linking planetary boundaries to business: Part of Kering’s series on planetary boundaries for business

8 January 2019

January 2019 – Incorporating the Planetary Boundary framework into business decision-making can help companies understand the consequences of their environmental impacts at a global level and provide a critical new perspective on how to tackle their impact.

The pollination deficit: Towards supply chain resilience in the face of pollinator decline

9 April 2018

April 2018 – Companies face potential shortages of raw materials, a fall in crop quality and challenges around security of supply because of an emerging pollination deficit, according to a report authored by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the University of East Anglia (UEA).


To find out more about the opportunities to work with the Centre, 

Rewiring the Economy

The Centre contributes directly to CISL’s Rewiring the Economy plan.Read more