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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

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:

Net zero

Zero carbon


Circular economy

Circular economy 


Protection of nature

Protection of nature


Inclusive and resilient societies

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

Unleashing the sustainable business

2 October 2023

2 October 2023 – This working paper explores the meaning and influence of organisational culture and proposes some key principles and associated behaviours that may underpin a purpose-driven organisational culture that delivers a sustainable future.

Net Zero Business Transformation - A framework for accelerating change in an era of turbulence and complexity

3 October 2022

3 October 2022 – CISL has published a new report to help companies achieve their net zero goals by taking a whole system approach to net zero transformation. The report, which builds on CISL’s Target Net Zero Framework, aims to help sustainability practitioners engage their C-Suite on systems change.

Decision Making in a Nature-Positive World: Nature-based Solutions for sectors

4 July 2022

7 July 2022 – CISL has published four sector-specific business briefings that outline the challenges and actions needed to implement nature-based solutions projects. The sectors include: Water, Finance, Food and Beverage, and Built Environment and Linear Infrastructure.

Modelling nature-positive agriculture and land management: Case studies

13 June 2022

13 June 2022 – Two new regenerative nature project models from CISL, the East of England Landscape Enterprise Network , and Poole Harbour Nutrient Management Scheme offer blueprints for land management that supports improved biodiversity and water quality through more sustainable agriculture.

Decision-making in a nature positive world: Accelerating the adoption of nature-based solutions

18 March 2022

21 March 2022 - Tom Divney, Business Engagement Consultant for the CISL Centre for Business Transformation, and CISL’s Dr Gemma Cranston, Director, Business & Nature, Centre for Business Transformation, explain how the new diagnostic tool, Decision-making in a nature positive world, accelerates the understanding and adoption of nature-based solutions in organisations.

Decision-making in a nature positive world

23 February 2022

15 March 2022 – CISL has published a diagnostic tool designed to advance organisational understanding of nature-based solutions projects and accelerate their adoption and implementation within companies.

Payments for Net Zero: How the payments industry can contribute to the transition to a net zero economy

28 October 2021

28 October 2021 - This business briefing explores the potential role and opportunities for payments networks in the transition to a net zero economy.

Community Health Enquiry

20 September 2021

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

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.


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