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A driver for positive change

Galina Parmenter, part of the Global Sustainability Team at fashion retailer C&A, reflects on how studying for CISL’s Postgraduate Diploma in Sustainable Business (PG Dip) helped advance her role as a sustainability professional.

A central belief that I have come to realise over the course of my professional career is that successful businesses, alongside generating value for customers and shareholders, should be accountable for their practices and how these impact on people and the natural environment. I always wanted to be that driver of positive change from within; ensuring companies manage their business operations in a responsible way. 

As my career developed, I became aware of the fast pace that sustainability trends were evolving and felt it necessary to seek ways to build my capacity as a subject matter expert.  

Analysing present and future sustainability trends and practices, what worked for some industries and what didn’t for others, were areas I craved to understand. My desired outcome was to improve my skills to become a trusted practitioner, optimising the Triple Bottom Line ‘People, Planet, Profit’, to create greater business value. I also wanted to expand my network of like-minded people.

Looking at the PG Dip course content, I was initially impressed with how extremely well designed it was. The reality didn’t disappoint - I was given insightful advice on how to build sustainability strategies and practically apply them within the business world. As my chosen topics were based on my work and interests there was a practical application to what I was studying so it wasn’t just academic theory.

Motivation and reflection

This was so valuable and it motivated me to reflect on my social and environmental ideals and how they fitted within today’s pace of business development. Taking time to stop, think and analyse is often forgotten within a hectic, dynamic office environment with tight deadlines, one after the other.  The course gave me pause for thought, a feeling shared by other members of my cohort.

That’s not to say combining full time work with my CISL studies wasn’t tough. I sacrificed elements of my personal life but I did so with the clear understanding that it was going to enhance my career.

Looking back on my time at Cambridge from a professional perspective, it left a real, lasting impression. I came to understand that even if what you are trying to change will only have a small impact, you should still do it. I reflect on this because climate change, improving working conditions and a whole host of other sustainability challenges, are considerable and at times can seem insurmountable.

Some businesses think that they don’t have the leverage to create any impact. The diploma helped me realise that this shouldn’t be an excuse for inertia. There are many companies who think disruptively and have achieved great things despite their limited leverage. If you set out with a clear set of objectives and deliver, leading by example, you can inspire other businesses and maybe even influence regulators and governments in the longer term.

A breath of fresh air

The course taught me that essential qualities a professional sustainability leader must possess include being able to act as a trusted business advisor, being a passionate idealist and the drive to push businesses to think outside of the box. It was also a big inspirational boost to hear all the new ideas and meet people who shared my outlook. Attending workshops, including Sustainability Leadership Labs, with these kindred spirits was like a breath of fresh air. Sometimes, isolated, part-time, study can be lonely making this such an energising experience.

The tutors had a wealth of experience working with big businesses, so they were able to bring a unique perspective to the conversation rather than just talking about it from a theoretical, academic angle.  

When I started the course in 2016, I was working for a business network association engaged in sustainability within the automotive supply chains. During the course, I switched to working for the fashion industry in which I have always been highly interested due to its numerous sustainability challenges and the huge opportunities for positive change. 

My Cambridge experience came in the middle of this career shift and I definitely believe doing the diploma made my profile more attractive to other companies as a credible sustainability expert that they could rely on. I brought some of these cutting edge approaches back to my work and career and sparked new conversations to drive change.

If you want to have an impact then you must engage the decision makers in the organisation so they become your allies and champions. Realistically, you’ll sometimes get things wrong which is part of the process so resilience is essential - be true to yourself and just ‘keep running’.


The Postgraduate Diploma in Sustainable Business (PG Dip) is designed for senior and mid-career professionals. It is a flexible, practically-applied option for continued professional development, exploring innovations in sustainable business.

 

Our two-day Labs are short courses offering a deep dive into topics which have been shaped primarily around two key themes: circular economy and leadership. Labs are attended as part of the PG Diploma.

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About the author

galina

Galina Parmenter is a sustainability professional with cross-industry experience, working as part of the Global Sustainability Team at fashion retailer C&A. She studied for a Postgraduate Diploma in Sustainable Business (PG Dip) at the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

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Articles on the blog written by students of the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) do not necessarily represent the views of, or endorsement by, the Institute or the wider University of Cambridge.