skip to content

Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)


Applications are now open for the 2020 intake for the Master of Studies in Sustainability Leadership, as well as the postgraduate Diploma and Certificate in Sustainable Business. Alexandra Brunner, Senior Project Manager at CISL, reflects upon 10 years of delivering the unique Master's course.

During my ten years at CISL, our portfolio of graduate courses has grown from one Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Business to two Master’s Degrees, two Postgraduate Certificates and a Postgraduate Diploma. Clearly, there has been an increase in demand for flexible learning, designed for international audiences who are based in full-time employment. Earlier this year CISL launched a 10 month part-time Postgraduate Certificate in Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment. Our decision to launch this programme was based on the opportunity within the built environment sector to address major issues such as global climate change, productivity, human health and economic sustainability.  The Certificate has been designed for built environment professionals who are unable to commit to the two-year Master’s In Interdisciplinary Design for the Built Environment but do want to further their practical education.

MSt Sustainability Leadership Cohort 1 and a steep learning curve!

Our first cohort of Master’s students eagerly arrived at Wolfson College in September 2009. 32 students spent the week getting to know each other over a pub quiz, playing volleyball and donning gowns for their matriculation ceremony. Behind the scenes, we were experiencing a baptism of fire, getting to grips with the intricacies and peculiarities of running a Cambridge Master’s programme. Two years later, after three more workshops, two assignments, a group project, one dissertation, an oral presentation, 144 guest speakers and numerous dinners at historic Cambridge Colleges, our students were waiting to enter the Senate House and receive their degrees. It was an emotional moment for everyone!

Positive Debate and shared experiences

The first week of the Master’s is the most nerve wracking workshop. Will the students bond? What will the cohort’s dynamic be like? Given the broad nature of people who come on our courses (in terms of seniority, nationality, work experience and sector) there is always lively debate, cross fertilisation of knowledge and experiences to be shared. The quietest members of the group are encouraged by our experienced group of tutors to express their thoughts alongside the most outspoken students. We run our courses under Chatham House rules resulting in lively discussions and guest speakers being able to present their case studies frankly without fear of recrimination.

Personal Development

The most enjoyable part of my role is getting to know the students and seeing them change over the time that they study with us. Working with part-time mature students is very different to meeting undergraduates straight from school. Our students often have 5, 10 or 15 years work experience. They come with knowledge to share, confidence and interesting opinions. Having known nine cohorts of students, it has been a pleasure to witness their personal growth and development. We have seen career changes from industry to academia, public sector to NGO and NGO to the private sector, students questioning their pension investments, and even conversions to vegetarianism. Students have thrived in the academic setting and some have stayed on to undertake PhD study alongside their work. We delight in sharing this journey with them, even their personal highlights, such as marriages and the arrival of babies.

Professional Impact

As well as personal development, we see the impact our students have on their organisations and sectors. Our courses aim to equip students with the skills to translate academic insight and research, into practical relevance. Students base their assignments on their professional or institutional context. Consequently, we have many examples of students taking their learning and effecting change within their organisations, on their customers and wider society. In the second year of the Master’s, students complete a 15,000-word research dissertation.  Supervised by a University of Cambridge academic, our students relish this opportunity to entrench themselves into research. Given the interdisciplinary nature of the course, our students chosen to focus on an array of diverse topics, ranging from ‘The role of business to combat human trafficking’ to ‘The reality of responsible investment: how do private equity shareholders engage with their portfolio on ESG.’

Network of likeminded people

Undertaking a part-time degree alongside work and personal commitments is not easy. To cope with the pressures of studying for a University of Cambridge qualification, our students develop supportive and long-lasting relationships with each other and with the CISL team. The London Network event in July was a reminder of the goodwill that is generated when people complete our courses. Amongst those who joined us at Somerset House were alumni from cohort 1 of the MSt in Sustainability Leadership together with our most recent intake of students. Network events offer a perfect opportunity for alumni from graduate programmes to meet other CISL Network members, many of whom have attended our executive education programmes, as well as individuals who interact with CISL through our Leadership Groups.

Future courses

We are working with the University to develop a new Master of Studies in Sustainable Business Leadership. This course will enable a clear continuation from Certificate to Diploma and then on to a Master’s level qualification. This course has been designed to be extremely flexible and accessible to working professionals, providing options for studying individual modules and progressing as time permits from one award to the next. Hopefully by 2020 we will be awaiting the arrival of a new cohort of eager, open-minded professionals ready to embrace change and have a positive impact on their organisations! 

Apply now for the Master of Studies in Sustainability Leadership.

View  our graduate study pages, and download our brochure for further information about our part-time courses, including the Postgraduate Certificate and Diploma in Sustainable Business.

About the author

Alex Brunner

Alex leads CISL’s Network Engagement managing the global Ambassadors programme and assisting in the organisation of Network events. She has managed the MSt in Sustainability Leadership, the Postgraduate Diploma in Sustainable Business, both of the CISL Postgraduate Certificates and has worked on customised programmes with the Executive Education Team.   

Prior to joining CISL Alex worked at Girton College, Cambridge as the Records Manager and at the Royal Household where she was a Records Assistant. Alex holds a BA (Hons) degree in History from Durham University and an MA in Archives & Records Management from the University of Liverpool.


Articles on the blog written by employees 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.


Zoe Kalus, Head of Media  

Email | +44 (0) 7845652839