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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)


29 June 2023 - CISL’s Canopy team ran a series of collaborative workshops and meetings in Beijing, Shanghai, Guanzhou and Hong Kong to map and engage local and international stakeholders supporting sustainability innovation in China.   The events were part of CISL’s Centre for Sino UK Sustainability Innovation. The team met with sustainability experts, industry leaders and reconnected with CISL’s existing network and alumni in China. 

Exploring sustainable innovation

Earlier this month, a team of senior members from the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) embarked on a journey to China and Hong Kong to explore collaborative opportunities in sustainable innovation and to meet with sustainability experts, NGOs, industry leaders. and CISL’s existing Network in these countries. Below you can see some of the highlights from the trip lead by Chief Innovation Officer, James Cole; accompanied by Director for CISL’s Canopy and Accelerator Programmes, Sam Laakkonen; and Sino-UK Centre for Sustainability Innovation Lead, Jie Zhou.


Unlocking the chinese sustainable innovation landscape

The journey commenced in Beijing, where the CISL team met with British government representatives to gain valuable insights into China's sustainable innovation landscape. These meetings provided an up-to-date understanding of the initiatives and strategies being pursued in the country. A visit to Zhong Guan Cun, a renowned hub of innovation in Beijing, further deepened their appreciation of China's growing commitment to sustainable development and provided a glimpse into the forefront of innovation.

The importance of international cooperation

To strengthen their international strategy, the team engaged with major non-governmental organisations (NGOs) actively cooperating with governments worldwide. These meetings fostered collaboration opportunities and ensured CISL's alignment with influential organisations, amplifying the impact of their sustainability initiatives.

As Programme Director Sam Laakkonen stated, "Events like the round table discussion on China's innovation ecosystem provide a unique platform for diverse perspectives to converge, igniting a powerful exchange of ideas. It is through these collective conversations that we can unlock innovative solutions and pave the way for a more sustainable and inclusive future."

Shanghai: A hub of sustainable progress          

In Shanghai, the team hosted a networking event for sustainability leaders in finance and construction at a newly established sustainability-focused bar, providing an informal and productive setting for sharing ideas and forging connections.

Additionally, The team hosted a round table discussion to delve into China's sustainability innovation ecosystem. This invitation-only roundtable brough together the thought leaders, experts and long-time practitioners who are at the heart of China's sustainability innovation ecosystem, for an engaged discussion on the challenges and opportunities ahead of us.


CISL’s Chief Innovation Officer James Cole gave a thought-provoking presentation about system-level innovation, suggesting systemic transformation looks ahead of today’s mindsets, markets and needs to drive change right across the economy and wider society


During the session, participants explored ways to shift mindsets and promote climate innovation as the foremost opportunity for founders, funders, and companies within Chinese context. They also considered the importance of creating tangible incentives within organisations that reward transparency as a requirement for success. The round table tackled the delicate balance between investing in long-shot technical solutions and near-term credible approaches. Collaboration and the creation of a network of hubs for climate innovation were explored, along with strategies for sharing innovation risks and rewards among individuals, places, and organisations.


Exploring Guangzhou and concluding in Hong Kong

Following their engagements in Shanghai, the team continued their journey to Guangzhou where they met some of CISL’s key partners in the area where they were able to explore a variety of topics around sustainability and innovation.

The trip concluded in Hong Kong where the team came together with sustainability leaders from large financial and corporate organisations. This event served as a platform for cross-industry collaboration and knowledge sharing, addressing the themes of fostering collaboration and attracting top talent to work on climate innovation. These discussions exemplify CISL's commitment to convening experts from diverse backgrounds to tackle common sustainability challenges.


Paving the path to a sustainable future

The trip to China and Hong Kong proved to be an invaluable experience for the CISL team. Engaging with sustainability experts, NGOs, and industry leaders allowed them to gain fresh insights and forge meaningful connections. By embracing the key themes that emerged during the round table discussion - shifting mindsets, fostering collaboration, and addressing funding gaps - CISL is poised to make a significant impact in the sustainable innovation landscape. Armed with newfound knowledge and connections, they are dedicated to advancing their engagement with Chinese innovators and driving positive change for a more sustainable future.


You can find out more about CISL’s work with the SINO-UK centre for Sustainability Innovation here.  

You can also find information here about the Prince of Wales’s Business & Sustainability Programme Asia and the Board Directors Programme Asia.


About the authors

Jie Zhou joined in 2021 as Programme Manager for CISL’s Accelerator. With more than ten years’ work experience in both UK and China, Jie is passionate about bringing together leading businesses, governments, investors and emerging innovators to accelerate sustainability innovations.


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.


Zoe Kalus, Head of Media  

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