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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)


Helen McTaggart, Senior Sustainability Manager at Amazon reflects on how undertaking the Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Value Chains (PCSVC) at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) in 2015 enabled her to strengthen her professional network. PCSVC is now offered as an elective stream of the Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Business.

When I got started on the CISL Postgraduate Certificate I had already worked in sustainability for some time, but I was hungry to add more theoretical depth and rigour to my practical knowledge. I started my career as a sustainability generalist, before narrowing to a more specialist role, so I was also interested to use the course as an opportunity to update my knowledge on a broader range of topics.

During the course, I loved the depth that the assignments provided. I was working for Marks and Spencer at the time, and my personal project focussed on interventions food retailers could make for gender empowerment in agricultural supply chains. I went on to apply my research in practice as part of Marks and Spencer’s human rights program. My group assignment explored Sustainable Development Goal 17.1 on public, private and civil society partnerships, through two case studies on youth development, and on living wages within the tea sector.

While I enjoyed the depth of my assignments, I equally loved the breadth of the taught aspects of the course: it was such a privilege to step out of the weeds of project delivery, and to sit back and absorb thought-provoking lectures delivered by world-experts on climate risk, natural capital, and leadership for change, amongst other topics.

Since completing the Certificate, I’ve changed jobs and companies, and now work in a much broader sustainability strategy role within Amazon. The knowledge from my time at Cambridge has been a great benefit both in securing the new role, and hitting the ground running in my new organisation. That said, in line with the old adage ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’, I’m equally convinced that the legacy from the course for me has been the people I met along the way, and the great international network I now have access to.

Within my cohort, we had participants from a range of sectors and countries. Having mainly worked in retail and fast-moving consumer companies, I relished sharing professional war stories with peers from automotives, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and finance, and from both in-house practitioner, consultancy, and civil service roles. I enjoyed the international spread of participants: as well as a solid UK contingent, we had attendees from California, Hong Kong, Egypt, Brazil, Argentina, and Malaysia. The opportunities to mingle were not only within the student body, but also with the tutors, guest speakers and program staff, who came from a mix of academic and commercial backgrounds, again spanning many sectors and specialisms. The course was peppered with many opportunities to chat and get to know each other, whether over coffee, a delicious vegetarian lunch, or a glass of wine in the bar after hours.

Thankfully, my relationship with Cambridge didn’t end with filing my last assignment. In the 2-3 years since completing the course, I’ve found numerous ways to keep benefiting from and contributing to the CISL Network. I’ve returned as a guest-speaker on the Postgraduate Certificate course, contributed to the research of one of the academic tutors, and managed to secure the time of one of the tutors to speak at an event within my company. I’ve returned to CISL to join a two-day Leadership Laboratory on Embedding Natural Capital, listened in on a CEO presentation open to alumni students, and been put in touch with a local school to mentor sixth formers embarking on a project to make their school and community more environmentally sustainable. Most regularly, I’m an attendee at the six-monthly alumni networking events organised by the CISL London Ambassador group - a group of former and current CISL students who meet up to make new contacts and share experiences of working in sustainability.

I’m confident my links with CISL will continue to develop in the years to come. With bases in Brussels, Cape Town and China, as well as Cambridge, and alumni networks in fourteen countries across Europe, Asia and America, there’s no shortage of people to get to know and learn from in the future. So thank you to CISL for all the fantastic opportunities you’ve provided so far and I look forward to staying involved for many years to come!

Applications are open for the 2019 Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Business (PCSB). Designed to equip senior and mid-career professionals with the relevant skillsets to integrate sustainability into strategic business action, the part-time course is offered with two streams to make it most relevant to the student’s business function. One looks through a lens of organisations and the other approaches content from a value chains context (formerly offered as PCSVC).

About the author

Helen McTaggart photo

Helen McTaggart is Senior Sustainability Manager at Amazon.

Helen started the Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Value Chains in 2015. The course is now offered as an elective stream of the Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Business. At the time of studying with CISL, Helen worked for Marks and Spencer and her course assignment focussed on interventions food retailers could make for gender empowerment in agricultural supply chains –research which she applied in practice as part of Marks and Spencer’s human rights program.


Guest articles on the blog do not necessarily represent the views of, or endorsement by, the Institute or the wider University of Cambridge.


Zoe Kalus, Head of Media  

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