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Moving country and career to drive sustainable change

20 February 2019 – Ana Holden-Peters, Sustainability Lead at Bakkafrost, reflects on the profound impact of studying CISL’s Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Business, which led her to focus on her own purpose as a sustainability leader and change her career path

I first became interested in corporate responsibility when I spent some time in Venezuela as a teenager where my father worked in a role indirectly linked to the oil industry. Whilst there, I saw how business engaged with stakeholders within indigenous communities. I started to think about the role of business as a societal force for good.

This sustainability journey continued at university and my undergraduate dissertation focussed upon stakeholder engagement. My first job in sustainability was in tourism sector working for TUI Travel. A large part of this role was to embed sustainability across the business, whilst also engaging our customers. I was passionate about trying to influence the culture in a positive and meaningful way and continued to broaden my knowledge by moving to RBS, firstly in a community investment role at their investment bank, and then by managing the sustainability reporting, governance and communications for the Group.

Leading on corporate responsibility reporting and assurance for the John Lewis Partnership, I became interested in attending a CISL part-time course, which was recommended to me by a number of the executives back when I worked at TUI Travel.

A diverse and complementary team

After enrolling at CISL, the world-class teaching really inspired me. It enabled me to think about my own role and the relevant, cutting edge content reconnected me to the purpose of my work. I took inspiration from my time there and really valued working alongside like-minded people from very different disciplines and cultures. The group work was really challenging but also a wonderful learning opportunity, as I was able to explore new topics and connect with a diverse team whose skill sets were complementary.

There was a strong focus on leadership and where our own individual strengths lay. I recall that one lecture really helped cement my thinking after I was asked to think about my values and what type of leader I wanted to be.

The programme allowed me to take stock of the areas that really interested me and to understand where I could have the strongest impact. In fact, it had such an effect that it was the catalyst that led me to take the bold step of deciding that I needed to pursue a different career path.

Profound experiences

From the very beginning of the course I had, what I now consider to be, profound experiences. One of the very first workshops made me question my career direction.  There was a dawning realisation that I had a big opportunity to increase the impact of my work. The power of the learning I experienced helped me develop both professionally and personally.

As part of this learning, I was involved with a group project exploring marine conservation finance. The careful management of the oceans is key to our future; sustainable development in the context of conservation. The growing global demand for protein has led to significant growth in the aquaculture sector, which to be sustainable, must be carried out responsibly.

This certainly piqued my interest in this subject and in October 2017, I took the decision to start working as the sustainability lead at a salmon farmer in the remote Faroe Islands, situated between Iceland and Norway. The company, Bakkafrost, led by a visionary CEO, had made a commitment to sustainability and marine stewardship.

I was brought on board to identify material sustainability issues and I am happy to have been able to help the business develop a two-year sustainability plan, published in our first sustainability report in 2018.

The role involves working with the business to deliver that plan and also to identify areas where we can embed sustainability thinking. My leadership training at CISL has helped enormously with the way I have approached this new role.

CISL is still a part of that journey, having recently delivered a customised programme for Bakkafrost. This involved training for our board and management team to help ingrain sustainability across the organisation.

Growing importance

Having worked on sustainability for more than a decade, I am delighted to have seen its importance to business grow.  In my early roles we were seldom passed investor requests for information related to Environmental, Social and Governance issues. I sit in the Finance team at Bakkafrost and now see requests coming in thick and fast. This marks a step change in the level of conversation within business and the focus it has gained across the system.

I am a firm proponent of the need to really believe in what you are doing and inspire people by ‘walking the talk’. Fostering a culture of ethical behaviour starts with the individual. Every business has a culture and the individual has the power to create change based on their own actions and beliefs.

I am not alone in saying that one of the biggest threats today comes from ineffective political leadership and policy-making. The upside to this is that it has created greater media attention and consequently greater consumer awareness. A Edelman study published last year found that the percentage of people willing to boycott brands because of their ethical policies has leapt from 51 to 64 per cent across eight global markets in just one year. This underlines how consumers are now more willing to take personal responsibility. This increases opportunities for businesses but also the responsibility to drive the sustainability agenda.


The Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Business (PCSB) is designed to equip senior and mid-career professionals with the relevant skillsets to integrate sustainability into strategic business action. It is offered with two streams – one through a lens of organisations and the other approaches content from a value chains context (previously known as the PCSVC).

Our Customised Programmes are tailored to the needs of an organisation and typically delivered to Boards and senior executives, specific functions (eg marketing, HR or finance) and high-potential individuals. The training is designed to equip individual learners with the skills, knowledge and confidence to develop a shared vision and organisational response.

About the author

Ana Holden

Ana Holden-Peters manages sustainability at Bakkafrost, a sustainable salmon farming company in the Faroe Islands. She has worked there since October 2017, holding previous sustainability related roles for TUI Travel, RBS and the John Lewis Partnership.

Ana holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Business from The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and a MSc. in Management from the University of Bath.

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