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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)


9 December 2019 – James McGregor, Chief Sustainability Innovator and Founder of the Blue Tribe Company, discusses his sustainability journey and the profound impact that CISL’s Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Business (PCSB) had on his career path.

I studied electrical engineering at university, specialising in solar photovoltaics at a time when the sector was in its infancy. I always had an interest in the environmental challenges we face and found studying climate change related topics fascinating. During a decade spent helping design hospitals and commercial buildings, I had pushed hard for them to be as carbon-neutral as possible. 

Taking a role with CSIRO, the agency that invented Wifi, I led large energy research programmes, developing new low emissions energy technology to transition the sector towards a low carbon future. These included projects on biofuels, solar thermal power and smart grid technology.

It was around this time that I became aware of the amazing energy technology innovation the research community was driving forward. It frustrated me that a lot of this work was not gaining wider traction. I completed a Master’s in Business course but it was light on sustainability elements. I was looking to develop my skills in this area and then came across the Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Business (Organisational Stream)

Looking for interconnectivity

One thing that really attracted me to the programme was the international cohort which had people from all over the world coming together, looking at similar problems. I was looking for that interconnectivity.

On reflection, it was one of the best programmes that I have ever done, on two levels. Firstly, we had a diverse group of people, with backgrounds in banking, journalism, technology and telecoms, for example, sitting alongside property developers, sustainability practitioners and business owners. Through their different perspectives, I saw the same problems but different ways to tackle them, which was so uplifting and energising. For example, I learned a lot about investment banking through one of my team members in the group project and this allowed me to better understand how to better craft investment proposals that aligned with the sustainability drivers and challenges in the banking sector. 

Secondly, my tutor’s expertise was in innovation, which is the space I was working in, and through the case studies and examples they gave me, I was able to adapt these ideas to fit with my job and, ultimately, my new business.  The tutors really helped to influence my thinking.

Insights into cutting edge theory, dissected with academic rigour, allowed me to see sustainability issues in different ways. This helped me form new ideas and approaches to the subject. As an engineer, I started from a technical solutions perspective but the course honed my ability to see things at a systems level.

Forging a new path

Partly because of the new ways of thinking I had come into contact with at CISL, I decided to leave the company I was working for and start my own business. The case studies were invaluable and the spark that led to me making that move. I had come to the conclusion that someone should take all this innovative research and turn it into sustainable, commercial business solutions. That’s when my company, Blue Tribe, was born. Blue Tribe is an innovation management consultancy which helps organisations to create scalable commercial sustainability solutions.

Having a superpower

An on-going benefit of my time at CISL is the insight it gave me into how to use storytelling techniques to communicate your viewpoint. I was taught that you need to be able to engage and inspire people to understand and act upon your sustainability vision so having these skills in your toolbox is very powerful. I do believe that understanding the neuroscience behind storytelling and having the ability to use this to get people to buy into your big ideas is like having a superpower. This has been something I have been able to integrate into my training; enabling others to touch people’s emotions by taking complicated concepts and communicating them in simple, understandable ways.

Learn more about the Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Business (PCSB) and apply now for 2020.

The course is a 9-month Master's-level graduate programme, delivered part time for working professionals. You can choose from two streams – Organisational, or Value Chains and Markets (formerly known as the PCSVC).

The programme is designed to strengthen your leadership skills, help you embed sustainability in your organisation or across your supply chain to achieve positive, transformative change.

About the author

James McGregor

James McGregor has worked as the Project Director (Major Projects) with the Australian National Research Agency (CSIRO) and studied for a Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Business (PCSB) at the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.


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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