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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)


25 October – Dr Carole Anne Wilkinson, of the Global Fabrics Sustainability Team at W.L. Gore & Associates, reflects on her experiences and the benefits of studying both the Postgraduate Certificate and Diploma in Sustainable Business, and attending multiple Leadership Labs with the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL).

Carole Anne completed the Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Business (Value Chains stream – previously known as the Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Value Chains) in 2013, and is the first student to complete our Postgraduate Diploma in Sustainable Business (PDSB).

I suppose I became aware of the concept of sustainability quite late on in my career. It was after I got involved with our Fabric’s Sustainability Team that I became interested in the subject and began to understand its relevance to our business. My role moved full time into that team to help integrate it into the business teams as that is the only way to have any real impact.

Although I began to research the subject, I was moving into a team of mainly sustainability professionals and felt that I needed a vehicle to give me a clear understanding of what was best practice and to find out what the thought leaders had to say. The Certificate fitted perfectly with my professional needs.

It instilled greater awareness and a deeper level of understanding and that gave me so much more confidence to utilise my newfound knowledge within the work environment.

I remember that before I started at CISL, I wanted to move from being behind the curve to at least being aligned with current thinking but I found I was actually getting ahead of it.

That’s actually one of the reasons I went back to attend CISL’s Sustainability Leadership Labs after completing the Certificate: to remain ahead of that curve. This led to my decision to sign up to a new part-time Postgraduate Diploma in Sustainable Business (PDSB).

Continuing my learning journey

I’d wanted to stay up to date  but didn’t want to commit to taking a Master’s course. The PDSB felt like a natural way to continue my learning journey so I signed up in 2015.

The way the Diploma is structured involves attending three short (two-day Labs) and completing three assignments. This structure allows for greater  flexibility to manage my assignment delivery and I could choose which subject specific labs to attend.  

The three Labs I chose to focus on were ‘Rethinking Value and Transforming Business’, ‘Innovation for Resilience and Market Access’ and ‘In search of Impact’. I also chose to attend a fourth Lab on ‘ The Circular Economy.’ I saw it as an essential extra component as it directly related to issues that resonated within my industry. Labs can be attended by people not enrolled on the Diploma as continuing professional development courses.

The teaching element was very informative and learning about a range of global sustainability initiatives, such as mobile banking in Africa, offered a broader perspective on what has become such a wide-ranging subject anyway.

The concept of frugal innovation was fascinating. It made me look at problems from a different angle. One area we examined was the use of incubators in the developing world and the innovative idea of using a simple heated blanket in places with no access to medical facilities. It wasn’t connected to my work but linked complex problems with simple solutions.

I took away with me the question: ‘Can we do more with less?’ – it was a simple yet more resilient way of approaching a problem, overcoming constraints and using innovation to reach more people. Such concepts are valuable and this one may prove useful to me in the future. 

Useful contacts

I valued being able to draw upon the connections on the courses  when trying to make a case for progress internally. Through my workshop contacts, I could bring in examples of what other companies, such as Marks & Spencer, Unilever and even other countries, were doing to back up my arguments. After one internal meeting, feedback highlighted how I was able to talk around the topic and give a broad range of examples rather than stay within the boundaries of the company and our industry.

We’ve joined the Ellen MacArthur Make Fashion Circular initiative, which first came to my attention during the PDSB.  When the company was exploring whether to sign up, I was able to draw on what I had learned at Cambridge to help make a case for it.

The need for a holistic approach

People are much more aware that sustainability spans disciplines and isn’t just the preserve of one area of a business. I think the broader business world is now beginning to understand the need for a holistic approach. Those driving this movement require  multidisciplinary skills combined with a broad awareness.

We are seeing investors scrutinise how engaged businesses are as witnessed by Nike’s recent  announcement that there is no innovation without sustainability, so it is definitely becoming more mainstream.

Yet some businesses are thinking ‘How much do we need to do to be compliant?’ There is an acceptance among some that that’s not enough but this can create a tension. It’s an easy case to make, to push the sustainability agenda, if there’s a direct link to profitability, but if there needs to be more time and money put into developing the sustainability brand then that is a harder sell. I’ve personally become involved in debates and discussions on this. The course really helped me to understand that, in such circumstances, a strong evidence base is critical if you’re trying to promote sustainability.

I am currently transitioning from a role within the fabric sustainability team, focussing on strategy and execution, to a broader enterprise role linked to sustainability through product and chemical stewardship.

The Certificate  took me out of my comfort zone and the Diploma  extended my knowledge base and enhanced my thought process. Looking back now, I can chart how it increased my own skill base and, eventually, made me confident enough to apply and actually get this new job within the company. It’s been an invaluable education.

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).

Following successful completion of the Postgraduate Certificate, students can move to the individually tailored Postgraduate Diploma in Sustainable Business.

Our two-day Labs are short courses offering a deep dive into topics which have been shaped primarily around two key themes: circular economy and leadership.


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

About the author

Carole Anne Wilkinson

Dr Carole Anne Wilkinson works for W.L. Gore & Associates (the inventors of the GORE-TEX®Fabric) as part of the Global Fabrics Sustainability Team, responsible for driving the integration of sustainability into the business teams. She has completed both the Postgraduate Diploma in Sustainable Business, and Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Value Chains – now offered as an elective stream of the Postgraduate Certificate in Sustainable Business.


Zoe Kalus, Head of Media  

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