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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership

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With a reputation as one of the most environmentally burdensome industries which also has a fundamental opportunity to support healthy and resilient societies, the built environment sector needs to find a way to lead the transition to a sustainable economy.  

The operation, maintenance and construction of our buildings, towns and cities account for typically the largest – or among the largest – share of any country’s carbon footprint and impact on natural resources; but also provide among our greatest opportunities to strengthen the resilience of our societies, maximise shared social benefit, and create safe, secure and enjoyable futures for all. Experts agree that the sector's role in exacerbating global challenges and its potential to provide solutions to these challenges is of critical importance today. There is an urgent need to for radical change in the sector, and conversations about this seem louder today than ever.  

While growing numbers of organisations, including over a fifth of the world’s largest companies, are responding to the climate and environment emergencies and forging new paths to a decarbonised future, the built environment sector is widely seen as lagging behind in addressing the energy and carbon inefficiencies of our buildings, towns and cities. Policy and regulation have nudged some areas of the sector toward more sustainable and resilient outcomes in recent years, and much more development in this area is needed urgently.  We cannot afford to wait and the sector must take its own leadership to achieve a sustainable future.

CISL is working with industry to achieve this transformative change by helping professionals to understand our rapidly-changing sustainability landscape  and develop effective strategy for achieving the transition we need.  We do this through a number of approaches: our research, our leadership programmes, our bespoke work with businesses and our own commitment to sustainable business practices through the creation of the Entopia Building, a visionary, low-carbon retro-fit.


What we do

Developing leadership capacity, both at the individual and organisational level, is where our unique contribution and strength lies. We do this in a variety of ways: by working with hundreds of major organisations to develop transformative strategies and action plans; by accelerating enterprises and collaborative initiatives with potential to offer breakthrough solutions; by building the evidence and tools to underpin transformative leadership; and, above all, by shaping the operating context for business in favour of organisations that deliver value to society and the environment. The Built Environment industry can play a key role in the race to Net Zero.


Leadership development

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We build the capacity of individuals working in the Built Environment to drive transformational change towards a zero carbon economy.

Our Sustainability for the Built Environment (IDBE) postgraduate programme supports professionals as they discover how embedding sustainability and collaboration into their projects can help to create a future-fit built environment.

Our Sustainable Real Estate online programme addresses and analyses the ecological, social, and governance aspects of real estate. Delegates examine how sustainable real estate can contribute to a more resilient and inclusive society, and positively impact communities.

Transforming organisations

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We challenge and support organisations to raise ambition and embed net zero across their organisations. 

Our Customised Education Courses help organisation develop capabilities required to achieve long term, sustainable business and build alignment of ambition and frame strategies to create value through responding to sustainability.

Our Advisory Services help organisations build long-term resilience, gain competitive advantage and identify new opportunities for value creation aligned with a transition to a sustainable economy.


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We foster new enterprises, business models, technologies, products and services for the Built Environment that promote a net zero future.

Our Accelerator programme, Innovators for the built environment, aimed to fast-track companies who are commercialising novel products and services in the built environment space. The programme brought together innovative business minds with potential solutions to help unlock transformative change and leading industry experts to provide knowledge support and mentorship to galvanise the collective power of SMEs, start-ups and entrepreneurs. 


Transforming policy & markets

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We help to enable broader economic and market transition to net zero by influencing policy, regulation, standards and opinion through our Centres:

The Centre for Business Transformation develops new thinking and solutions to enable business to play a transformative role towards a sustainable economy.

The Centre for Policy and Industrial Transformation develops high impact, systemic solutions to drive policy and industrial change towards a sustainable economy.

The Centre for Sustainable Finance helps financial institutions to play a leading role in building a more sustainable economy.



CISL is working with leaders in industry for a sustainable built environment to complete a zero carbon retrofit of an original telephone exchange building in Central Cambridge.

The building will house CISL’s Cambridge-based staff, and provide a dynamic virtual hub for its international offices, its global corporate partners, alumni, fellows, associates, researchers and visiting academics. A dedicated Accelerator and Sustainability Hub will support small businesses and start-ups via collaborations and capacity building.

Updated details on the project and opportunities to be involved are available on our Entopia hub.

Impact stories

Transitioning to net zero will be a fundamental pillar of business leadership in future. Here are insights from some of the companies and individuals we work with that are taking leadership on this agenda.

Alumni stories: Hear from our Sustainability Leadership for the Built Environment (IDBE) Postgraduate alumni on how the course helped them to effect change in their own professional context.

CISL Conversations: we draw fascinating insights and best practice examples from organisations across all industries striving for a sustainable economy.


Resources and research

Business Green Net Zero Festival Workshops

15 September 2021

Business Green Net Zero Festival 29 September 2021 - 1 October 2021: CISL is delighted to partner with Business Green on a series of workshops at this year's Net Zero Festival. Details of these sessions are available below. The Net Zero Festival will bring together some of the world's foremost thinkers on what it takes to...

Webinar series: Building Natural Connections

27 July 2021

Building Natural Connections: Join us for a series of three chaired talks in the run-up to COP26 that explore how the interdependence of nature, society and economy can be leveraged to provide solutions for a sustainable built environment. The series – hosted by Make Architects’ Future Spaces Foundation, in collaboration...

Targeting Net Zero: A strategic framework for business action

5 July 2021

Introduction A net zero emission economy will be essential to maintain a stable global climate. The private sector has a critical role in delivering this and there is a growing body of evidence to demonstrate that it makes good business sense to act. Business action on climate change can inform...

Achieving Zero

23 June 2021

The transition to zero is underway. The private sector has a critical role in delivering this transition and there is a growing body of evidence to demonstrate that it makes business sense to act. Forward looking companies understand this. They are harnessing climate action as driver of innovation...

UK business and policy leadership for net zero: analysis of progress to reduce emissions

21 May 2021

May 2021 – A new report from University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership analyses the progress the UK has made towards reducing emissions and meeting its 2030 targets, and looks at the role that policy and clear, sector-specific ambitions have played in supporting the transition.

The case for retrofitting

5 May 2021

5 May 2021 – Tim Forman, Deputy Course Director for the Sustainability Leadership for the Built Environment (IDBE) Master’s and Postgraduate Certificate, discusses the need for a radical shift in thinking and in preparedness to invest in the energy efficiency of buildings and built environments in order to achieve real impact.

Let’s Discuss Climate: The essential guide to bank-client engagement

5 May 2021

The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership’s (CISL) Banking Environment Initiative has published a new guide to bank-client engagement, which aims to address the need for a market-wide transformation in how banks and their corporate clients interact.

Finding common ground between investors and industry

29 March 2021

30 March 2021 – The built environment industry must challenge the notion that sustainability is ‘too hard’ to integrate. Paul Jaffe, Asset Manager at British Land reflects on his experience of the two-year Sustainability Leadership for the Built Environment (IDBE) programme and how this helped him form solutions and encourage change for investors and the wider industry.

The sustainability agenda can be the launch pad for change in the built environment

24 March 2021

24 March 2021 – The built environment industry has a long way to go in order to break down the silos between practitioners and 'build better'. Dr Kayla Friedman, Course Director for the Sustainability Leadership for the Built Environment (IDBE) Master’s and Postgraduate Certificate, identifies the key change agents within the sector and outlines what they can do to catalyse the shift to sustainable project delivery.

Brexit and UK climate leadership: The emerging opportunities and challenges

18 March 2021

A new report from University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership examines the opportunities and challenges for climate leadership in the context of Brexit. 

Upcoming programmes and events

Webinar series - Building natural connections

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Online course - Sustainable Real Estate: Creating a Better Built Environment

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Postgraduate study - Sustainability Leadership for the Built Environment

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