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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

The Trillion Tonne Communique (2014)

23 October 2014

2014 – The Corporate Climate Communiqués are international business statements calling for policies and action to tackle climate change. Bringing together hundreds of business leaders in support of a robust and equitable international treaty on climate change, they are seen by many as representing the definitive voice of progressive business in advance of policy discussions.

Energy Security and the 2030 Climate and Energy Package

23 October 2014

June 2014 – The European Union (EU) is at a crossroads; it can create a competitive Europe-wide energy system that responds to energy security and climate concerns whilst stimulating job creation and growth, or it can become increasingly un-competitive, strangled by high energy imports (the EU imports 53% of the energy it consumes) and an underinvested, underperforming energy system.

We Mean Business: The Climate has Changed

23 October 2014

September 2014 – Climate action was once perceived by many governments and many businesses as about sacrifice. Today, the value proposition is very different.

IPCC Climate Science Business Briefings

5 July 2014

These short, sector-specific briefings in different languages are based on the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), the most comprehensive climate assessment. All documents have a Creative Commons License and are free to use. Translations, presentations, videos, webinars and FAQs are also included.

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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Upcoming programmes and events

Webinar series - Building natural connections

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