So, I did it. I completed (and passed!) the Cambridge University Institute of Sustainability Leadership Business Management course. Ten days before Christmas I submitted my final paper [ok, ‘paper’ bigs it up quite a lot and I must admit that I did keep referring to the weekly homework as ‘essays’, but in my day, an essay definitely was more than 400 words ….] and I could relax a bit. It was a huge undertaking.
So what did I learn and was it worth doing the course?
The course is broken up into eight modules:
1a. Systems pressures and trends: a really fascinating insight into the Great Acceleration, globalisation versus industrialisation, the widening gap between rich and poor, the increase in consumption and the growing demand for energy. One of the most thought-provoking comments from one of our tutors was that he doesn’t believe a company can be circular: “a clean fish in a dirty pond” was how he described it. Food for thought.
1b. The five capitals and what the science tells us challenged the widely accepted economic model that profitability and business growth depends on the efficient management of land, labour and capital. But what it does not take into account is the impact and draw on the natural environment, raw materials and society. CISL has written this paper on ‘Rewiring the Economy’ which is worth a read for those interested to know more.
2. What can sustainability do for business challenged our thinking around the need to radically rethink current business models and the opportunities being sustainable can bring. CISL argue that this requires a new type of leadership– people who are caring and morally-driven, systemic thinkers, open-minded, visionary and courageous: there was lots of discussion on what makes a good leader and whether these attributes are unique to the sustainability world.
3. Regulatory environment and international policy was important but dry, learning about the role of government in creating sustainability policies, types of laws, incentives and how to influence the policy process. What is clear is that business and governments need to work together and collaborate for positive change.
4. Module 4 was about sustainable production and consumption and the need for a systemic approach. Sustainable consumption really resonated as I looked more closely at what I buy, my travel, our business purchases what changes we could make to alter our consumption behaviours. Can businesses still be profitable while encouraging us to reduce our purchasing habits? Patagonia thought so in 2013 with their ‘Don’t buy this Jacket’ campaign.
5. Over halfway through the course, this is where we could start to be more creative in our thinking, studying design, technology and planning for sustainability. We learnt about various design principles, approaches and philosophies, different techniques and analysis on the manufacturing of products and how sustainability could and should be embedded at the very earliest stages. The European Commission stated that ‘more than 80% of the environmental impact of a product is determined at the design stage’. Unless sustainability is embedded at the very start of the process, the costs of retro-fitting are often unfeasible.
6. In module 6 I was more in my comfort zone learning about sustainability communication, advocacy and education. It’s all about the sizzle and not the sausage you know (DM me to find out more!). Who are the key stakeholders, how to reach them, how psychology plays its part and how to shift our thinking. The New Citizen Project really resonated – how we should be viewed by brands as citizens and not consumers. Having this mindset really helps me move away from a take, make, dispose way of thinking to a more, ‘do I really need this and how has it arrived in my hands’.
7. In collaboration and partnerships we looked at how stakeholders can work together to solve complex problems that can’t be achieved by one organisation, government or even country alone. It was very interesting to discuss which problems my clients could solve with the skills they have internally and who we could work with to action change together.
8. Our final task was to submit a sustainability action plan for an organisation of our choice, with a particular focus on how we could be a ‘change agent’ and influence internally, support our CEOs and Directors, review the supply chain and engage the workforce to get behind a new opportunity. I left with a plan of action and an invigorated desire to make a difference.
Was the course worth it? Absolutely. Not only have I been introduced to a really wide and varied group of individuals who have a passion around sustainability and making change, I also have a much better understanding of the challenges, opportunities and power big organisations have to implement change internally and to really make a difference. Communicating these changes is challenging and exciting – there needs to be creativity to bring to the story to life, to cut-through whilst also avoiding the accusation of ‘greenwashing’.
At Mallory Group, we know that sport has a powerful voice and that voice can be used to empower both industry and personal behaviour changes; that’s what interests me and gets me excited from a work perspective.
So what will 2020 bring for me personally and for us as a business?
- A focus on becoming a ‘citizen’ and not a consumer. To play my (and our) part, however small, to make a difference.
- To be bold with our clients and raise the conversation around sustainability. We like the #ChangeTheBrief vision from Mindshare.
- To seek to work with brands, rights holders and athletes who want to use their voice to inspire change.
- To empower others to do the same, to meet with more people interested in championing sustainability to learn more, share ideas and challenge the status quo (watch this space ….).
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