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Enlightened business: 20 years of the Cambridge Business and Sustainability Programme



Tom Revell looks into the Cambridge Business and Sustainability Programme – in the year in which it celebrates its 20th anniversary.

The Prince of Wales’s Business and Sustainability Programme (BSP) at the University of Cambridge runs seminars across the world – from Cambridge to Cape Town, Melbourne to São Paulo – educating business leaders on the challenges and opportunities that sustainability represents. 

“We’re not out there to tell people all about the doom and gloom, but to make sure that the people tasked with making significant decisions over our collective future actually understand what is changing and what the outcomes of their decisions might be,” explains Aris Vrettos, director of open programmes.

This year marks the BSP’s 20th anniversary. It was launched shortly after the first Rio Earth Summit of 1992, shaped by the vision of its patron, the Prince of Wales. The prince handpicked the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) to run the initiative.

Though the programme now has just under 2,500 alumni, Vrettos talks of a warm, family feeling; of a co-operating network that long outlives the seminars.

These alumni – predominantly senior executives, with a number of policymakers and NGO representatives also among them – leave with an understanding of how sustainability and profitability can be reconciled. 

When the programme began, much of the conversation around sustainability consisted of NGOs and banner-waving environmentalists telling indifferent businessmen what they shouldn’t be doing. Now there is co-operation, engagement. 

Businesses today dominate the sustainability space. This is, of course, not all down to the BSP, but such a pioneering initiative and the imitators it inspired surely helped. Many of the programme’s alumni return to their organisations inspired to lead action, taking the debate to the boardroom.

Quietly, out of the public eye, the BSP has for 20 years produced a steady stream of sustainability-savvy businesspeople.

“Many of those individuals, who are key decision makers, had a profound experience during the programme”, Vrettos says.

“They’ve come through a personal experience, whereby the spectrum and the opportunity of sustainability has become clear.”

As the wider world begins to face up to the consequences of our years of living dangerously, there is no knowing how important the programme’s work will prove to be.

But what exactly do these sustainability ‘agents’ learn? Presumably for some newcomers, their first port of call is to ask what sustainability is?

“In the beginning of the BSP, people spent hour and hours, days and days, trying to define sustainability”, Vrettos says.

“You can see it as an approach, you can see it as a state, you can see it as a way of thinking. I prefer to look at it as a challenge, and a challenge means both risk and opportunity.”

The risks, of course, are considerable. You would think that supporting a global population expected to reach 9 billion in the mid-century with a finite amount of land and water, dwindling natural resources and a climate heading towards catastrophe would be enough of a challenge. But this is not all. 

“We must do that in a way that is much more inclusive and supports our development objectives, such as bringing people out of poverty”, Vrettos adds.

“How do we prosper and develop in those circumstances? That is an immense challenge. 

True to his word though, Vrettos insists it is not all doom and gloom: “The good news is that it’s clear we can do it. The restrictions are not physical or technological. They are mostly socio-political.”

Which leads us to the opportunity. Even without referring to moral obligations or the risk that climate change will pose to today’s business models, sustainability is not a difficult sell. 

“In my experience, most business leaders respond positively to the opportunity.

“If they haven’t already been through the process of ‘enlightenment’, if they haven’t been through the process of really understanding these issues, then it is the business opportunity of sustainability that provides the best way to engage people.”

Business leaders that get sustainability gain a competitive advantage, Vrettos argues. They understand the challenges that they will face and how to respond, positioning themselves ahead of the curve.

Providing genuinely sustainable services or products also creates more appealing brands and allows organisations to “redefine the market”, creating entirely new product lines and generating revenues from new areas they hadn’t thought possible.

Vrettos’s point is supported by many recent reports and analyses, which demonstrate that sustainability-minded companies and investments often outperform industry averages.

It is a good job, too. Without business on side, it will be impossible to tackle the challenges our civilisation will face in the coming decades.

“Given that most of the economic activity on the planet is business driven, we have to include business. Business has also built a lot of the capacity to take those challenges on”, Vrettos says.

“And we’re not just talking about societies and companies becoming a bit more sustainable, we’re talking about being truly sustainable – that’s where we have to get within the next 15 to 20 years.” 

And in those 20 years, what will the BSP hopefully have achieved? When the programme’s 40th anniversary comes around, where will it be? 

“Somewhere sunnier,” Vrettos says. 

“We want to grow; we are very encouraged by the reception that the programme has had internationally. We physically cannot run it from Cambridge alone and have the impact we want to achieve.”

The BSP’s global plan includes expansion to new shores – India, Latin America, the Middle East – inspiring and harnessing the passion, energy and leadership of businessmen and women around the world.

“We have a responsibility to inform the transition, the transformation of how business interacts with society and the environment so we have to be bold.”

“My vision for the BSP is that we are transformative enough in those key regions that we can really serve as a catalyst for transition, and play a major role in helping business leaders go from where we are today to a sustainable future.” 

To apply to attend one of the Prince of Wales’s Business and Sustainability Programme’s forthcoming seminars, visit its website

Further reading:

Report calls for businesses to move from ‘doing less harm’ to having positive impact

Siemens and sustainability: interview with Roland Aurich, UK chief executive

Businesses call for stronger policy to avoid ‘trillion tonne’ carbon milestone

21st century leadership: from business as usual to business as a force for good

Understanding desire: how brands can respond to what people want


New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.


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How Going Green Can Save A Company Money



going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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