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Future sustainability leaders: Andrew Adam



What will business look like in the future and who are our future leaders?

This is the fifth instalment in a new feature, in which we speak with a group of young people who are making waves in sustainability. All 12 are scholars on Forum for the Future’s renowned master’s course in leadership for sustainable development.

Andrew Adam has had placements at an NGO, a local authority and two multinational corporations. He’s up next to tell us about what he has learnt.

Tell us about your experience on the Forum for the Future master’s course. What have your placements involved?

The course has been pretty amazing. I’ve been on placement with an NGO (Campaign to Protect Rural England), a local authority (West Sussex county council), and two very different big businesses (Kingfisher and Barclays), doing everything from researching renewable heating solutions and key performance indicators through to suggesting future strategy.

There’s been a lot of learning on the job, and more than a little improvisation along the way, but it’s been fascinating getting to see what makes so many different organisations tick – especially since everyone’s been so happy to share their personal insights and experiences with me.

Where does your interest in sustainability come from?  

Mainly my family. All of them have a keen personal and professional interest in the area, and it’s reached the stage where every time we all get together, it’s only a question of time before we end up talking about wind turbines.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given during your course? 

Take more time to reflect, individually and as a group. It’s so easy to bounce from one task to the next to the next, but actually taking the time to think – and talk – about how you work, and ways to improve in the future, has definitely been one of the most rewarding aspects of the course. The challenge is going to be building it into my routine once I’m back in the real world.

What’s most important business lesson you’ve learnt?  

Management is for managers, but leadership is everyone’s responsibility, and privilege. No matter what your role – even if you’re only a student on placement for six weeks – you can have a phenomenal impact on the way an organisation works, and I find that really exciting.

What one idea do you think could change the world for the better?

The idea that in some situations, competition doesn’t work, and co-operation is the only way forward. There are already lots of organisations experimenting with this, but my hope is that in the coming years it will become normal to work together to tackle difficult issues, rather than acting as many organisations currently do – deciding that if an issue is too big, complex, or difficult to measure, they’re just going to ignore it and hope it goes away, or declare that it’s someone else’s responsibility to act.

What do you see of the future in terms of sustainability, business and the environment?

I think – and certainly hope – that conceptions of profit will start to change, and the lines between business, social enterprise and charity are going to continue to blur. At the moment, a common attitude is that what’s good for business is good for society – in time, I think more and more people will realise that what’s good for society and the environment is good for business, and there is a more holistic way to view business success.

Where will you be in 10 years’ time? 

Had you told me about 14 months ago that by now I’d be nearly finished a master’s in London, I’d have laughed you out of the room, so I’ve learnt not to rule anything out! Haven’t a clue where I’ll be in a decade’s time, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

Further reading:

Future sustainability leaders: Zoe Draisey

Future sustainability leaders: Rebecca Trevalyan

Future sustainability leaders: Sam Gillick

Future sustainability leaders: Patrick Elf