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Learning to be a leader in sustainable business

By Claire, finance and sustainability manager

As part of my professional development plan (PDP), it was suggested that I could expand my knowledge of sustainability and sustainable business practices, and add that skill to my existing role as finance manager.

I had thought that my head was ‘too full’ to learn anything new, so initially I had a little ‘inbuilt resistance’ to the idea of exploring new avenues. Clearly I was wrong!

I don’t come from a sustainability background, and before I joined Leap back in 2017, I really had very little knowledge or experience in this area.  My professional background was in retail finance for the fashion industry, and accounts and administration are my specialism here at Leap.

But, with my PDP in mind, I started looking for courses…

The first one that I came across was the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership’s (CISL) ‘Business sustainability Management’.  I was aiming high!  Billed as being “For individuals wanting to act as an agent for positive change and lead sustainability across an organisation”, it is a fully tutored and supported part time remote learning/online course that runs over eight weeks.

I am a task driven person (I love a list!), so I thought the structure of this course would suit me very well.  I looked at the prospectus and thought it looked good, so put it to Simon and Matt.  Both said ‘go for it’, so that is exactly what I did!

At the start of February the course began.  I truly felt like a small fish in a rather large pond, surrounded (online) by fellow students from across the world from all manner of sectors.  A lot were true academics (of which I am not!) and many were, like me, doing the course to upskill and lead sustainability efforts within their workplaces and organisations.  I had palpitations from the thought of writing assignments, having not done anything remotely like this in an absolute age.  But if you ask me now how to reference a citation using the Harvard referencing format, I could give you some thorough instructions!

I soon discovered that I was actually reasonably well prepared for the course, thanks to the knowledge that I’ve absorbed whilst working here at Leap and also specifically because of some of the work that I do here, like our regular B Corp Business Impact Assessments.

The course itself was divided into eight modules:

  1. Sustainability challenges and opportunities
  2. The business case for leadership for action
  3. Regulatory environment and international policy
  4. Production and consumption
  5. Design, technology and planning for sustainability
  6. Communication and marketing
  7. Collaboration and partnerships
  8. Rewiring your business approach

The final aim was for students, starting from a “clean slate”, to be able to write a sustainability action plan for a business, and have the skills to apply their suggested actions.

When working on modules 1, 2 and 8 we were invited to use a company of our choosing as an example or case study, so naturally I used Leap as I am so familiar with our sustainability efforts.  For modules 4, 5 and 6 we were given case studies of fictional businesses.  I chose to focus on the businesses in the fashion sector – the industry that I worked in before moving to Leap and the world of design.  I researched the impact of fashion and fast fashion on the environment, looked at how it could be improved, learnt how to present that to stakeholders (from both an environmental and commercial perspective) and how to address possible accusations of greenwashing.  It was great to have that familiarity with sustainability in business from Leap, but also very useful being taken out of the sector that I know and having to apply these new skills in a different (albeit fictional) business in a different sector.   

The course was an eye opener in many respects, looking at the sustainability challenges in the context of Leap and the design industry as well as learning about other industries and their impacts, arguing the business case for sustainability, and creating a business action plan.

At the end of the 8 weeks course, I was pleased that I had reached the finish line…but more than that I felt a sense of immense pride at completing the course, and also a touch sad that it was over!

I now realise that I am not too old to advance my learning, and actually I do like learning, and researching…and it appears that with a grade of 82% I am quite good at it!

I’ve now had “sustainability manager” added to my job title, and am really looking forward to putting my new knowledge and skills to good use both here at Leap, and for our clients.