Research & Thought Leadership

Turning Sustainability Ambitions into Action

Matthew Gitsham

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sustainability actions

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a massive challenge worldwide that has required management action from leaders across all organizations. But many other global challenges have been forcing their way onto the management agenda too – the climate emergency, biodiversity collapse, #BlackLivesMatter, and #MeToo for example.

We tend to assume these kinds of challenges are for governments to deal with. But increasingly, citizens – both as customers and employees – expect businesses to be playing a leadership role in tackling global challenges too. And more and more businesses are.

At the height of the pandemic, for example, Apple announced its intention to be entirely carbon neutral by 2030 – including emissions from across its supply chain and product life cycle. Unilever has goals for its supply chain to be deforestation-free. More and more businesses are engaging in human rights due diligence across their value chain. Companies are increasingly embedding tackling global sustainability challenges into the heart of their corporate strategies.

EF is no exception. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are at the heart of our strategy as a business. As a business focused on education and cultural exchange around the world, we are focused on educating to advance sustainable development, human rights, diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, and global citizenship. We like to think our work facilitating cultural exchange ultimately helps contribute to SDG#16 – global peace, as well as SDG#4 – quality education. However, historically, our education and cultural exchange work has relied on air travel and other activities which have all come with a carbon footprint. This has led us to focus on reducing our carbon emissions in collaboration with our partner myclimate, thus also contributing to SDG#13 – climate action.


At Hult EF Corporate Education, these goals lead us to help support organizations turn their sustainability ambitions into action through our own executive education and leadership development programs. As more and more businesses put action on the UN SDGs at the heart of their strategies, this creates executive learning needs. To bring these strategies to life and achieve these kinds of goals, organizations need leaders with the right mindsets and capabilities – as sustainability advocate and former Unilever CEO Paul Polman has said “It is an enormous learning curve as no one has been trained for this.”

So to help, we are putting a focus on tackling global sustainability and human rights challenges at the heart of our leadership development work with organizations.

We help senior executives across organizations who participate in our leadership programs improve their understanding of global challenges and the expectations others have of the leadership role businesses can be playing alongside others to help tackle them. What it looks like in practice to integrate that into corporate strategy, and what leadership mindsets and skills it takes to bring that to life – what it looks like on a day-to-day basis to work, influence, and lead change in the organizational culture around you and the wider ecosystem of suppliers, customers, competitors, investors and regulators around your organization.

We do this through a combination of focused conversations, experiential simulations, and project-based learning, drawing in specialist expertise from within client organizations and their wider ecosystem. All this is underpinned by our own research and thought leadership working closely with organizations to understand their experiences of leading on sustainability and what they are learning in the process.

And while putting these topics at the heart of our executive education and leadership development work, we are also working to tackle the carbon footprint and environmental impact created in the process. We have a goal for our organization to be net-zero carbon by 2050. Our flagship executive education campus – Ashridge House – has been ISO14001 certified since 2011 and we have a program of work and investments for this campus to become zero carbon. And we have invested heavily in developing world-class online executive education and leadership development – a transition that has been accelerated by the pandemic – that helps address the significant air travel carbon footprint historically associated with senior executive leadership development.

You too can turn your sustainability ambitions into action, speak to an expert to explore how we can support your initiatives.

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