- Subscribe to Meet the Leader on Apple Podcasts and Spotify
- This fortnightly podcast from the World Economic Forum features the world’s top changemakers, showcasing the habits and traits effective leaders can’t work without.
- Dame Polly Courtice, Founder Director of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), shares lessons that she learned working with government and business leaders to push for positive action, not just talk.
- This special preview episode ahead of next week's Davos Agenda, includes voices from other top leaders on what they hope leaders prioritize at the virtual sessions.
- Find other World Economic Forum podcasts here. And join the our Podcast Club on Facebook.
Putting the planet over profits isn't a 'nice-to-have' - it's a must have for businesses looking for long-term survival. After all, as Dame Polly Courtice points out, nearly half of GDP is dependent on nature.
But while more and more leaders are embracing that simple principle of stakeholder capitalism, there's still more work to do and plenty of leaders talking about change and coming just short of taking action.
Courtice knows this well as the Founder Director of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). She has worked with thousands of leaders in government and business for three decades on developing new ways of doing business that put sustainability and long-term reward over short-term returns.
We caught up with Courtice for the latest episode of Meet the Leader, where she shared what sometimes holds leaders back. No leader wants to be consciously disruptive, she says. "They're parents and citizens too. I think that they are often trapped in a paradigm which they can't get out of."
She also discusses the importance of non-financial metrics and the special role of corporate boards in ushering in positive change for all stakeholders, a role discussed in a recent World Economic Forum report she helped contribute to, The Future of the Corporation Moving from Balance Sheet to Value Sheet.
"Boards as a whole need to understand the context in which they're doing business, what their impact is on society and the natural world, and conversely, what impact the natural world will have on their business. And to look at this in terms of how this relates to the company's very reason to exist."
These themes will be a key topic of discussion at next week's Davos Agenda, as leaders in business, government and civil society come together virtually to discuss critical global challenges.
A book she recommends: The Fight for Beauty: Our Path to a Better Future, Fiona Reynolds. This book looks at the history of Britain's belief in the importance of landscape beauty, and at the political and economic forces that have shaped the countryside. Courtice said she enjoyed this exploration of the 'tussle' between nature and the economy. She said she was also very moved by the book having grown up in South Africa and having developed a sense 'of the beauty of the world around us.' Readers taking on this book, said Courtice, will understand that some of the battles we're tackling are not new but the scale is more significant and the risks greater "if we don't recognize that we have to live in harmony with the natural world."
A habit she can't work without: Determination and remembering the bigger picture. Her work is not without its daunting days but when she faces roadblocks, Courtice says that she reminds herself not to lose sight of "the amazing, wonderful possibility that we can do things better". She said, "I keep telling myself to step up just a bit further because there's so much more we can do."
It's a habit she learned from HRH Prince of Wales, a patron of CISL. The organization runs several programmes in his name, including the Prince of Wales Corporate Leaders Group, and the Prince of Wales Business and Sustainability Programme. She considers him a unique figure on the world stage who long ago recognized the need for us to rethink how we live in the natural world. "He was ahead of his time."