11 March 2019, New York City, USA: Last week, the 2019 WBCSD Leadership Program kicked off with 46 future leaders from 18 countries and across 12 industry sectors. Despite their different backgrounds, it was clear that the group was united by a shared belief in sustainability as a catalyst for innovation, disruption and value creation.

Transitioning to renewable energy, shaping the future of plastics, advancing sustainable agriculture, leveraging big data, selling and communicating sustainability for impact…These are just some of the issues the participants from this year’s Program will get to understand better and study.

Starting off in academic mode, at the Yale School of Environmental Management, the week opened up with awareness building across a range of topics, from sustainability and the complexity of reporting, all the way to non-market strategies and the psychology of decision-making.

Offering a unique platform to reflect on transformational leadership, this first meeting of the Program helped the group work on personal self-awareness and learning styles, with an eye to playing a bigger role in accelerating change.  

Transitioning out of the academic setting and bringing newly-learned theory into the workplace, the week continued on in New York City at EY’s headquarters where the participants did a deep-dive into how sustainability is practiced in business today, from risk management to driving innovation and opening up new market opportunities.

Across the city, the team continued the week by engaging with leading experts, from the United Nations all the way to impact investors, the consensus was clear across all sectors the group interacted with: to reach sustainability’s next frontier, the concept needs to be embedded at the core of business strategy, entrenched in measurable business goals and reported upon in an integrated way.  

Building alliances across businesses as well as with government and civil society is key for accelerating the transition to sustainable economies while delivering on the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – all of which will be key for a livable future.        

Putting the week’s learnings into practice, the Leadership Program participants are returning to their respective companies with a clear call to action to challenge the “status quo” and place sustainability at the core of their business strategy.  

“Leading change will not be easy,” said Nollaig Forrest from Firmenich. “However, all 46 participants have started a new movement together, having grown as leaders and followers, stepped out of their comfort zones, stretched their self-awareness and expanded their networks for good.”

United by their collective drive to lead the next era of sustainability, the group is enthusiastic about building new momentum for the transition to a more sustainable world.

This was the first of three Program modules. The Program participants will meet again in India and Portugal before the year is out.

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