Five Questions on Sustainable Leadership
Feedback from Luc Debruyne, participant of the BNP Paribas Wealth Management ‘Sustainability Leadership Programme’ at the University of Cambridge.
Currently, I’m a Non-Executive Director of a bio-tech firm based in Los Angeles, Enochian BioSciences, working on stem cell therapy in HIV and cancer. I’m active as an industry expert in advisory roles for Private Equity and work with universities on end-to-end system management. I am also engaged in the global health area with the Wellcome Trust and CEPI (the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations).
Sustainability needs to be embedded into core business practices and you definitely need a strong commitment from the company leadership to make it a core part of the company’s DNA. However, from my experience more broadly, the “bottom-up” approach is just as important as the “top-down” because if you want to have an impact, it must be fully embedded into operations and be the mission of every single employee. As a Board member, it is my responsibility to ask the right questions about the company’s sustainability (e.g. carbon footprint) today and how planned investments will change it in future.
Sustainability has long been an important theme for all responsible organisations, but it cannot be denied that the urgency is accelerating. My personal objective prior to attending The BNP Paribas Wealth Management ‘Sustainability Leadership Programme’ at the University of Cambridge was to go from factual statements about the problem, to sustainable and responsible solutions that enable the business to innovate and grow. This is one of the things that I learnt during the programme – if you position sustainability as an enabler within your organisation, then you can unlock a lot of energy in your company and embed it better into your business.
If you want to contribute, you need to understand enough to be able to lead and that was my incentive to attend. What the programme offered was very comprehensive and there was a great network of participants.
I think all attendees came away with that sense of urgency. During the course, I talked to my kids about what we were learning, and they were teasing me that they didn’t know I was such an environmentalist! I said to them: “These facts have convinced me that I also need to be a responsible global citizen.”
The second piece for me was the leadership change needed to maximise impact and contribute to a sustainable future for the next generation. As a leader, your main goal is to grow the business and innovate, but the programme focussed on questions like: what does your product do? How does it impact the environment? How can you change it if the impact is negative? The ‘what’ and ‘how’ axes opened my eyes to think about the product development process in addition to how the product is consumed.
We also had a great story-telling session that helped participants experience how easy it is to engage in a discussion about the environment.
The programme definitely inspired me. The data, the science they presented, the faculty – all of it. The challenge is applying that urgency to everyday life once the course is finished. I am convinced that I will now help integrate sustainability into the discussions across my various roles.
I do think sustainability should be part of any leadership training. It’s important that business leaders are confronted with the facts so that they have the necessary knowledge. It is easy to assume that if there is a sustainability programme in the company or a team responsible for sustainability, it will work. It is a challenge, of course, as there are many critical topics that require business leaders’ attention today, including diversity and well-being, but these are complementary. Only through having that focus will you ask the right questions in whatever you do, so that your organisation doesn’t wait for others to act. Sustainable leadership should be the new normal.
“I think all attendees came away with that sense of urgency…These facts have convinced me that I also need to be a responsible global citizen.”