For the past three years, Dr. Brian Nattrass – acclaimed author and sustainability consultant to Nike, Starbucks, NASA and the US Army – has launched the UBC Summer Institute in Sustainability Leadership by challenging participants to consider a few key questions: What is the bigger game you are playing? What are you trying to achieve as a sustainability leader? Why in the face of such challenging global issues are you doing this? Isn’t there an easier way to make a living?

By exploring these questions, program participants – made up of seasoned and emerging sustainability leaders from the public and private sector – arrive at one of the realities of sustainability leadership: it’s not easy being an agent of change. Getting organizations and communities engaged in improving environmental and social outcomes while also being economically sustainable is a challenge. Individuals and institutions are naturally resistant to change. But in the face of environmental pressures such as resource scarcity, high energy costs, climate change, and ecosystem degradation, change is necessary if the economy and society are to flourish. Confronting sustainability is a reality that businesses and communities cannot ignore. And the ones that ‘get it’ will thrive in the years ahead.

Developing Leadership Competencies

To be an effective sustainability leader requires an enhanced toolkit of knowledge and skills that go beyond traditional organizational leadership. The Summer Institute in Sustainability Leadership provides the opportunity for participants to step back, reflect on their work and abilities, and engage with experts and fellow delegates about what it takes to be an agent of change.

The ability to contextualize social and environmental issues, develop triple-bottom line strategies, strengthen cross-sector partnerships, support innovation and green entrepreneurship, expand stakeholder engagement, facilitate change management, and develop new types of metrics and reporting are just some of the abilities that enable successful sustainability leadership. Compassion and sustained commitment are others. It is a lot to ask for, but the need is there and many are stepping up to the challenge.

UBC Thought Leaders

Hosted by UBC Continuing Studies, the Summer Institute in Sustainability Leadership brings together some of UBC’s leading minds on sustainability, such as Dr. Bill Rees, co-inventor of ecological footprint analysis, Prof. John Robinson, Executive Director, UBC Sustainability Initiative and a lead author in the last three reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, and Dr. Moura Quayle, former UBC dean, deputy minister of the Ministry of Advanced Education, and current head of at the UBC Sauder School of Business.

This year’s Institute also features internationally renowned UBC professor emeritus of economics Dr. John Helliwell. Among other interests, Dr Helliwell is researching the economics of happiness in relation to sustainability.

Sustainability Practitioners

In addition to academic experts, the annual UBC Summer Institute in Sustainability Leadership assembles a host of working practitioners in the area of sustainability leadership. 2011 speakers included Mike Harcourt, former premier of British Columbia and mayor of Vancouver and current chairman of QUEST Canada; planner, designer and developer Mark Holland who was the PIBC Planner of the Year in 2010; Susan Todd, head of the Accountability Project and advisor to the Global Reporting Initiative; Steve Williams, member of the global SAP Corporate Social Responsibility team; sustainability advisor and businesswoman Coro Strandberg; Rob Safrata, CEO of Novex Couriers, and numerous other industry and community sustainability specialists.

Putting It All Together

The combination of speakers from academia, business and government, as well as in-class workshops and guided field trips, enable participants to develop a deeper appreciation of the breadth of sustainability leadership, how various economic and social sectors interact on sustainability initiatives, and what it takes to make positive change a reality, both at an organizational level and a personal one.

Sustainability leadership is no easy task, but one that participants realize is necessary if humanity is to continue flourishing in the years ahead. As past participant Larry White, Academic Chair, Seneca College, said: “I’ve been involved in sustainability education and environmental citizenship for 6 years and this week has been amazingly valuable! If I could summarize the week, it’s been all about connecting the dots. Eye-opening! Informative! Inspiring!”  

Your Bigger Game

Are you playing a bigger game? If so, the UBC Summer Institute in Sustainability Leadership can help accelerate your leadership in sustainability.

The 2012 UBC Summer Institute in Sustainability Leadership will be held July 9-13 at the C.K. Choi Building at the UBC Vancouver campus. To find out more, visit