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Yesterday at a session entitled: ‘Becoming a Sustainable Leader,’ the 25@25 cohort gained important insights from national and Northern Irish leaders who affect change across different areas of sustainability.

Sir Jonathon Porritt gave a keynote to the group on environmental sustainability while Dr Ciara Fitzpatrick shared her research on social sustainability and Neil Gibson, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Finance on economic sustainability.

They were joined by panellists including Cathy Burns, Climate Manager, Derry City & Strabane Council, Eimear Montague, Executive Director NI Resource Network, Aoife Harvey, a Sustainable Irish Fashion Designer and UU Alumna and Professor Ian Montgomery, Dean of Sustainability and CSR at Ulster University.

Sir Jonathon Porritt CBE is a writer and campaigner on Sustainable Development as well as the former Co-Chair of the Green Party and Director of Friends of the Earth said:

“Sustainability is not an issue – it’s a completely different way of looking at the world and humankind’s role in securing our future in the world. We are not putting in the investments needed for future life on this planet.

“When people begin to see the opportunity to live differently, relate to nature differently, create and distribute wealth differently, then a social tipping point will create pressure to urge change – this is the chance we’ll get to create change quickly and efficiently.”

His advice for our future leaders:

The most important thing that people can do today is talk about this – there are very few people understand the urgency and severity of problem we face in climate change and social inequality so talk to family, friends, colleagues at work and your networks.

Be aware and realistic about barriers in terms of forces of inertia, delay and denial, but be hopeful for opportunities for change.”

Neil Gibson, Permanent Secretary for the Department of Finance shared his personal insights on sustainable leadership: building and empowering a great team which compliments your skillset, knowing and pursuing your organisation’s vision and purpose, being innovate in your thinking, leading authentically, being persistent, taking responsibility and developing resilience.

During a panel discussion, Cathy Burns, Climate Manager at Derry City and Strabane District Council commented:

“There are huge opportunities in developing nature-based solutions for green industry and the green transition.

We need to maximise these opportunities here via building green skills, training and retraining – we can’t afford to leave anyone behind in this journey.

We need to share opportunities within our communities and lead from the front.

There truly are opportunities for our local people in climate action and as I look around the room at the 25@25 here today, I take away huge hope in the energy and enthusiasm this group has shown for leading for sustainability.”

Aaron Marshall, 25@25 participant and co-Founder of RPM said:

"Sustainability used to be a ‘nice-to-have’ and now for businesses it’s a ‘must have’. Climate change and its impact on society is rapidly becoming a global business disruptor forcing leaders within organisations to make dramatic changes to their working practices by aligning their operations with sustainability targets in order to achieve positive social and environmental impacts and stay competitive. This change has provided new challenges and opportunities for existing and new businesses alike – this led me to co-create Responsible Plastic Management (RPM) to help businesses with their plastic reduction strategies. I am determined to lead for the sustainability agenda and this session has really reinforced this drive within me and cemented my leadership focus.”

The Ulster University 25 cohort of leaders have more to look forward to as they continue through the nine one-day sessions guided by an extraordinary line-up of talented guest speakers including a planned session in the new year with Tommy Bowe, TV presenter and former Irish Rugby international player.

These aspiring leaders from across Northern Ireland are Ulster University alumni who are currently rising to the top of their fields in international organisations such as PwC, EY and Factor Law; leading NI bodies: Translink, Catalyst, NI Fiscal Council and Belfast City Council; and well-known charities: Macmillan Cancer Support, Cancer Fund for Children and consultancy: Third Sector Connect; among many others.