Plan A, because there is no Plan B: environmental sustainability at Marks & Spencer

At Marks & Spencer, no one denies the urgency of the problem of climate change, partly because its effects are directly impacting the supply chain and shaping customer expectations. The retail giant’s sustainability plan, called Plan A, aims to solve climate change profitably by driving innovation and efficiency.

In 2007, to address the increasingly critical strategic issue of climate change, Marks & Spencer established a sustainability plan called Plan A. Original projections estimated that Plan A would cost £200 million, but, within two years, it was cost neutral, and, by the end of 2014, Plan A had achieved a net benefit for the company of £465 million. According to Mike Barry, director of sustainable business, thanks to Plan A, sustainability efforts have grown over the past few years from being the concern of one small central team to being fully integrated as a guiding business strategy for the entire company. “The biggest change over the past few years has been the shift from viewing sustainability as a risk issue – an issue of avoiding the risk of bad publicity or scandal – towards under- standing sustainability as an opportunity to build a better business,” he explains.

A different model for creating value
According to Mike, it is hard to ignore climate change in the food industry today, particularly when working with suppliers in the southern hemisphere, as Marks & Spencer does. “In South America, warmer temperatures are spreading rust fungus, which affects coffee production. In the Western Cape of South Africa, farmers are moving hundreds of miles north to look for water in the mountains, because their former agricultural lands are threatened by drought and soil loss.” The mounting shocks to global food production are a strong sign for Mike and other company leaders of the very real need to pivot in response to climate change. “Old ways of doing business are not compatible with today’s reality,” he notes. “The old way of consuming goods and throwing them away afterwards is over. It’s done. The new way is…Read more

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How climate change impacts your performance

encadré USBD26101Based on The big pivot, Radically Practical Strategies for a Hotter, Scarcer, and More Open World by Andrew S. Winston (Harvard Business Review Press, April 2014), an interview with Mike Barry, Director of Sustainable Business at Marks & Spencer and an interview with Tamara « TJ » Dicaprio, Senior director environmental sustainability at Microsoft Corporation.

Caroline Schuurman
Published by Caroline Schuurman