Legendary British retail chain, Marks and Spencer, have been leading the way in sustainability for the past few years. Their robust Plan A strategy has ensured that the brand analyses it’s entire supply chain, reducing impact on the planet and encouraging their customers to live more ethically. We were delighted to interview Mike Barry, sustainability pioneer and Director of Plan A and Sustainable Business.
As much as we have done, we have so much more to do. And we realise that every business in the world, not just retail, every business needs to face into this.
7 billion people, soon 10 billion on the planet, a billion middle class consumers, soon 4 billion middle class consumers. The more we consume the more impact we have; we have to find a different way of satisfying consumer need in the future. If we make it easy for them, we can help them recycle more, cut down on food waste, make sure clothing lives – has a second live, even when you are finished with it – these are the key steps that consumers can do but first and foremost I must lead the way as a businessman.
The three great challenge, the sheer number of locations, the sheer scale of the problem and we need a shared infrastructure solution as well.
We need to make sure that whatever shop a customer walks into, greener living feels normal. It is still a little bit too niche, you still feel a little bit odd going into the corner of a shop and asking for the green option, and that is why we have been very clear with our customers, we sell 3 billion items a year – by 2020 every single one of them will have a strong Plan A social environmental story to tell. It is not about a niche ethical range in the corner of the shop, this is about every single product that Marks & Spencer sells is a normal social environmental positive message. You put it in your basket, you walk out the shop and you’ve made a positive difference.
Marks & Spencer has to take the lead, has to be responsible to support 32 million customers on this journey. We need to do 80 percent of it, the 20 percent that you need to do as the individual consumer is quite simple, buy quality, but products that last, the last thing that anyone of us want is fast fashion – wear it once, throw it away, that is not the Marks & Spencer model. We sell quality that lasts, even when you have finished with it, you can hand it on to someone, you can resell it but it can have a second life, it’s high quality goods, that is the first thing you look for.
Second thing is challenge your lifestyle, this is unique to each of us, so I will never ever lecture people listening to this about what you must or must not do, think about your diet, think about mobility, think about wellbeing of your family, all of that is possible but you’ve got to decide as an individual what to do. Now our responsibility in there is to make sure that if you do want a vegan / vegetarian diet for example which has less impact environmentally and animal welfare wise, we give you a delicious option.
I want to give people practical solutions that I can do, others can do and between us 10’s of millions of people, we can be a real force for good. Marks & Spencer has an important role as the convenor of all that change as well, inspiring people to come on the journey with us.
Think what Tesla has done for the car industry, ripped us apart, not because of a law or a rule but his beautiful, high performance, aspirational sports car that people want to own, full stop, is also much better for the planet as well. And that is how we need to disrupt the world of food and clothing. That starts to happen when you think of an alternative to meat, vegan / vegetarians is a dramatic rise, people really buying into it because the food and the alternative is delicious. It’s instagrammable.