CASE STUDY: Marks & Spencer: Sustainability and a Living Wage Background Marks & Spencer is a leading UK-‐based retailer, principally in food and clothing. It employs 75,000 people in 30 countries, has more than 600 stores in the UK and 300 overseas, and around 25 million customers. In 2007, the then chief executive of Marks & Spencer, Sir Stuart Rose, launched ‘Plan A’ (because there is no Plan B for the one planet we have), an ambitious sustainability programme for the retailer, covering environmental protection, eco-‐efficiency and support for the communities in which it operates. It established 100 initiatives as part of the plan, which it aimed to fulfil by 2012. By March 2010, the company was able to report that Plan A had delivered on 46 of the 100 goals, and could report notable achievements, including the following in 2009-‐10: • Cost savings of around £50m for M&S, • New products and services, including 250,000 customers from M&S Energy; • Cut CO2 emissions by 40,000 tonnes; • Recycled 2 million used garments via Oxfam; • Reduced 10,000 tonnes of packaging; • Diverted 20,000 tonnes of waste from landfill; • Saved 387 million food carrier bags; • Used 1,500 tonnes of recycled polyester (equivalent to 37 million bottles); • Saved 100 million litres of water; • Recycled or re-‐used over 130 million clothing hangers; • Raised £15m for charities. At the same time, the firm announced a further 80 initiatives, designed to ensure the company becomes ‘the world’s most sustainable major retailer by 2015’. The new ambitions included: • Working with suppliers to provide training and education programmes – including in basic healthcare and workers’ rights -‐ for 500,000 workers in their factories; • Helping suppliers create 200 ‘Plan A’ factories with either ethical or environmental features, or both, and encouraging 10,000 farmers who produce fresh foods for M&S to join the company’s sustainable agriculture programme; © Neela Bettridge and Philip Whiteley 2011 New Normal, Radical Shift
Becoming the first major retailer to ensure that six key raw materials it uses -‐ palm oil, soya, cocoa, beef, leather, coffee -‐ come from sustainable sources that do not contribute to deforestation, one of the biggest causes of climate change; Increasing the number of clothing garments our customers recycle every year from two million to 20 million, including via the partnership with Oxfam, significantly reducing the tonnage of clothing sent to landfill.
(More details are available on the M&S website, in the press announcement 1 March 2010: http://corporate.marksandspencer.com/media/press_releases) Mike Barry, Head of Sustainable Business for Marks & Spencer, says that Plan A sprang initially from a ‘moral imperative’, but that the company has been pleasantly surprised by some of the business benefits. ‘We felt that big business needed to be tackling the enormous social and environmental challenges. We are a values-‐driven business; but we are also aware that there is a business case. We had suspected that there might be [business benefits] we have been pleasantly surprised – it has been even better than we expected. The business case has been several-‐fold: eco-‐efficiency, less waste, lower energy, less packaging. There have been benefits on the productivity side, and there is a reputational benefit to the customer.’ M&S is a commercial entity; it cannot jeopardise its viability by over-‐extending itself with social or environmental commitments. However, by intelligently identifying the overlapping concerns of employees, suppliers, shareholders, executives and customers, it has developed some innovative approaches which benefit all stakeholders. With customers, for example, questions of convenience, cost and quality are not the only factors. Indeed, the extent to which M&S customers are green and ethical may surprise some observers. The company has found that this does extend to purchasing behaviour; it is not simply a case of claiming to be ethical in questionnaires. In M&S customer surveys, the company segments its 25 million customers into four groups: 1) About ten per cent of its customers, and 9 percent of the UK population, are passionately interested – they are very ethical, buy fair-‐trade, and so on. 2) About 35 per cent of M&S customers, and 28 per cent of UK population, are ‘light green’. They are concerned about these issues, but they don’t want to pay more or sacrifice quality. They effectively say ‘If you can do good stuff for no extra cost, we will prefer you to your competitors.’ 3) The third group, about 35 per cent of M&S customers, and 38 per cent of UK general population, are saying that they understand the green and social © Neela Bettridge and Philip Whiteley 2011 New Normal, Radical Shift
dimension, but they feel intimidated by the amount of change that’s needed and feel they don’t know where to start. They want to do one small thing a week, on the basis that everyone else does, so it makes a difference. So there is a kind of ‘sustainable tribalism’. An example is plastic carrier bags: they are keen to stop using them if everyone else does. 4) Around 20 per cent of M&S customers, and 25 per cent of the general population, are not interested in this agenda. They are driven by income. Typically they are the poorest sections of society and they have not surprisingly other priorities in their lives.
The tendency to emphasise these concerns has dipped during the recession, but only slightly, Mr Barry reports. He says: ‘The biggest priority for a lot of people is the economy and jobs, but people still define themselves in those four groups. They say that they expect the government and big business to pick up the slack on environmental action in a recession, when ordinary citizens may have more pressing concerns. But it still means that 80 per cent of our customers, in some shape or form, want us to be green, and that 10 per cent of them will push us to be even more so. The vast majority want us to make a difference.’ Has there been resistance or scepticism from shareholders and financial journalists? ‘Interestingly, when we launched Plan A four years ago – so named because there is no Plan B – Stuart Rose spoke with leading shareholders and said that it was the right thing to do and asked: “Are you with me?” They were not against it. They see it as a proxy for good management in the real world. Now, we have gone back and could demonstrate that last year the policy made a £50 million contribution to profits. It is not a huge issue for the investment community, though to be fair to them they need companies to prove there is a business case.’ ‘We have a very sophisticated mode for the business case; a monthly dashboard, showing savings from less packaging, less waste, less energy. We provide green energy service to customers. And we are able to drive the business case.’ In terms of internal management, non-‐financial indicators have equal status to the finances, he adds. ‘To take the example of the Food division. Our suppliers have several hundred factories. For these we have a balanced scorecard: Commercial performance of the supplier; Quality; Innovation capacity; and sustainability – social and environmental performance.
© Neela Bettridge and Philip Whiteley 2011 New Normal, Radical Shift