Happy staff and customers are key to sustainable business, says M&S director



Businesses can better meet their sustainability targets by fully engaging with staff, customers and suppliers says Mike Barry.

Mr Barry, Director of Plan A at Marks & Spencer,  is one of the key speakers at the Mobilising Business, Acting on Climate conference tomorrow, where he will explain why strong leadership is the foundation to creating a sustainable business model.

The invitation-only conference organised by the Business School in partnership with the Grantham Institute - Climate and the Environment will examine how businesses can manage risks and take advantage of opportunities to move towards a more climate-friendly future.

Ahead of the conference, Mr Barry spoke to Laura Singleton about the importance of sustainability at Marks & Spencer and how businesses, universities and communities can work together to create a low carbon economy.

mike barryWhat is Marks & Spencer doing to achieve its goal of becoming the world’s most sustainable retailer?

Working hard! At Marks & Spencer we sell over 3 billion individual items around the world each year so we have a responsibility to ensure we look after our brand and retain customer satisfaction, whilst integrating sustainable practices across our global retail channels and supply chains. In 2007, we founded Plan A, a five year plan designed to address a wide range of environmental and social issues, with the aim of making Marks & Spencer’s UK business carbon neutral.

Our work includes responsible sourcing of products - clothes and food, reducing waste and encouraging local communities to play their part in helping create a low-carbon society. Over the past nine years we’ve tackled a diverse range of issues from deforestation and packaging reduction to improving working conditions on the factory floor and in our retail stores.

You need to have a clear journey and a solid and inspiring business plan that builds engagement with all your major stakeholders – customers, staff and shareholders.

– Mike Barry

Director of Plan A, Marks & Spencer

Having met our sustainability targets with Plan A, we’ve recently launched Plan A 2020, where we have new goals to meet to help us on our journey to become the world’s most sustainable retailer.

What is your best piece of advice for companies just setting out to create a successful sustainable business model?

You need to have a clear journey and a solid and inspiring business plan that builds engagement with all your major stakeholders – customers, staff and shareholders. Companies need to ensure that employees at all levels are clear about the business and societal benefits of sustainable working practices, so they can easily incorporate these methods into their daily work and feel inspired and motivated.

It’s important that customers are put at the heart of the business and that you do everything possible to continue improving their experience of the company’s goods and services to create a positive, long-lasting relationship.

How can companies balance the need for shareholder confidence while still maintaining their sustainability goals?

It’s important to demonstrate your leadership as an organisation. You need to inspire shareholders with confidence and ensure they understand the long-term benefits of sustainable practices as markets change over time. A transparent business model is also helpful in engaging shareholders with the company’s evolving business strategy. 

What do you hope to see achieved from the conference on Thursday?

I hope that the conference will inspire businesses of all types to come up with innovative solutions to creating a more low carbon economy, to take greater action in reducing carbon emissions and re-thinking their relationships across the supply chain.

Does Marks & Spencer see a role for universities as educators and researchers to support their work as a company?

In future I would like to see universities and businesses working more closely together to come up with more innovative solutions to creating a low carbon economy and pioneering more sustainable research. The conference is a great opportunity for Imperial College Business School to showcase its green credentials and raise awareness of its climate change related research and degree programmes.

The conference will be available to watch live on Imperial College Business School’s YouTube Channel tomorrow or you can follow the conversation online #MobiliseBusiness


Laura Singleton

Laura Singleton
Communications Division


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