Why Marks & Spencer ‘get’ sustainability (redux)

Just over a year ago now, I wrote a post entitled Why Marks & Spencer “get” sustainability, picking up on their head of sustainable business Mike Barry’s excellent contribution to a Radio 4 special on CSR.

Further evidence that they get it arrived in my inbox late last week, in the form of an email digest from Guardian Sustainable Business, featuring an article on a recent speech made by outgoing chairman, Sir Stuart Rose.

Those who would scoff (indeed have scoffed) at my assertion that the real business case for sustainability is about nothing less than the very survival of your business should take a look at what he had to say.

His warning is unequivocal, and chimes perfectly with my framing of sustainability as longevity. Businesses who ignore these perfect storm conditions of climate change, population growth and finite resources, he predicts, will be dead within 20 years.

Not only in laying down the gauntlet to business leaders everywhere, but also in his honesty and humility to admit that – three years down the line, and two iterations of Plan A later – M&S is still only a fraction of the way along its own journey towards sustainability, there’s more than a whiff of the ‘Ray Anderson’ in Rose’s speech (you can see an old post about a speech Ray gave at Ashridge here).

Being fortunate enough to be able to count Mike Barry as one of my LinkedIn connections, and having had the benefit of his insights in preparing a detailed M&S case study as part of my recent Saudi project, I know that this is far from empty rhetoric too.

Level 5 on the CR Continuum model (taken from my book) was looking like a pretty deserted place. But with what started out as discrete action plan steadily morphing into a fully-fledged culture shift, and with Rose’s rallying call for others to wake up and smell the fairtrade coffee, maybe M&S can credibly claim to be occupying that space.

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