This part of our journey is all about engagement. The shift to new sustainable business models will only
be completed with the strong support and participation of the vast majority of our customers, employees and business partners. Innovations in technology and manufacturing will continue to matter but not as much as the need to explain why change is necessary, possible and ultimately better for everyone.
For the first time we’ve also started to formally include our International operations in Plan A.
We’ve always been clear that Plan A is a long term journey. The Plan A of 2007 and the update of 2010 were groundbreaking in the breadth and scale of the commitments we made to tackle the social and environmental impact of our business.
Whilst the health of the economy has waxed and waned around us we have never wavered in our determination to deliver these commitments and we are immensely proud of our progress to date. But for all that we have achieved so far, we know in practice it’s just our apprenticeship for building a truly sustainable business. There is so much more to do.
How we think about supply chains, customers, transparency and business models is evolving fast.
Risks are getting more complex, for example, the interaction between food, water and energy. These interactions defy simple standard setting. We can never have enough standards to cover every social and environmental issue, every interaction between them, every country and community in which they occur. Instead we need our employees and people working in our supply chains to see Plan A not as a matter of compliance but as a way of working that delivers social, environmental and economic benefit. You don’t need a standard to tell you do it – it’s simply good business practice, a modern way of working.
Our customers don’t want just an ethical range in the corner of the store. They expect a simple brand promise from us that we will strive in everything we do, every product we sell, to offer the most sustainable option possible. Transparency is also becoming an ever more important issue for them. It’s not enough to be trusted today you have to earn trust, repeatedly. Not by overwhelming consumers and stakeholders with information for information’s sake but through being clear about what you stand for, how you are performing and how you respond when your standards are not met.
We also know that many of our customers and employees see environmental and social issues predominantly through the lens of their immediate lives. Before we talk about the whole planet we need to show how we’re helping them improve their local neighbourhood, not just in London but in Shanghai, Mumbai and Paris too.
We’ve been working hard with our International business to roll out Plan A in the more than 50 countries where we have retail businesses. We cannot treat this roll out as a standard set in London to be complied with elsewhere. We have to build the local capacity in our teams to work with their customers, employees and stakeholders on what matters to them locally. Plan A as a global framework but with local application.
We believe that the ability to source, control and recover finite and ever more costly resources is becoming a powerful source of competitive advantage and new approaches built around the circular use of resources and radical de-materialisation are required.
All these changes mean we have to innovate harder and be bolder. Not looking for iterative change but step change. Creating new sustainable business models that put the consumer at their heart, clear in their benefits for the purchaser as much as planet and society. But if there is one overarching lesson we draw from the first seven years of Plan A, it’s one of humility. We won’t change the world alone; in fact we can’t even change our own business alone. Whether it’s sending a consistent message on sustainability to global commodity producers or ensuring consumers are offered a sustainable approach to consumption across the marketplace, normalising it as the default way to buy, we know that the importance of partnership is growing.
We’ve developed Plan A 2020 with these changing risks and opportunities in mind knowing that a truly sustainable retail model of the future will look very different to what we have today and we believe Plan A 2020 will enable us to develop a practical way of getting there.
We have always made Plan A one of the ways we do business. Going forward we’re embedding it even further into our business by putting it at the heart of the four principles which will guide all that we do at M&S:
- Inspiration – We aim to excite and inspire our customers at every turn
- Intouch – We listen actively and act thoughtfully
- Integrity – We always strive to do the right thing
- Innovation – We are restless in our aim to improve things for the better
To coin a phrase, engagement, engagement, engagement, of our customers, our employees and everyone who partners with us.
Plan A started out in 2007 as a technical initiative, shaped around themes such as climate change and waste. These meant a lot to opinion formers but felt distant from our customers and employees.
Plan A 2020 is a business plan, focused on customer, employee and supplier engagement. By aligning social and environmental outcomes with our business goals in this way we believe we can deliver greater value for all and achieve our goal of becoming the world’s most sustainable major retailer.
Director of Plan A