Marks and Spencer: Top of the Shops


Mike Barry, director of Plan A at Marks and Spencer, tells Salt how he plans to create a new economy.

Back in 2006 the former CEO of Marks and Spencer Stuart Rose found himself sitting on a challenge. How could he make the company truly sustainable from the shop floor to the end of the supply chain? It was then that he threw down the gauntlet to his 83,000 plus staff: “The world is moving on, find me a way to make CSR new”.

So three months and 17 different versions later, ‘Plan A’ was born. “Everyone was involved, it was a huge collegial effort,” says Mike Barry, Plan A’s director at the global retail giant. The plan was so-named, according to Stuart Rose because, quite simply, there was no Plan B. The director says the company’s sustainable business plan represents a constant push for deliverables underpinned by a cultural shift – “the culture comes first and the management is underneath this,” Barry says. “In the 1990s CSR was about charity, in the 2000s it became more about responsible fishing and farming, and now it’s about sustainability and being committed to helping.”

“Because of the plan, we are more trusted, more resilient and more productive. We are future-proofed for a carbon-free and circular economy. Plan A is ostensibly a way to help protect the planet – by sourcing responsibly, reducing waste and helping communities. At the launch of the plan in 2007, M&S set out 100 commitments to achieve in five years. Having achieved its major aim of making its UK business carbon neutral, the firm has now introduced Plan A 2020 which consists of 100 new, revised and existing commitments, with the ultimate goal of becoming the world’s most sustainable major retailer.

Barry says: “Plan A is a business plan, designed to equip us for a future in which our success in staying relevant for customers will depend on our ability to deliver exceptional products and services in a world that’s increasingly resource constrained and experiencing profound social change.

“We’ve built a unique retail business model. Almost all the products and services we sell carry the M&S name are sold in M&S shops or on M&S websites. We must take responsibility for these products. We cannot hide behind others’ brands.

“This means we are well placed to make a consistent, reassuring brand promise that we can live up to this promise fully in every aspect of the products we sell, from initial design right through to their final disposal after use.”

The director adds that the biggest challenge of his job is scaling up globally across 1,300 stores and 3,000 suppliers. “Every aspect has to be sustainable and improved.”

As such, one of the areas where the plan has yet to gain full traction is ‘customer engagement’. While it’s straightforward to engage opinion formers, who are limited in number, it’s an enormous challenge to engage tens of millions of customers. Barry says, however, that he believes that M&S has a proposition that will engage its customers and a “detailed plan will soon be actioned”. In the months ahead M&S is also set to step up its efforts to help create a circular economy. What’s more, the company plans to do more to roll out localised Plan A in its stores and the surrounding communities where our employees and customers live.

In all, the plan has been very much a success, with 47 commitments met to date. The benefits for the earth and its people are manifold. Around 2.8 billion plastic bags have been saved and £50 million raised for charity; all M&S fish is sustainable, 64 per cent of M&S products have at least one Plan A social or environmental quality and only sustainable palm oil is used. But the plans’s benefits are not only outward-facing – the strategy has so far saved the company £160 million since 2007 and M&S is now one of the UK’s most sought after employers.

Barry says that there is no deadline for Plan A and “it’s a constant journey of improvement across footprint management, business integration, and business model innovation.”

It becomes clear that the retail giant is becoming increasingly ambitious in its sustainability objectives when Barry says “how does M&S create a better economy?” The company’s green plan has now become instrumental in the direction of Britain generally and is playing a wider role on the diplomatic world stage through organisations such as the United Nations and the World Economic Forum. “We are a significant force in society. Business tends to be a incredible powerful source of innovation. It’s important that corporates and governments work together for a better future. “Sustainability is a long-term trend that has been accelerated by disruptive trends. The old guard is being replaced by a dual economy. If you don’t do it someone else will do it for you. We are taking a pro-active stance on building a sustainable economy.”


• 70 per cent of M&S operated locations in the UK and ROI have adopted a local charity of the year

• 5,000 paid volunteer days taken by M&S employees in 2014/15

• 47 plan A commitments achieved.

Plan A 2020 priorities

1 Engaging customers

2 Scaling up sustainability through business partnerships

3 Leading a Movement to Work to tackle youth unemployment

4 Rolling out Plan A internationally

5 Making Plan A feel relevant locally

6 Launching a Global Community Programme in our supply chains

7 Driving Plan A attributes in our products

8 Being a retail leader on transparency

9 Putting circular economy into practice

10 Delivering zero carbon operations