We can be proud of what Plan A has achieved over the past six years. We’ve delivered 139 of our 180 commitments and earned recognition through over 150 sustainability awards.
It’s gratifying to win awards, but we always treat them as opportunities to push the business case for social and environmental responsibility, develop new alliances and learn from others. So, we’ve used our status as Business in the Community’s 2012 Responsible Business of the Year to share what we’ve learned about the financial arguments for responsible business and to launch Shwop at Work, our corporate clothes recycling initiative.
Last year Plan A contributed a further £135m in net benefits, available to be reinvested back into our business. The efficiencies that helped to generate this total have also moved us closer to our vision of M&S as a sustainable international multi-channel retail business. But we know that we still have a long way to go to make this vision a reality.
What lies ahead for Plan A?
The launch of Plan A in 2007 and its expansion in 2010 addressed the social and environmental impacts of a retail business that has operated in largely the same way for over 100 years. That is: we have products made for us; we sell them; our customers use them and dispose of any resulting waste. To do this, we employ a large number of people directly to run our shops and warehouses and indirectly through our supply chains and in local communities. Plan A has made our business more efficient, more rewarding and more engaged. But it hasn’t transformed the business we do.
The next phase of Plan A must help to prepare M&S for the future; for a world where the majority of affluent customers live in emerging economies, in which supplies of materials, energy and water are restricted but have never been in greater demand. Plan A must also help us adapt to climatic and demographic changes. In different parts of the world, we will have to respond to the needs of ageing populations, the growing number of young people who are struggling to find employment and the paradox, or ‘double burden’, of under and over nutrition. We also recognise that whilst new media channels give us further opportunities to engage our customers and stakeholders, they expose us to closer public scrutiny.
Building a better Plan A
Over the last few months, I’ve challenged my colleagues to think about how we can build a better Plan A; one fit to face the international retail challenges of the future. With support from Jonathon Porritt and our external Sustainable Retail Advisory Board we’re developing a series of bold goals that draw on new social and environmental models to deliver economic value for M&S in the future.