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Education and sustainability at Marks & Spencer

Posted on Friday, April 19th, 2013

What is Plan A and how was it developed?

Plan A (because there is no Plan B for the one planet we have) was launched in January 2007. It consisted of 100 commitments to significantly improve our social and environmental performance. This increased to 180 from 2010. These commitments range from reducing energy use, packaging and carrier bag use; to improving wood, fish and cotton sourcing; from taking trans fats and artificial flavours and colours out of food, to increasing Fairtrade sales. It was developed having listened to many stakeholders including campaign groups, scientists, customers and employees, and is supported by a rigorous system to track and report on performance.

What role does education play within Plan A and, more broadly, for M&S?

At its heart Plan A says that all of us, including every business, will inevitably have to undergo significant change so that today’s children will be able to enjoy a prosperous future on a thriving planet, where everyone has a chance to succeed. We also know that a significant part of our journey depends on us engaging our customers, employees and children on the need to change the way we live our lives today. So we’ve been working with National Schools Partnership to engage school children with initiatives like Butterfly Conservation and Forever Fish (which also involves the Marine Conservation Society and WWF).

How do you engage effectively with schools and young people?

Engagement generally is one of the hardest parts of the journey to become a better, more sustainable business. You have to make it interesting, exciting and positive, to show people of whatever age that they can make a difference through some simple steps. For adults it might be about what they buy. For children it’s about helping them to count butterflies or clean a beach. We saw with the Butterfly Count what a difference targeted engagement of teachers could make. We demonstrated that participation in the Count could help deliver key curriculum learning outcomes, and that can really aid engagement within schools.

How do you measure the impact of your education activity on young people and against your sustainability goals?

There has to be a measure of scale and of the sheer number of people involved. A small number of people can start change but then you need more to adopt it. There’s also a necessary consideration of the depth of engagement – did the participants enjoy what they did and think about what it means, rather than having a ‘here today gone tomorrow’ kind of experience? Finally, have you actually changed how the participants think and act in the long term? Do they know how to make changes, and will they continue to do so?

• What is the biggest sustainability challenge of the future?

The biggest challenge is one of scale – the sheer number of things that need to change if we are to become a sustainable business. Less energy, water, waste, salt, and packaging are important but so are better factories, farms, shops, lorries and products. Literally tens of millions of things! It’s not enough to talk about change; you have to deliver it too.

Achieving scale demands engagement and that’s why we were pleased to win the 2013 Hollis Sponsorship Award for Education & Learning for our School of Fish programme. Awards like this recognise the lengths we and our partners have gone to to make Plan A not just technically robust, but also fun and engaging to participate in.

By Mike Barry, Head of Sustainable Business, Marks & Spencer