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What is most important sum on money for the environment in the last year?
• It’s not the latest Government grant scheme.
• It’s not a massive donation to a conservation charity.
• It’s not actually money spent on the environment at all.
• It is the net benefit of Marks and Spencer’s ‘Plan A’ in 2010/11: £70 million.
‘Plan A’ is Marks and Spencer’s initiative to become the World’s most sustainable major retailer. They have set out 180 Commitments in 7 areas, created a £50 million innovation fund, and established a high-powered Advisory Board. Their Annual Report and Financial Statements 2011 reports a £70 million net benefit in the year, up from £50 million the previous year.
Why is that important?
It shows that actions that benefit the environment pay back in financial terms too. The actions in ‘Plan A’ are not token ones, either. They include energy efficiency improvements of 23% in stores and 24% in warehouses, reducing total waste by a third, and donations of 3 million garments to Oxfam.
It shows that this holds true even in the ultra-competitive retail sector. And, to recycle a phrase, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.
It also breaks a taboo about publicising the financial benefits of environmentally positive actions. Many executives worry that this would be pushed back to them as evidence that their actions are not sufficient, and are just ‘greenwash’ for further profit-making. But Marks and Spencer has had the courage to show you can bring simultaneous benefit to environment and profits.
So, it’s a huge boost to encourage businesses to improve their environmental performance. It doesn’t distract from financial results – it helps them. That’s important to the environment because the private sector is the biggest influence on our lives and our world. It has far greater resources than the other parts of the economy. It is 5 times the financial size of the public sector, and 47 times the size of the non-profit sector(1).
A friend recently asked if ‘Plan A’, started by Sir Stuart Rose, would continue with such focus under his successors.
– £70 million says it will.
Update: For 2011/12, M&S reported a £105m net benefit from 'Plan A' – £185m cumulative net benefit over its first five years.
(1) Private sector and Non-profit sector Turnover, Public sector Current Expenditure including social benefits. Source: BIS Business Population Estimates 2010, Public Sector Finances 2010.