Firms that don’t integrate sustainability into their business models will lose out in just a few years, the sustainability boss at Marks & Spencer has warned.
Mike Barry, director of sustainable business at the retailer, said there were “clear signals that a sustainable economy [was] forming around us”, and business would “fundamentally lose” their market place unless they acted now.
“There’s lots of reasons many [firms] might feel down-heartened by what’s happened the last few weeks... My challenge to any big business now is to cut through the noise and see what’s actually to hand. And if you’re asleep at the wheel, in two years you will miss out on a fundamental shift in the market place,” said Barry.
Speaking at the Social Value Summit at the Institute of Engineering and Technology in London today, Barry said there were reasons to be optimistic about the social, environmental and economic challenges that faced the world. Technology if used correctly could provide solutions, and the visible impact of pollution and climate change were causing governments and businesses to act.
But Barry warned businesses they were at a crossroads on how they choose to use transformative technologies, including autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence. “Use technology for good, or you will lose the confidence of scientists, you will loose the confidence of regulators to use this technology,” he said.
He added that the reputational pitfalls facing companies in the future would not be “the risk of a Greenpeace campaign, an Oxfam campaign, a Guardian front page – after a day it’s done.” Instead firms will have to compete on sustainability issues with game-changing competitors such such as Tesla in the automotive industry, which has “got all the traditional mobility companies scrambling around trying to find new ways to provide a service to their customers”.
It's early days, Barry said, “but business has got this extraordinary ability to bring solutions, advocate positively to government the need for strong action”. “Businesses are at the centre of that spider’s web; millions of people [customers] one side of us, thousands of productive industries on the other side. We can drive that change for the future.”
Since M&S launched it’s Plan A sustainability programme 10 years ago, Barry said it had been a success, but added: “At best, we are only 25% sustainable.
“That’s not a scientific number, that’s just my gut instinct that 75% lies ahead. So right here right now, good start M&S, good apprenticeship, but there’s so much more still to be done.”
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