Mike Barry: Five steps to go from good to GREAT sustainability leadership

EXCLUSIVE: Speaking on-stage at the Sustainability Leaders Forum in London yesterday (6 February), Marks & Spencer's (M&S) director of sustainable business Mike Barry offered up his five key steps that all sustainability professionals should embrace to become "great leaders".

Mike Barry: Five steps to go from good to GREAT sustainability leadership

Mike Barry provided insights into how sustainability professionals can create a mindset shift to scale sustainability across the business community and wider society

Barry took to the stage to discuss the “urgent imperative to develop a new mindest that recognises the profound need for change and embraces its potential to serve positively consumers, planet and society alike”.

Below are his five key thoughts on how sustainability, energy and resource efficiency professionals can create that mindset shift to scale sustainability across the business community and wider society.

Five steps for sustainability professionals to go from being good leaders to great leaders

1) Drive engagement with the wider workforce

“The first step is about making sure that we are not just professionalising sustainability through good central teams that we all participate in. It is about making sure that everybody in your business can, through their everyday jobs, make a difference. One of my greatest challenges and opportunities now is to make sure that every M&S colleague feels that they can make a positive difference by doing their day job, without being called a sustainability ‘expert’.”

2) Make sustainable consumption desirable

“The heart of the challenge is consumption of products and services. We have to make sustainable consumption desirable – and i’ll do nothing to denigrate the way that we offer sustainable products through things like through certification. 

“To branch out into the 35% of people who consider themselves as a ‘soft green’, we have to understand what drives individuals to consume in the first place. Stylish clothing, aspirational vehicles, great taste in food – these are the things that we should embrace going forward, rather than talking about 3% less embodied carbon in the traditional ready meal.”

3) Localise the big global issues

“The third thing we need to do differently is ground what we do in ‘place’. Cities such as Manchester have taken a really integrated approach to creating better short-term life prospects for its citizens in terms of mobility, health, education and embracing sustainability. The point is that we mustn’t just talk about climate change as a global scale, we need to ground it in the reality of people’s lives, whether it is consumers or citizens.”

4) Supercharge collaboration

“Sustainability professionals all recognise the importance of partnership. We all recognise that by halting the procurement of a fraction of the world’s palm oil isn’t going to change the world system on its own. Yet too few of the collaborations I see today are genuinely systemic change. It is a little bit of a huddling together of businesses scared of being on their own – it is not visceral.

“If we truly want to avoid a car crash in the future as businesses, we need to step forward and join these collaborations and really embrace change. I see businesses coming together at the Consumer Goods Forum, which is a good nascent bringing together of $3trn worth of turnover to fight these issues together, but we need to do more with collaboration.”

5) Seize the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

“The fifth and final thing is technology – the Fourth Industrial Revolution. How many of us really understand the power of data and technology – whether it is Artificial Intelligence (AI), robots, 3D printing or driverless cars – to truly drive transformational change? We are all hobbyists, and there will be a few of us who are experts, but there are too many of us who don’t know what is going on.”

George Ogleby

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