M&S puts green customer engagement in the spotlight

Customer engagement has been singled out by Marks & Spencer (M&S) as one of the biggest challenges facing the global delivery of the retailer's Plan A 2020 sustainability programme.

Giving an update for stakeholders at an M&S event in London yesterday, the firm’s chief executive Mark Bolland admitted that environmental change will only be possible if M&S can work with other corporations to ‘get people moving’.

“We can only do so much on our own,” said Bolland. “Governments can do their best, but this is actually about businesses engaging with people.

“We can only engage when we work with a group of businesses together. But consumer engagement is not a specific ‘project’ – it’s going to become part and parcel of the way we present our brand. We want to make it an integral part of our approach to sustainability.” 

M&S launched Plan A in 2007 with 100 commitments to reduce the company’s social and environmental footprint. In 2010, the plan was extended; to be integrated into all of M&S’s processes and systems.

The 2014 Report, released earlier this month, focuses on four core values – inspiration, integrity, innovation and in-touch. M&S’s director of Plan A Mike Barry said the updated sustainability programme, which now runs through to 2020, will be ‘all about engagement’.

Greater clarity

Despite numerous success stories listed in the report, M&S’s executive director for marketing and business development, Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, agreed that ‘there is still a disconnect between business and consumers’.

He said: “Modernising and evolving supply chains, improving stores, and reducing waste and emissions – yes, we do all of those things. But this is not the most aspirational position one can take in terms of engaging with consumers. “We have to go beyond that and make sure that we engage with our customers to make a difference.

“After the horsemeat scandal, it is time for an ever-greater clarity and transparency,” added Bousquet-Chavanne With social media and new technology, the speed of communication doesn’t allow a business to hide or avoid consumer concerns.

“M&S has about 83,000 employees around the world. First and foremost, it’s about making sure that we have 100% of those colleagues on-board and engaged with our sustainability plan. It only takes one of those employees to talk to 10 consumers for M&S to become a very powerful force. We have 2.5 million followers on social media and you will also see us being much more active in inviting them to join the sustainability conversation too.”

Marketing and communications

Environmental campaigner Jonathon Porritt, who is a chairman of M&S’s external sustainable retail advisory board, was also in attendance at yesterday’s event. Porritt told M&S stakeholders that the opportunity to make the Plan A agenda work much more imaginatively and persuasively with very large numbers of consumers has been difficult for the brand.

“In truth, Plan A has always been somewhat tangential to the M&S brand since its inception, which meant that much of the market and communications around Plan A felt somehow semi-detached and a bit episodic, and that’s the main reason why few M&S customers had any kind of contact, let alone warm relationship with Plan A,” said Forum of the Future founder Porritt.

“But we’re getting a strong sense today that this is about to change and that there will be a much clearer, more coherent, strategic opportunity to engage with consumers. And that, it seems to me, is fundamental.”

Read the full M&S Plan A 2014 Report below

Luke Nicholls

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