‘No business model’ if environmental issues ignored

The small majority of companies ignoring environmental issues must change their behaviour and get on board or risk going bust in the next ten to 15 years, says M&S' head of sustainability Mike Barry.

Speaking to edie, Barry said that businesses are on three very different levels in terms of moving towards a sustainable future.

“There are three types of company out there at the moment – there are companies that do not do anything and have no interest [in environmental and social issues] and what I would say to them is that it might not be this year, it might not be in five years, it might be ten to fifteen years’ time but they have no business model”.

He added that if a company ignores the rising cost space, due to resource inflation, it will quickly loose out to those implementing sustainable strategies.

A recently published study examining the state of play in the sustainability arena found that 8% of business leaders did not see resource efficiency as an important issue for their business.

“Ignoring resource inflation from extreme weather etcetera, ignoring the skills and talent of workforces, ignoring the desire from consumers for you to solve the environmental and social challenges of the future will mean you have no business model for the future”.

However, Barry argues that the number of companies with this attitude has fallen over the past five years and more firms are starting to understand the need to become a sustainable business and the opportunities it offers.

“There is probably 10-15% who don’t give a monkeys [about the issue], there is probably 5% that are out there and active in their journey towards sustainability and then there are the majority in the middle”.

“[The majority] are not bad companies; it’s just difficult working out how to [implement a sustainable business model]. Talking about a sustainability journey may seem very obvious to some but it’s not. It’s challenging – how do you do it? Where are you trying to get to? What is a sustainable business model?”

These are all questions that M&S have had to work out over the past five years since the company implemented it’s own sustainability programme, Plan A, Barry says.

“But I think the vast majority of companies in the middle are saying we understand that there is pressure out there for change but how do we do it and where are we going?”

Turning to companies that are successfully applying sustainable business models, Barry explained that collaborating is the key to a sustainable future in the private sector.

“Nike isn’t going to solve this on its own, M&S isn’t, Coca Cola isn’t – we need to work together to help share the burden but also help to change the wider system by encouraging the other 80% of companies who want to do it and show them how to do it”.

Back in July, Barry stressed that UK businesses must move away from the softly, softly approach to sustainability and start putting resources into “radical changes”.

Speaking to edie in July, Barry said it is “a brave business that would put its head in the sand and say it will be selling the same products or services to the same consumers in 10 years’ time. Chugging along using 2% less energy won’t make you a resilient business.”

Leigh Stringer

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