This year’s Annual Birmingham Business School Advisory Board Guest Lecture was given by Mike Barry, Director of Sustainable Business at Marks and Spencer. Mike is responsible for delivering Marks and Spencer's ambitious plan to become the world's most sustainable retailer.
In 2007, Mike was part of a small team who developed and delivered the company's groundbreaking Plan A, an expansive plan addressing a wide range of societal and environmental issues, to work towards this goal. Plan A, initially rolled out as a five year plan, has broadened and extended throughout the years, with new strategies and commitments included to help M&S achieve 100% sustainability throughout its operations. Mike was named the Guardian's inaugural Sustainable Business Innovator of the Year in 2011 and continues to be recognised as a knowledge leader in the field of responsible business.
Mike's lecture reflected many of the principles upon which the Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business is built. He began the lecture with discussion around consumerism in our growing population and its effects on the environment, stating "more people and economic activity, leads to more consumption of 'stuff'… we are very rapidly living beyond our means". He stated that we are currently consuming enough resources for three planet earths, and that if the current trend did not cease we would be facing a vastly depleted environment. He added that "we need to fundamentally change our relationship with plastics", pointing out that this debate is now front and centre of the public consciousness particularly since the finale of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet aired around the world in January this year.
Mike touched upon modern slavery in supply chains and fast fashion, echoing research from our Centre, commenting that "45 million people around the world live in forced labour". He asserted that this is "not just amoral, but a crime" and made the point that this is prevalent in so many industries that there's a risk of forced labour somewhere in the supply chain "wherever we look".
Citing the recent example of the pairing between supermarket-chain Iceland and Greenpeace in airing an advert that is anti-deforestation and banning palm oil in their products, Mike commented that "it takes a big brick in the pond" to shake things up and force organisations to take notice of current trends, and change their business models to reflect them.
Looking to the future, Mike extolled the potential benefits of emerging AI and technologies, both in helping combat the issues relating to society and the environment, and in holding businesses accountable for them. He alluded to the first Tesla car as an example of ground-breaking inventions that start a mini revolution in similar businesses.
Mike finished on an inspiring note. Looking out at the crowded lecture theatre, made up largely of business students, he stated: "The journey from where we are today to where we need to be is not easy. It's very, very difficult. But there is a pathway…The world is changing. The most important word is resilience. The future you all step into is much easier than the path I had (in terms of sustainable business models). We can change, we must change, and by changing we can offer something fundamentally better for the planet and the community".
Hear Mike Barry's lecture in its entirety via the podcast below:
- You can read more about Mike's work and Plan A here
- You can read more about the work that the Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business is doing here