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M&S chief urges business to lead sustainable consumption

Businesses have to lead the way in adopting sustainable and closed loop businesses practices - rather than consumers, according to a senior retail figure.

A report, “Rethinking Consumption”, produced by GlobeScan and SustainAbility and based on an online survey of 6,000 consumers worldwide, found that two-thirds of people want to buy sustainably. Respondents also wanted companies to reduce waste and were willing to buy more, or less, depending on a product’s environmental credentials.

Mike Barry M&S

That prompted Mike Barry, head of Sustainable Business at M&S (left), to remark on Twitter: “Do 66% of people want to consume sustainably? I think they do but biz needs to make it possible.”

Barry expands on this idea in two blog posts for the Huffington Post. He says the drivers for sustainable practices are high commodity costs leading to resource efficiency, networked consumers being more able to expose bad practice by companies and an alternative sharing economy, such as M&S’s shwopping, disrupting existing business models.

Proactive

In response to these pressures Barry says that in 2013 more businesses will have to be proactive about sustainability. He suggests more partnerships with other businesses and charities to help close the resource loop, making supply chains shorter and more transparent to consumers, and actively advocating sustainability to government and consumers.

Director of Communications for WRAP, Nick Gammage, said that simply making sustainable consumption possible did not go far enough. In response to Barry’s tweet, he said: “For consumers, ‘possible’ means easy, affordable, repeatable and visibly making a difference.”

This was backed up by the findings of the Rethinking Consumption report:

  • 60% of the people surveyed would buy more sustainable products if they were easier to find
  • 70% of people said that a higher cost would dissuade them from buying sustainably
  • Over 60% respondents said that they would buy more sustainable products if they better understood why a product was sustainable and if they believed companies claims

Compromise

Overall those surveyed thought that waste reduction by businesses was very important, ranking it the joint fourth most important issue, just below healthcare, fair wages and working conditions.

Although the recession means that many businesses have other concerns apart from the environment, the same may not true for consumers.

Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King said in response to the launch of Sainsbury’s 20x20 sustainability plan in November: “Our customers are recalibrating their spending but they’re not prepared to compromise their values. Although people have less, they actually care more. We believe this is not a passing phase but a fundamental change that is here to stay.”

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