‘Plan A’ is Marks & Spencer’s ambitious environmental and ethical programme, which will make it the world’s most sustainable retailer by 2015. The award-winning programme is a superb example of how being socially responsible can change a business for good.
By May 2011, Plan A had improved the energy efficiency of stores by 19%; improved fuel efficiency on clothing deliveries by 30%; cut the use of food carrier bags by 81%; raised recycling levels from 41% to over 90%; cut carbon emissions by 20% per sq ft and raised levels of sustainable sourced wood to 72%, and 62% for its fish. The company is even investing in hydrogen fuel cell powered forklift trucks in its main distribution centre to reduce emissions.
Plan A affects every aspect of the company’s operations. The company has even helped its employees to insulate their homes and make better use of their energy by installing energy meters.
Do consumers prefer M&S because of its Plan A? While some people will feel an emotional connection with M&S because of its approach, Plan A probably won’t change many people’s shopping habits. However, Plan A has made a significant difference to the company’s bottom line; the company has attributed an extra £20m in profits due to its sustainability strategy.
Developing your own ‘Plan A’
If you’re thinking about investing in CSR just because of its marketing value, then don’t. If, however, you really want to be a better company to work for and do business with, then go for it.
CSR cuts across all business functions and is a collection of responsibilities: economic, legal, ethical and philanthropic.
It is about understanding your organisation’s impact on the wider world by taking a responsible attitude and going beyond the minimum legal requirements. As well as helping to improve your business performance, CSR can enhance your reputation and set you apart from your competition.
CSR comes naturally to many businesses. Often, it’s about doing the right thing. As businesses grow, they may have the resources available to take a more planned approach to CSR. M&S’s Plan A now consists of over 180 commitments. Fortunately, you can start to make a difference with a much shorter ‘to do’ list. Here are some of the first things you should think about…
Deal responsibly with customers and suppliers
Being honest about your products or services is a big part of customer service, but it’s also key to CSR. For example, greenwashing – the practice of making false claims about your products’ environmental credentials – has landed many companies in hot water. If you’re open and honest about your products it will earn you credibility and enhance your brand reputation. And in turn your customers will reward you with loyalty.
Choosing to work with local suppliers rather than importing materials can help you to reduce energy waste and carbon emissions. This can be important if you’re aiming to achieve the ISO14001 environmental management accreditation. Buying locally also helps your local economy.
Work with local communities
This is one of the easiest and most rewarding ways of getting involved in CSR. Many companies support charities by making donations, sponsoring events or supporting local initiatives. Get in touch with local schools and offer to take students on work experience.
Understand the environmental impact
Small actions can have a big impact on the environment. For example, turning off lights in the workplace, cutting down on printing, recycling waste, or working with local suppliers to cut down on carbon emissions. As well as making a valuable and positive step towards maintaining and supporting the environment, you can also reduce your costs. To make a bigger statement, why not look at investing in renewable energy technologies for your business?
Treat your employees well
Looking after your staff may be an important HR issue, but it should also be a part of your CSR strategy. If your employees are happy, they’re more motivated and your business performance will improve. It can also help you to recruit if candidates know that you’re an attentive employer.
Share the love
While we don’t advocate using CSR purely as a marketing support strategy, we do encourage sharing your commitments and achievements with your customers and suppliers. Your CSR could make for some really compelling stories, giving the people who do business with you an insight into the people that make your organisation special.