22. 12. 2013

A Big Shift at M&S

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When I was a teacher in a West London comprehensive back in the 1970s, we spent a huge amount of time providing as good an experience as possible for each child coming into the school for the first time. And we did a good job.

But we quickly realised that everything we did on our own premises was only a small part of a much bigger picture that involved all the different primary schools feeding into us, a host of different services managed by the Inner London Education Authority, the relevant Local Authorities, Parent Teacher Associations and so on.

So we set out to create a completely integrated approach with a common purpose, a shared structure and a joint plan of action – to ensure a seamless, incredibly positive transition for every child.

This meant a big shift for each of us professionally. A big shift for the school. And a big shift in the wider system in which we were just one player. But we were the key player, and no one else could have made that happen.

Forty years on, Forum For The Future has just launched its “Big Shift” campaign, working with our principal corporate partners to get involved in much broader system change beyond the immediate scope of the company itself.

Forum’s Chief Executive, Sally Uren, did a great piece for the Huffington Post to explain what this looks like. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/sally-uren/sustainable-business_b_4371821.html

I want to share just one further example – from M&S.

Six years ago, as part of Plan A, M&S became the first major retailer to commit to becoming carbon neutral. Three years on, they achieved this – which was really quite special. And they did it in a strategic way – primarily by driving for serious improvements in energy efficiency in stores and distribution centres, plus some renewables, and only then an excellent offset for all the rest provided by Climate Care.

For all sorts of reasons, no other major food retailer has followed suit - although The Co-operative Food has also been running an excellent offset programme for many years.

One of the reasons for this holding back is that a lot of influential individuals and organisations in the Green Movement here in the UK still see offsetting as some kind of displacement activity (to obscure the lack of real action on reducing their own direct emissions of greenhouse gases) or even as an out-and-out scam.

They’re wrong. So wrong that it beggars belief. And one of the immediate consequences of that is that there has been far less change in the wider system through strategic offsetting.

So M&S is stepping up again! Last week it not only reconfirmed its commitment to remaining carbon neutral, but it became the first major company to sign up to a completely new offset project, in Bangladesh, put together by Unicef.

This revolves around a new fuel-efficient cook stove which will half CO2 emissions, and significantly reduce air pollution. The investment from M&S will create 150 new jobs to manufacture, market and install 40,000 stoves across more than 2,000 villages. The scheme will meet the highest environmental and social certification standards and is due to go live early next year.

This is a big deal. The World Health Organisation points out that nearly 50,000 people in Bangladesh die every year from inhaling smoke from indoor stoves – 70% of them children under the age of five. As I said in the press release last week: “this ticks literally all the boxes in terms of improved health, local economic benefits, and reduced emissions of CO2. I sincerely hope that others will follow swiftly in their path.”

And that’s the question. Will it persuade others to follow suit? Will it (eventually!) lead to systemic improvements that reduce those tens of thousands of deaths to low hundreds? Not just in Bangladesh, but all around the world.

There’s a BIG SHIFT to dream of!

And will it then lead to some of the NGOs still hostile to really good offsetting changing their position?

There’s another BIG SHIFT to dream of!

This blog was first published on BusinessGreen 19.12.13

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