In my earlier post about Marks and Spencer’s radical ‘Plan A’ initiative to become the worlds leading sustainable retailer I asked the question whether this was indicative of a real quantum shift in brand marketing and whether we would see many more retailers and brands rapidly adopting a more ethically and environmentally based positioning.
No-one can doubt how ambitious M & S are. Not only do they want to be carbon neutral , they want to reduce their land waste to zero, and change their supply chain to more ethical sourcing.
Some things I’ve read on this have suggested that in actuality the carbon neutrality and zero waste proposals will not be as challenging to achieve as has been widely reported. But not everything will be as easy. Achieving a 25% improvement in energy efficiency is tricky when demand for (and promotion of) chilled convenience foods shows no sign of decreasing. One report I read said that in M & S’s Simply Food stores, 85% of the energy costs were spent on refrigeration. Supplies of renewable energy are growing, but not as fast as many would wish, so can they really make their energy supplies greener? The bigger challenge is actually in getting their own food suppliers who are responsible for a greater volume of CO2 emissions to make this change. Can they really effect how their customers use energy in their own homes as they want to try and do? Can they marry a desire to triple sales of organic food with the commitment to local sourcing when the amount of land turned over for organic food production in the UK is not increasing at the rate it needs to to support this potential demand? Can they really move to totally ethical sourcing when there is not enough fair-trade cotton in the world produced to keep the UK in ethical underwear?
This is no doubt a smart marketing move. These issues resonate with their core consumers. But you also have to applaud the scale of their ambition, and hey, anything which promotes fair-trade and environmentally friendly practice is a good thing in my view. But you have to ask the question, do we think M & S will succeed?
Say they do, and so do Tesco (who today announced that they were assigning carbon labelling to their products) , Sainsbury’s and the others. Say it becomes de rigeur for all brands. Say it really takes off. If large numbers of brands rapidly adopt positionings like this, is it sustainable? Is it even do-able?
I hope it is, and I hope it does. The ‘r’ in CSR is a big one. Building long-term positive change. Corporate responsibility…Brand responsibility…in the end we’re all responsible.