Episode #1: Mike Barry of Marks & Spencer - the ambition to sell sustainably

25 September 2018

Mike Barry, Marks and Spencer

Mike Barry is the Director of Plan A and Sustainable Business for Marks and Spencer. He is known throughout the responsible business community as a key figure who has helped Marks and Spencer become world-renowned for its root-and-branch approach to sustainable retail. He helped to develop and deliver Plan A from its inception in 2007, and is responsible for delivering the company's ambitious plan to suport 1,000 communities, help 10 million people live happier and healtheir lives, and to convert M&S into a zero-waste business.

Mike was named the Guardian's inaugural Sustainable Business Innovator of the Year in 2011. He is Co-Chair of the Consumer Goods Forum's Sustainability Steering Group, Chair of the World Environment Centre, a Visiting Fellow at the Smith Centre for Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford University, a Senior Associate at the Cambridge Programme for Sustainable Leadership and he sits on Business in the Community's Environment Leadership Team.

Not only is he effective at creating change, Mike is one of the most genuine and thoughtful people I know. We had a fascinating and far-ranging conversation about how to create change, and what needs to happen to make businesses more sustainable over the coming decades.

Enjoy the interview! I think you'll get a lot out of it.

Show notes

How the world looked to the young Mike Barry when he started his journey (2:25)
Why Mike took a degree on subjects he wasn’t good at, and ignored the ones he was great at (3:45)
Why the teenage Mike was ‘an angry young man’ (6:04)
What sort of early jobs did Mike get as an environmental consultant? (7:25)
How Mike ended up getting into Marks & Spencer to lead its environment work (9:07)
Why joining Marks & Spencer was not a culture shock, even though it was a big change (12:00)
The first steps that needed to be taken to get Marks & Spencer on the journey (13:15)
How Plan A was different to what had come before (16:00)
The importance of leadership – particularly in a tough retail environment (17:58)
The dangers of a change at the top, and how you can minimise them (20:48)
Why Plan A has been successful from the start and over the long term (23:56)
Sustainability challenges of a retail business model (28:20)
The biggest obstacles that have had to be overcome to make Plan A successful (31:42)
The most important workstreams that lie ahead (32:42)
The difficulties of changing people’s behaviours (34:39)
Working with the campaigners and the critics (35:48)
Why Mike is an optimist about the role of business as part of the solution (38:50)
The challenge of political polarisation in a pragmatic approach to the issues (41:50)
What one practical change would Mike want to bring about before he finally retires? (47:34)
What advice would he give to his younger self? (48:19)
Impressive change makers who have inspired Mike (48:43)
Mike’s greatest mistakes (49:36)
Inspirational books (50:19)
Advice Mike would give to young people wanting to get into the industry (51:00)

Links mentioned 

Marks and Spencer’s Plan A https://corporate.marksandspencer.com/plan-a

Lewis Pugh – swimmer raising awareness of plastic pollution http://lewispugh.com

David Attenborough https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Attenborough

Andy Wales https://twitter.com/AndyCWales

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller https://amzn.to/2OLfRAI


Mike on LinkedIn

Mike on Twitter