Marks & Spencer: Sustainability Development Strategies


Sustainable development plays one of the key roles in the operations of businesses worldwide. It is crucial to understand that the world is changing and the companies need to pay attention to their operations and how it influences the planet and stakeholders. Marks & Spencer is one of the companies that put a high emphasis on sustainability and aims to redefine the role of business in contemporary society. The organisation is operating under the triple bottom line concept and integrates numerous strategies directed at social, environmental, and economic development. In 2007, Marks & Spencer launched Plan A that outlines multiple commitments crucial for the sustainable future. Various programmes and campaigns are implemented to fulfil those commitments, eliminate the impact of the business on the environment and societies, and bring positive change.


The contemporary world imposes numerous opportunities and challenges for the companies to keep up with emerging trends and requirements established by the necessity of sustainable development and care for the environment. The concept of sustainable development entails the results “of growing awareness of global connections among environmental issues and their impacts on poverty and health of people” (Rakic & Rakic, 2015:888). Consequently, more and more businesses are starting to highlight the significance of the related aspects and base their operations on sustainability. Marks & Spencer is one of the organisations that focuses on the changes in the world and aspires to have a positive impact on the global community and the planet. This paper aims to analyse the current Marks & Spencer’s strategies directed towards sustainability and where they stand within theoretical concepts and make possible recommendations regarding further sustainable development.

Sustainability Activities and Programmes

First, it is crucial to briefly touch upon the history of the company and the way it conducts the business. Marks & Spencer originated in 1884 with a catchy slogan “don’t ask the price, it is a penny” (Marks & Spencer Company Archive). It is possible to say that the first message sent by the company to the customers represented the value that it wanted to bring to society and make purchases affordable for everyone. The next vital event in the organisation’s history is the introduction of ‘Operation Simplification’ in 1954, which allowed to reduce the paperwork substantially (Marks & Spencer Company Archive). It shows one of the first efforts to consider the influence that the production and waste bring to the environment and the social benefits for the employees and customers. Besides this particular integration, the company implemented multiple innovations and conducted continuous research to improve the value proposition. Hence, since its initiation, Marks & Spencer was a business that genuinely cares about others and their surroundings.

Marks & Spencer has proved to be one of the most famous companies that emphasise sustainability through the plans it is launching. The first step was the introduction of Plan A that included one hundred commitments in 2007 and addressed the primary environmental, social, and ethical challenges that the company faces (Marks and Spencer Group PLC, 2017a). Thus, the business understood the modifying relationships between humanity and nature and between individuals themselves. The influence of the organisation’s activities on the environment, the emergence of numerous social disparities, and the impact that humans make on the planet are the critical issues to consider. The current slogan of the company’s Plan A is “Plan A because there is no Plan B” (Marks and Spencer Group PLC, 2017a). It is possible to claim that this statement shows the necessity of addressing global challenges that can affect anyone and the ignorance of which can lead to inevitable consequences.

One should state that Marks & Spencer is extremely precise in raising the awareness about sustainability and has an open policy concerning its sustainable development, objectives, and strategies. Some of the aspects that the company is highlighting are global warming, plastic pollution, and human rights (Marks and Spencer Group PLC, n. d.). Through careful and gradual fulfilment of the given commitments, the company is trying to make the world better and bring the highest value to all stakeholders. After ten years of the initial Plan A, Marks & Spencer is launching Plan A 2025 that introduces new obligations the business is aiming to accomplish. The most significant points focus on the wellbeing, positive transformation of lives and communities and caring for the planet (Marks and Spencer Group PLC, 2017b). Therefore, it is promising to argue that the organisation is actively involved in emphasising the necessity of sustainability and strives to overcome potential dangers and improve the overall situation in the global society.

Triple Bottom Line

It is useful to look at some of the commitments that Marks & Spencer are listing under the proposed plan and investigate which strategies will be utilised to achieve those. The promises include making the company’s packaging widely recyclable, completing volunteer work, raising funds for charities, and using raw materials coming from sustainable sources (Marks and Spencer Group PLC, 2017b). The focus that the business makes can be aligned together based on the triple bottom line, because they focus on the people, on the planet, and the profits as well. According to Wilson (2015:445), the strategies entailed in Plan A “demonstrate evidence of an economically successful strong model of sustainability compared with the world’s top ten retailers.” Marks & Spencer designates to operate as a sustainable business and builds its image around related concepts. It becomes more than about high revenues and low costs, but it concerns producing enough income to be able to care about people and the planet, besides being profitable.

One of the points mentioned above is that Marks & Spencer is committing to recycling throughout its production cycle. The company is utilising textile products in its operations, while almost all textiles are recyclable, which highlights the need for concentration on the evaluation of their life-cycle (Hole & Hole, 2019). Thus, the promises to become actively engaged in recycling activities are justifiable by the business’ processes. Paying rigid attention to how the goods are manufactured and raising awareness about further operations is vital. Besides, producing clothes should be motivated to undertake sustainable approaches and integrate eco-friendly techniques (Hole & Hole, 2019). One can notice that Marks & Spencer’s careful compliance with the established commitments related to recycling and less harmful production can significantly reduce a negative impact on the environment.

Marks & Spencer also includes other principles of its operations that accentuate the significance of sustainability and the drive towards a sustainable future. One of the company’s goals is to become a low carbon business generating zero waste, which implicates improving the operations and cutting carbon emission throughout the value chain (Marks and Spencer Group PLC, n. d.). It is possible to say that controlling the process is the core element in attaining production efficiency and implementing sustainable solutions. Moreover, sustainability becomes “a pervasive trend, a guiding and organising principle, which is expected to define societal and economic development” (Daoutidis et al., 2016:185). Hence, Marks & Spencer conducts integrates extensive efforts in its attempts to respond to global needs and develop new ways of bringing valuable actions and defining the business role.

Sustainability Regulations

Another crucial point is operating under different legislations, requirements and guidelines designed to ensure sustainability among various industries. The Treaty of the European Union (TEU) indicates the objective of encouraging sustainable environmental, social, and economic development of developing countries, aiming to eradicate poverty (Pelletier et al., 2016). The company is developing ways to ensure compliance with this objective through diverse activities, such as establishing employability programmes or offering more work placements. Some of the commitments by 2025 include offering a living wage for all direct employees, eliminating modern slavery and improving livelihoods of the supply chain members (Marks and Spencer Group PLC, n. d.). Thus, Marks & Spencer conducts rigid research to identify the critical issue in the global arena and create measures of combating the problems and cultivating a new way of doing business.

The next regulation that also requires careful consideration is the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). One of its provisions highlights “the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity and the principles of equality and solidarity” (Pelletier et al., 2016:630). Consequently, businesses need to integrate further strategies that account for those principles. Marks & Spencer promises to respect human rights in its business and supply chain. It offers such solutions as designing special mechanisms to introduce human rights complaints and raise concerns or creating the programmes of transformative interventions (Marks and Spencer Group PLC, n. d.). Thus, since the launch of Plan A, the company is taking numerous efforts and invests substantial resources into achieving equality, addressing critical issues, and adapting various strategies directed at the well-being of its stakeholders.

Five Principles of Sustainable Development

It is also worth mentioning that a high focus on production life-cycles, recycling, and utilising the materials from sustainable sources go under one of the core principles of sustainable development, which is the material domain. Marks & Spencer promises to offer half of the food sales from healthier options, substantially reduce the food waste, cut emissions in the supply chain, and use recycled materials (Marks and Spencer Group PLC, 2017b). Consequently, the company’s growth and development are conditioned by following this principle, which makes the business sustainable and focuses on bringing real positive changes. High emphasis on the production processes and used materials differentiates Marks & Spencer, and continuous assessment of the completed achievements shows its ethical position.

Nevertheless, one should understand that the material domain is one of the five sustainability principles, where each of them are directly connected and affect one another. Hence, it is possible to state that compliance with the material principle also supports the domain of life that targets the maintenance of all living organisms. Moreover, it also is related to economic and social values, as also reflected in the triple bottom line concept. Simultaneously, it is possible to say that the fifth domain, the spiritual, serves as a foundation for all other areas and guides them through the acknowledgement of humanity and intentions. The paper will further discuss the adherence to the social domain and others in more detail. Still, it is already possible to claim that Marks & Spencer fulfils its mission, and the compliance with Plan A because there is no place for plan B is a substantial step within sustainable development.

The next aspect that requires thorough analysis is the assessment of the commitments directed at social and socioeconomic changes. The new Plan A 2025 pledges to play a transformational role for the communities and help local economies to thrive by building socially connected groups and enabling difference (Marks and Spencer Group PLC, 2017b). Curiously, the company is making a strong accent on the transformation that it can deliver and positively change the situation. Marks & Spencer started this path in 2007 and has already accomplished excellent results. For instance, with the initial plan A, more than 17,000 people from disadvantaged communities received help through Marks & Start and Make Your Mark programs (Marks and Spencer Group PLC, 2017a). The analysed organisation is not making statements in vain, but it delivers the benefits and aspires to fulfil the given commitments and beyond.

Based on the brief analysis of the current commitments, objectives and results achieved by Marks & Spencer, one can notice that the company is actively responding to the issues connected to environmental and social sustainability. In one of the releases, Marks & Spencer thoroughly delineated the ways it strives to achieve product sustainability throughout its whole life-cycle. The brand sells three billion different products to millions of customers annually, and it aims to fulfil the given promises, which is “to offer the most sustainable option possible.” (Marks and Spencer Group PLC, 2015). Different measures discussed previously and other substantial contributions made by the company help it to respond to the changes in the global arena and do its best to make the world a better place.

One of the vital aspects of Marks & Spencer’s operations is its active participation in multiple local-based (UK) and global groups. In such a way, the company is a part of the Waste and Resources Action Programme, the Institute of Grocery Distribution, the Sustainability Consortium, and others (Marks and Spencer Group PLC, 2015). Thus, it is possible to argue that the company views sustainability as a concept of crucial significance for the global community and believes that global sustainable development should become the ultimate vision.

The Stakeholder Theory

It is curious to mention that Marks & Spencer highly considers the stakeholder theory in its activities and sustainable development strategies. This theory entails “the performance consequences for firms of highly ethical relationships with stakeholders” and emphasises such attributes as “high level of trust, cooperation and information sharing” (Jones et al., 2018:371). Marks & Spencer focuses on establishing trustful connections and does not make empty promises but develops unique and efficient ways of bringing value and justifying the stakeholders’ beliefs in them. Moreover, the business shares all the information about the major principles, aspirations and activities and conducts a constant update so that everyone can follow the progress and see what requires more work. Today, the company’s stakeholders’ interests also lie within sustainability, and, as far as it is a sensitive issue, it is possible to say that the company operates under the discussed theory effectively.

Recommendations for Further Sustainable Development

The analysis above outlines the strategies taken by Marks & Spencer and their relationship to the sustainability concepts. Numerous activities, programmes, charitable events and operations towards sustainable development, it is vital to look at what can be done to expand the scope of possible ways to achieve the objectives. The paper has already established that Marks & Spencer sticks to transparency policy and makes all the information related to sustainability available for everyone. Thus, it can both achieve high levels of trust with stakeholders, provide effective examples to the global industry and raise awareness about the significance of sustainability among communities. The company suggests that in its Plan A 2025 it will work towards addressing such social issues as modern-day slavery, in-work poverty and social inclusion (Marks and Spencer Group PLC, n. d.). Hence, those social disparities cover the essential problems of the contemporary world. Nevertheless, another issue that, without any doubt, is implied in the ones mentioned, is racism, and the company can put it separately in its agenda.

Another recommendation for Marks & Spencer can be specifying the issues in some of the high-risk countries, in which the business is operating. The company does a significant amount of work directed at combating modern slavery and providing equal conditions for the employees in disadvantaged communities. The organisation has suppliers from more than seventy countries and it has established an independent Human Rights Advisory Group (Marks and Spencer Group PLC, 2018). However, it might be beneficial to analyse each of the regions in more detail and provide specific measures to such regions as Asia-Pacific. Modern slavery still stands at high levels in those countries, and the company can implement specific strategies based on that. Although Marks & Spencer performs with a substantial focus on bringing value to the global community and controlling the process through the whole supply chain, it is practical to become more unambiguous.

Marks & Spencer Leadership

The next aspect that plays one of the key roles in the company’s sustainable development practices is leadership and the perspectives of senior and middle management. Marks & Spencer represents a highly innovative company and it is possible to suggest that it holds to sustainable leadership with the focus on environmental, social, and socioeconomic goals. The company is moving away from concentrating on short-term performance towards long-term objectives of sustainability that is integrated into its strategies and operations (Shultz and Viczko, 2016). It is crucial to note that leadership undertaken by the management teams is intrinsic to accomplishing the goals and promoting sustainable development. In such a way, Marks & Spencer team focuses on leadership that encourages building a sustainable future by enabling its employees and customers (Marks and Spencer Group PLC, n. d.). The business is utilising the strategies that will bring value and benefits to stakeholders through effective sustainable leadership.

One of the actions taken by senior management is providing necessary leadership training. In 2017, the company launched a three-year programme that offers leadership education and guidance to its champion workers (Marks and Spencer Group PLC, 2017c). It is one of the examples that support the idea of enabling the groups and individuals to deliver common purposes. Another key principle of operations in Marks & Spencer is designing accountable business units with their boards (Marks and Spencer Group PLC, 2019). The creation of separate units, in which each of them is responsible for its operations is a unique solution that requires strong leadership teams. The business’s focus for today is to bring back “the best of the Marks & Spencer spirit” and create “a more involving and engaging organisation” (Marks and Spencer Group PLC, 2019:15). Consequently, integrating effective sustainable leadership is critical for each of the levels of the company’s management to ensure consistent and efficient strategies implementation.

Sustainable development shapes the Marks & Spencer brand and defines its growth strategies in every step. Still, it is also vital to understand that sustainability focus hinders potential threats and challenges, and it is leadership’s role to overcome those. Various sustainability issues can involve stakeholder conflict, interrelated problems and uncertainty (Burns et al., 2015). It shows the requirement to possess a robust leadership oriented toward one purpose. Besides, the management team must have the ability to find the most efficient ways to deliver this purpose and how to achieve it. So, there is a need to bring new values, skills, and structures through transformational learning (Burns et al., 2015). One can suggest that transformational style is a part of sustainable leadership at Marks & Spencer. The company will keep moving towards its commitments by transforming the values of the past, appointing the strongest points, and delivering novel vision with a robust and influential team.

It is also vital to discuss the members of the leadership team and look at their statements in some of the company’s reports because it will provide a wider picture of the leading style and primary emphases. A curious fact is that the majority of the current leadership team are new to the business as the organisation was restructured recently (Marks and Spencer Group PLC, 2019). Thus, one can claim that the business is going through an extraordinary stage when its middle and senior management representatives can bring new insights and actively work on fulfilling the commitments. Marks & Spencer chairman Archie Norman stated the current Board is “highly capable and energetic and committed to making the hard decisions” (Marks and Spencer Group PLC, 2019:3). The need to introduce a strong team resulted in gathering people dedicated to their areas and doing their best to fulfil the promises and bring the company to the next level through sustainable leadership.

Steve Rowe, the company’s CEO, also occupies one of the essential roles in the management team. He believes that a new leadership group provides fresh perspectives, energy, and challenge to the business, and claims that all the accountable units support common values (Marks and Spencer Group PLC, 2019). Those elements lead to the consistency of operations and strategy implementation and the substantial progress in sustainable development. It might be extremely challenging to keep up with all commitments from Plan A, but the division of responsibilities through different departments and appointing leaders there gives its positive outcomes.

Another significant point is the presence of senior leadership sponsorship, which opens more opportunities to bring change to the communities. One of the activities directed at the social element of sustainable development is the mental health of individuals. Marks & Spencer is actively involved in multiple programmes and campaigns to improve people’s wellbeing. Mental wellbeing is a crucial element for the sustainable future. Hence, the organisation participates in ‘Mental Wellbeing Week,’ signed the Mind and Rethink Mental Illness ‘Time to Change’ pledge, and implements learning and support in its employability agendas (Marks and Spencer Group PLC, n. d.). As a result, substantial sponsorship makes it possible for Marks & Spencer to undertake related campaigns, which also significantly contributes to its sustainability plan.

Leadership Recommendations and Conclusion

The company outlines five factors that lie in the competencies of each business unit. Those elements include materiality, transparency, integration, scaling engagement and innovation (McQuaid et al., 2015). Therefore, those factors drive the operations and leadership styles of the company’s management teams. Both middle and senior leaders carefully rely on those elements in their activities, which produces positive results and helps the company stay on track in accomplishing the established objectives. It is possible to recommend to disclose the aspect of transparency in terms of leadership in more detail. The analysis conducted for this paper revealed a lack of information concerning a specific leadership style of the team members and the way they are collaborating. Moreover, Marks & Spencer can utilise more aspects of transformational leadership to support its vision and commitments and move towards a sustainable future.

The following paper analysed current strategies integrated into Plan A first proposed by Marks & Spencer in 2007. The company is conducting an active work to fulfil its commitments in terms of social, socioeconomic and environmental development. An extensive focus on sustainability defines the business’s brand and its image in the global arena. Multiple programmes and campaigns support the idea of sustainability, bring value to all stakeholders and raise awareness about crucial issues. The organisation operates under a triple bottom line principle of sustainability, which makes it possible for the company to maintain various concepts of the business. The strong management team and a recent reorganisation of Marks & Spencer led to valuable outcomes and generated an effective and robust leadership within the company. The firm needs to continue accomplishing the objectives in the area of its operations and deliver the best outcomes for the wellbeing of the planet and community.

Reference List

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