Leading the conversation - How To Change Your Business: PART 2 with Mike Barry
The Joyful’s director, Sophie Turton is speaking to some movers, shakers and change makers in the run up to this year's Impact Summit to explore the importance of impact-driven business and their advice on how all organisations can grow with purpose.
Today, we’re talking to Mike Barry, change agent and former director of sustainability at Marks and Spencer.
In our first meeting with Mike, we talked about how now is the time for change, and why businesses need to lead the charge.
In Part two, we discuss what businesses can actually do to make a more positive and sustainable impact on their people, the planet and their performance.
So, Mike, how can business lead from the front and be agents of change?
I’ve been working with businesses for years on how to improve their commitment to sustainability, and it’s actually really simple. Businesses can start by asking themselves three questions:
- Do you understand why you need to become sustainable?
- Do you understand what you need to do to become sustainable?
- Do you understand how to integrate sustainability into the business?
A motivated, authentic leadership team that brings a solution focus to these three questions really is unstoppable.
We all need to be talking the same language
The sustainability landscape is full of buzzwords, jargon, business speak, targets and science. And that just doesn’t work in the daily conversations that businesses need to be having with their people and their customers. Net zero? Emissions? Rapid decabonisation? This is language that the vast majority of the people on this planet just don’t engage with.
My advice is to bring a much more human approach to bring net zero action into the economy
Reading Football Club has launched a new kit this season featuring its ‘climate stripes’. Inspired by its work with Reading University on reducing its carbon footprint, the design illustrates how the temperature in Berkshire has risen over the last 150 years due to climate change.
It’s clever, accessible communication of a very real local problem to a local audience, and it’s brilliant. It inspires conversation and is linked to what the Football Club is actively doing in the community.
By talking about climate change in a non-patronising, accessible and locally relevant way, change is much more likely to happen.
In a business context, I've just helped launch something called the Climate School, a tool that does something similar as climate stripes does at Reading FC.
The tool empowers everyone within a business, from the leadership team through to interns to become climate literate. It empowers everyone to have conversations comfortably about what sustainability means to them, what the business is doing to tackle it and how everyone within the business can get involved.
Once we’re all comfortable talking the same language, conversations about these huge global issues can be empowered from the ground up
What part does technology play in this?
Technology has a huge role to play in how businesses can change.
When I worked for Marks & Spencer, I had to work with huge spreadsheets to try and track, trace and understand the carbon footprints, sustainability, etc, of the thousands of suppliers we worked with to try and distil it all into an easy story for not just our shoppers, but us!
If the global data giants like Amazon, Alibaba, Google, Microsoft could model out the carbon footprint of the products they sell, to help consumers make informed decisions, that would be so powerful.
This AI and profiling happens already on small scale apps, like Good on You or on fashion platforms such as Finsu and Thread - so when you work with smallish dat-sets it’s already possible. I would love to see the data giants try to establish something similar so consumers can make informed decisions and see proof that a brand isn’t greenwashing.
How can we democratise sustainability?
We talked in the first part of this series about consumers starting to push back on the premium prices that are often charged for ‘sustainable’ products. I believe businesses should go one step further than making sustainable products affordable for more than the 10% of the UK population, but also make it much, much easier to physically find and buy them.
If a supermarket giant like Tesco made it easier for consumers to find and buy products that fitted their sustainable lifestyle goals, how remarkable would that be? If a shopper could set preferences for an online shop to feature ‘no palm oil’ or ‘biodegradable packaging’ - how much smoother would that buying journey be for conscious consumers and how much easier could it be adopted by a mass market?
If the ease of shopping was also backed up by the lowering of prices for those sustainable options - well now we’re looking at a consumer revolution.
And can we honestly have a global conversation about wrapping products in one-use plastics? This is a subject that absolutely can be tackled by ‘starting from the outcome we want’.
I hear businesses all the time justify one-use plastic by talking about how it ultimately makes products cheaper for the consumer and yes, of course, people want to be able to afford apples!
However, this feels very much like the old paradigm of business “doing less bad” and not where we should be headed, which is systemic change. If the overall objective is to ‘cut out single use plastics while having no impact on RRP’ then solutions - could of course - be found, with systemic change.
The time for business to change is now
I believe it’s our responsibility to mentor, coach, cajole and support leaders - shepherding from behind the flock to empower a crop of new, bright, brilliant young leaders far better than my generation come through, rise to the surface and grip change very quickly, because we just don't have time to wait.
Sustainability isn’t a luxurious choice, it’s a global necessity.
In Part 1 - Mike and Sophie discussed Why it’s important to use business as a way to drive positive change and make an impact in the world