Should business continue to invest in CSR in the present economic climate?

It’s a question that I have been asked many times since I became director of Plan A in March. It’s an interesting one, especially when coupled with the many challenges facing all businesses today.

Marks & Spencer launched Plan A because we believe it’s the right thing to do – morally, socially, environmentally and commercially. Since launch, we’ve made progress on 77 of our 100 Plan A actions and achieved 14 already. Progress continues apace, even during this economic climate.

By the end of year one, Plan Ahad become cost-neutral, which is really good news for the business. In fact, many of our initiatives, such as moving to low-energy lighting, recycling coat hangers and charging for carrier bags deliver benefits three times over: they produce immediate cost savings, which exponentially increase at scale and help to future-proof us against further rises in oil prices, as well as reduce material costs and carbon charges.

Secondly, climate change is a fact – it won’t slow down just because the economy slows. So, if we believe that doing our bit to tackle climate change is the right thing to do, we have to stick to our principles, especially as we know that our customers look to us to take a lead in spearheading action.

Thirdly, it’s important to think further ahead than the next fiscal year or the next recovery to try to spot eco-ideas that may help us cut costs in future.

Take hydrogen powered vehicles. They might not make economic sense right now but, if rising oil costs drive investment in alternative energy solutions, they may well do in future. We’re convinced it’s worth keeping ideas that are now considered out there in the back of our minds for a time when we might need them.

These are just a few reasons why Plan A can and will continue. We know that we will need to evolve, for example, ways to make it easier for our customers to participate in Plan A through the buying choices they make in our stores.

We also know that we need to shout a little louder to help customers understand the complexities and pitfalls of issues such as packaging, air miles and embedded carbon content.

Plan A makes sense – on every level. We’re in it for the long haul and we will do more. This is why my answer to the CSR investment question is always an unequivocal and resounding yes.

Richard Gillies, Plan A director, Marks & Spencer

If you have any comment to make on this story, click here.