M&S chief Marc Bolland issued a rallying call to the industry today to step up its commitments to sustainability.

M&S chief Marc Bolland issued a rallying call to the industry today to step up its commitments to sustainability. On a morning when news of Richard Brasher’s shock departure from Tesco could easily have overshadowed his opening address at the second day of The Cloud Retail Week Conference, Bolland delivered an impassioned defence of his vision for a sector that operates on clear sustainable lines.

It was the first time that Bolland has spoken of the company’s sustainability initiative Plan A since he took the helm at the UK retailer.

His message was clear, particularly on the supply chain: if the industry hadn’t got its sustainable sourcing strategy sorted by the end of the year, the consequences would be serious. “That train has left the station,” he said.

Set against the backdrop of the corporate intrigue at Tesco and a barrage of questions regarding M&S’s own high-profile resignations, Bolland was keen to remind the room of the importance of the challenges at hand.

His emotive presentation was well-received - his “Arab Spring” analogy for the groundswell of expectation over sustainability from the next generation of retailers had the Twitteratti tapping away. And, he raised a surprisingly heartfelt round of applause when he warned the media to “stop gossiping” about boardroom departures so the industry could get on with “what it is we have to do.”

Whilst Bolland may have felt the need to provide a wake-up call for the industry regarding their attitudes to sustainability, there is little doubt that the digital age is transforming company strategy at a speed not seen before.

There was a fascinating discussion surrounding the issue in one of the breakout sessions. But for me the key question asked by host and Retail Week features editor Charlotte Hardie was what the greatest potential pitfalls are as retail bosses consider their digital future. There was broad agreement that companies must focus on the now, rather than getting carried away by potential alone.

Whilst Ishan Patel, group omni-channel director, Aurora Fashions warned: “There is the danger of underestimating the power of social media. But it is dangerous to believe that this status quo is forever.”

As you reflect on the content on the site from the last two days and in next week’s magazine, there seems little doubt that change is on a scale not seen before in the retail industry. What is encouraging though is that retailers are prepared to confront it head on.