Retailer’s commitment to carbon offsetting flies in face of cynics.
Let’s face it. Marks & Spencer has rarely been accused of being a slavish follower of fashion. It was always more cavalry twill than catwalk cool.
OK, in recent years, it’s flirted with designer icons, adding the odd dash of Conran to the mix. It’s even dipped its toes into hip peer-to-peer greenery with the launch of ‘shwopping’ - the flattery-by-imitation take on Futerra’s clothes swap scheme, swishing.
But in one respect, M&S is being gloriously, resolutely and commendably unfashionable. It’s just announced that its UK operations are now carbon neutral – and that this has been achieved in part through offsetting.
Now, offsetting is about as fashionable these days as shoulder pads and a dodgy mullet. According to conventional wisdom, it’s tokenistic, green guilt stuff: a soft option in place of the hard work of cutting emissions at source.
Well, if M&S was just writing the cheques and carrying on as normal, that accusation might carry some weight. Only it’s not - far from it. Its Plan A programme has cut carbon across the board.
But it knows it can’t be completely carbon-free: no business can hope to achieve that, given our present energy economy.
Many companies, faced with this uncomfortable reality, just shrug their (unpadded) shoulders. Why incur extra costs on something which is clearly deeply uncool, thanks to a combination of holier-than-thou criticism from green fundamentalists and some opportunist sniping from climate sceptics? Particularly when there’s precious little pressure from either customers or shareholders to do so?
So much easier to mutter blandishments about ‘investing in innovation rather than offsetting’. Which sounds all very positive and forward looking – until you realise it does absolutely diddly squat to deal with the carbon you’re pumping into the atmosphere right now, each day and every day.
The unfashionable truth is that the only way to take direct responsibility for those emissions is to enable an equivalent amount to be absorbed, or avoid being emitted, elsewhere. In short, to offset.
So kudos to M&S for flying in the face of fickle fashion, and sticking to their guns.
We hear a lot these days about the need for sustainability to be cool. But sometimes it’s better to be right.
Martin Wright is Editor in Chief of Green Futures
For a wider discussion of the pros and cons of offsetting, see GF’s Special Edition, Offset Positive.