M&S and Interface call for 'brave new world' on resource scarcity

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

A culture of radical efficiency must be built into business models to accelerate the development of sustainable raw materials, according to CSR champions Mike Barry and Ramon Arratia.

Mike Barry, head of sustainable business at Marks & Spencer and Ramon Arratia, sustainability director at Interface, both spoke out about the importance in blazing new trails in supply chain sourcing of new, more resource-efficient materials.

Speaking at the Sustainable Business resource scarcity conference in London recently, Arratia criticized companies for relying on heavy rhetoric rather than action, and said brand leaders needed to be more inventive in their efforts to push the material optimization agenda forward.

"So many CEOs walk around saying that sustainability is embedded in their DNA," he said, a comment which drew murmurs of assent from the audience.

"We need radical efficiency so we can invent new raw materials. You can still be radical selling the same products, but this might involve coming up with new suppliers and materials for these products - and that carries a certain degree of risk," he added.

Mike Barry echoed this sentiment and said there was "no such thing as classical commodities anymore".

"No longer will companies be able to push onto society for free. The one thing you'll see from M&S in the future is a push on quality - clothes that last, and a real shift away from disposable fashion," he told delegates.

Barry added that this would involve simplifying the range of materials used through more partnership and supply chain collaboration, but he too warned of potential risks.

"Risk and radicalism - how do you pragmatically marry up the two? That is a real question for business."

We can but hope that this idea that M&S wish to “pioneer” (for G-d's sake it once was this way and it is NOT a new concept) will catch on with the rest of manufacturers and retailers.

It is hard today to find any product, be it clothing, shoes, or other goods, that last and can be repaired. In addition to that even if shoes or boots, for instance, are made with sewn mid-sole and such like there is no one – or very few spaced far afield – that are capable today of fixing this, and the same goes for other products too.

In fact, the majority of products, such as, for instance, electrical and electronic goods, are made in such a way today that they cannot even be opened, not even by technicians, let alone be repaired. This is something that needs to change.

Yes, it will mean, more than likely, that products will become somewhat more expensive (again). I wear a self-winding watch that was made in the USA for W H Samuels, the Jewelers, in the 1970s and which cost a great deal of money way back then – it was given to me, however, not so long ago – and it still works, bar the date and day. I have opened it myself and eased it – it kept stopping because of the problem with the day and date display – with a little gun oil. Can't do that nowadays with the quartz watches and many of them, though cheap, don't last for more than a year and some even less, as I found with a recent purchase of a watch from Sainsbury's; it keeps losing time, but only when on the wrist. Strange thing.

For far too long have we demanded cheap product. But those cheap products come at a price. For us in that they do not last and we need to get new ones every so often, for the environment, and for those that make them.

We also want(ed) new all the time and the makers cottoned on and decided to create built-in obsolescence, which means products are designed to only work for a year to three and no more and this is especially true for computers, though there mostly due to the fact that the likes of Microsoft work hand-in-glove with the makers to make older computers obsolete through new versions of the operating systems.

This all needs to change and, yes, it may still slow down the economy even further but constant growth on a Planet that is finite as are its non-renewable resources is just not possible. Already the developed world requires the resources of more than three Earths to satisfy its demand, or should we call a spade a spade and name it as greed. But, in case they haven't noticed it as yet, we only have one Earth. There is no other. We need to reduce demand not increase demand.

Let us hope the likes of M&S are serious as to clothing that last, etc., and we may still have a hope. But we, every one of us, as consumers, can demand a change and we must also be the change.

© 2013