B2B International
B2B International

March 3, 2008

In his Thursday Night Insight blog post “Differentiation Through Being Green”, B2B International director Nick Hague looked at how companies can set themselves apart from their competitors by putting more emphasis on their environmental credentials.

Given the increasing importance being placed on society in general, and corporations in particular, to reduce its harmful impact on the environment, Nick predicted that all types of companies will be introducing more and more green policies over the coming years.

Therefore, last week’s announcement by M&S that it will shortly begin to charge its food shoppers 5p (which will be donated to an environmental charity) for each plastic bag they use should come as no surprise. So, is this move just a gimmick to appeal to the growing environmental brigade or is it a great example of a leading company taking its corporate social responsibility seriously?

The truth is we can never be 100% certain of M&S’ motives, but the fact remains that in the UK alone, some 13 billion plastic bags are given free to shoppers every year. During a trial for the new scheme in 50 of its stores, M&S saw demand for its polythene bags fall by more than 70%. If we assume a similar trend could be achieved across the board with the extension of this policy, that’s potentially a massive reduction in environmental waste. What’s more, when you consider that it’s estimated to take up to 1,000 years for a plastic bag to decay, it’s clear that something needs to be done.

As always, public opinion is divided over this new scheme. Some insist it’s just another way to make the consumer shell out more, whilst others feel it’s a justified course of action. But from a business perspective, by making a stand in this way will M&S ultimately be a winner or a loser?

It may well be that customers bring “free” plastic bags from competitor stores in which to carry their M&S goods, meaning M&S loses a vital promotional tool. Alternatively, if other supermarkets quickly follow suit, will M&S be lauded as an environmental pioneer?

Only time will tell, but it seems pretty clear that businesses, whatever their size and whichever industry they operate in, should look to place increasing importance on corporate social responsibility.