Episode 099: Mike Barry

Season 3, Episode 099: Mike Barry

Freelance Sustainability Consultant | Food and Berevage | August 24th 2020 | 47:39

The Story

Mike Barry is a Freelance Sustainability Consultant with nearly 20 years of experience as Head of Sustainability in Mark & Spencer. Sustainability insights, interesting and practical business examples, and tons of positivism. All in one podcast that will keep your attention from beginning to end. 

Highlights of Mike Barry

  • Mike was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire and studied a Chemistry Degree in the University of Sheffield. 
  • He joined Mark & Spencer in 2000 after being recruited by the Chief Financial Officer at the time. 
  • Mark & Spencer put in place a really firm foundation for social environmental issues such as salt and fat reduction, packaging, human rights, animal welfare and climate change.
  • UK food retail is leading in sustainability in supermarkets. However, at most the UK food retail sector is 20% sustainable.
  • Mike talks about the concept of a bronze, silver and gold ladder in the food business and how the industry should collaborate instead of competing. 


“I’m a great believer that sustainability is not just better for the planet, and society around you. It’s better for you as a business in terms of your culture, your structures, your product mix, and your cost base”.

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Will Richardson – 00:02

Mike, thank you so much for joining the green element Podcast. I am really, really looking forward to speaking to you today because you’ve got such a breadth of experience within sustainability. And can you tell us a bit about yourself and where you come from?

Mike Barry – 00:19

Of course Will, I think, breadth of experience just tells you that I am a little bit of an old man now sat here with my grey hair. But yeah, I’ve seen a lot learnt a lot, not always got things right, but delighted to share some sort of time and observations with you. So you know, my journey in life. I’m a Bradford boy with University of Sheffield did a chemistry degree environmental consultancy and joined M&S in 2000. It was it was a really interesting point in my life. I was recruited by the then CFO, Chief Financial Officer lady called Alice Reid. It seemed really odd that I was a very junior environment manager, very, very junior, and had been recruited by the CFO. She said, Mike, look, you know, I’ve got personal passion for green issues in the way that most of the people don’t at the moment. I’ve got you into the business I want you to sort of drive us to be a greener business at Marks and Spencer. I’m afraid you haven’t got a line manager and you haven’t budget at the moment, but hey, get out my door and try and make something happen.I buddied up with a lad who had been at M&S for a long long time, man and boy started there 16-17 years of age, a man called Roland Hill and Roland was brilliant. He knew M&S inside out and knew environmental issues. We brought those two worlds together. And over a period of four or five years we created this like gorilla army of people across Marks and Spencer who cared passionately about green issues, operationally supply chains, etc, people’s human rights. And with time, you know, new leadership came in Sir Stuart Rose, Stuart turned around said, I’m not happy with just being competent at this. You guys may be competent. I want to be a world leader. Marks and Spencer is about world leadership, get out of my office, you’ve got 100 days to work out what world leadership and corporate responsibility means or you’re looking for a new job and if anybody knew Stuart, there’s lots of Anglo Saxon that surrounded that sort of get on with a kind of method, which was brilliant. He was energetic, he was passionate you want to change. And that’s where Plan A because there’s no plan B to the one planet we’ve got emerged. Six or seven of us sort of developed a very, very rapidly went through 17 iterations and launched in early 2007. In terms of the context of the conversation now 13 years on, I look back at that and think Marks and Spencer put in place a really firm foundation for social environmental issues. It had issue targets on salt reduction, fat reduction, on packaging, on human rights and working with farmers on animal welfare  and climate change at a time and water issues, on fish sourcing and wood source and you name it M&S had a position. And that enabled was just to get control on all this swirling noise of NGOs and competitive activities because M&S has competitors. The big supermarket in particular have always been very good at this, I think collectively the UK food retail sector is one of the most interesting the world when it comes to sustainability, and we’ll come back to that in a little bit. And then what we did with plan A is we constantly updated it. So there’s always a temptation when you’ve launched a nice plan and everybody’s gone well done. Nice round of applause for that, for you all to sit back and think job done. And actually what’s driven me grey and lots of other good people that worked at m and s very, very hard was to actually implement it and make it stick. Turn it from words on paper to action on the ground. And that’s where the business really showed it’s brilliant stripes at M&S it really stepped forward and said, in a marketplace of challenges. It has always been tough for m and s on economic performance, but this is what we stand for. It’s the right thing to do for 32 million customers. We’ll never be able to do everything we want to do because of economic constraints, but we’ll do it. And then just to finish off with this sort of part of the conversation, we have evolved it from this firm foundation when you start with 100 commitments. To integrate it into the business, so everybody did it as part of their job. The third phase then was to build partnerships with other organisations because you can never change the worlds palm oil industry on your own, you have to work with others. The fourth phase, then was to start to engage with customers in sustainable change. Launching, for example, a plant based range of food called plant kitchen. 60 brilliant products, alternative to meat, flew off the shelves, so you see starting to have a conversation with the customer different form of consumption. And then the fifth thing that lies ahead is genuinely a sustainable business models. And again, we’ve we saw this morning announcement from Tesco and terracycle, which is in the go loop, which will deliver branded goods to your doorstep in reusable containers rather than plastic that you use once and throw away, constantly bringing refills to your house so you can keep reusing. That’s the kind of future that we need small scale for now. But looking huge in the future. So that’s my journey.

Will Richardson – 04:51

Really interesting, isn’t it? And I think that with your initial interaction, you know, your initial job with M&S and the fact that the CFO was behind hiring you, it really does just cement in that you really need to have senior management to buy into something and look at where you were able to take sustainability in an organisation as big as M&S purely because you have the backing of senior management.

Mike Barry – 05:25

Yeah. And again, one of the one of the stories that’s rarely talked about M&S is that plan A was evolved through three different chief executives, Stuart Rose, Mark Boland, now, Steve Rowe, and all three of them backed plan A to the hills, but in different ways. So Stuart wanted to be have a bold, ambitious plan that redefined retail globally corporate responsibility. Absolutely. Mark said brilliant, but I want to build on that by really focusing on M&S and partnership, being at the heart of these global and central alliances to tackle deforestation or human rights or food waste or plastics. Because we can’t solve it on our own. And then Steve came in and said, this has to be my product. It has to be relevant to our customers. It has to be connected with the stores and the communities that we serve. And Steve iterated it again. But it was always Plan A. And I think that the beauty of that it shows you have to be flexible, you have to be agile. Because, as I mentioned, when you and I were just having a warm up chat Will, nothing stands still. And they even looking back just 13 years now Plan A, which was groundbreaking at this time. Just looks like a beginners first rung on the ladder. But it was a necessary first random ladder to climb towards a truly sustainable business in the future.

Will Richardson – 06:40

Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

I’d love to explore the partnerships and how you worked with your suppliers, I’m assuming, and your clients. I would imagine that the people who shop at M&S were also a part of the whole overall stakeholder engagement piece I mean what, you know what, what drove you and your organisation? Or you know what were the drivers around it?

Mike Barry – 07:14

So let’s very quickly look at three types of partnership one, firstly suppliers them in a supply chain were brilliant on this. There’s always a degree of compliance. You know we have human rights expectations and again what we’ve seen with you know, all boohoo’s problems in Leicester clothing factories last year, says human rights are tough, tough to manage. The M&S team managed it well from the beginning and managed it well in partnership.

But one example from what the food business did: several years ago brought in this concept of a bronze, silver, gold ladder for its suppliers to improve. So every time you stepped up and you followed the rungs on this ladder, developed by the food team, you became more sustainable, used less energy created less waste, you motivated people through a better sort of people employment practice. In doing that you became a better business, you became leaner, you became more efficient, better quality, more innovative, low cost. All these things help you improve your business. So you become more sustainable, socially, environmentally, but also economically as well. You went from bronze you went to silver, to gold and you would move up the supply chain. So you’re constantly looking for that double win. Good for planet and people but also good for the bottom line as well now, and what the M&S food team did really well was build a support infrastructure around that series of webinars, events, case studies. So people working under the huge pressure in supply chains could see are that’s how you run a chicken factory better, or a farm better, or a fruit juice factory better. So there’s this constant exchange of knowledge and experience. So that’s one example. The second example of partnership is then just recognising that M&S turns over 10 billion pounds a year big business. Walmart turns over 25 tonnes more than that. So little old M&S was not going to change the world of let’s use an example of palm oil, palm oil presents in about 25% of food products and the visible ingredient to most people, hugely destructive in terms of loss of rainforests in Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia. M&S was using a few thousand tonnes in 800 different products. It’s a liquid commodity that was seventh stage in supply chain back from M&S. So the M&S has ability to leverage change was infinitesimal. But M&S stood next to Pepsi Co, Nestle Unilever, Coca Cola. Walmart,Tesco, Carrefour. Suddenly there were several M&S turning over 10 billion pounds a year, but businesses between them turning over several trillion dollars a year between them asking for change. Now even that sort of army of positive coalition for change for the marketplace has found it hard to drive the change that we need, but has made so much more strides than little M&S on its own. To work within the the overall umbrella of the consumer goods forum, bringing together the food and drink retailers and brands to work together. So that’s a second type of partnership that we need. You need partnership with your own supply chain but your partnership with everybody else as well. And then the third type of partnership was with customers the 32 million people that shop with M&S. A market research found about 10% of them were passionate agree that sit on this conversation now and would be egging you and I on to do even more. 35% of people light agree, really interested in these issues really concerned about climate change of waste and pollution, human rights abuses, but they find it difficult, they don’t want to give up lifestyle, pay more for products because the greener but if you can find a way to provide them with great products at great prices that are fundamentally more sustainable they’re with you. We will come back to that. 35% a second group of people are very passionate about the future and very worried about the future. Utterly through the lens of locality, neighborhood.

Born in Glasgow, live in Glasgow, die in Glasgow what’s anybody doing for Glasgow before you start saving rainforests on the other side of the world. What are you doing for Glasgow? And then the fourth group 20%, not really engaged, and even in Britain, a relatively wealthy country, that’s the poorest sections of society, who are just saying I have got to focus on getting through this week, you have to sort of respect that. At those three other groups together 80% of citizens who are interested in these issues, you just need to find a different way of tapping in with them. The 10% who are passionately green want to hear from big business that we recognise there is a climate crisis by biodiversity crisis, inequality crisis. And we’re not willing just to iterate things to be slightly better each year, but fundamentally leap into this different place. Again, I use the example of deliveries of branded goods to your doorstep it is the shift to electric cars. It’s the shift in diet to plant based and ultimately lab grown. It’s radical shifts. That’s what the 10% for the 35% really interesting, because this group are the swing voters. They’re saying I want to consume fundamentally differently. You have to meet in the middle, I want to be able to have good holidays wear stylish clothing, eat great food, great experiences, get around and the 10% would be green might challenge that. The 35% now, I want a good life. I want you to find a way Marks and Spencers or Nestle or Tescos to square the circle and give them great products and great prices and great service but fundamentally more sustainable. I’ll just pick a few examples of products out that do that at the moment. So if you think what Allbirds are doing. Allbirds trainers, a brilliant social and environmental story. Fundamentally more sustainable than the average trainer out there. But you know what, it’s a stylish shoe at a pretty good price point that for a man of my age is sort of the comfy shoe I’ve worn all my life. So when it comes to defining what the success looks like, is that to me is the Allbird trainer. Great price, great look, great feel and it’s fundamentally more sustainable. That’s what brings the 35% with us and then the 35% who are driven by locality and neighborhood, you know for Marks and Spencers with you know, 1000 shops around the British Isles and all the other supermarkets as well. The ability to do something useful on the local scale was incredibly important to M&S. So M&S had great charity partnerships on a national scale for breast cancer. Absolutely made sense. M&S sells a third of all bras in the UK core customers are women who are 40 plus, no more premature killer for them breast cancer. So QED, you have a national relationship, attacking breast cancer. Brilliant. Never stop that. But M&S also had to make sure that each of its individual stores from Exeter to Bristol, through Birmingham through Bradford up through Newcastle to Glasgow, you know, all the way across the British Isles. Each local store is making a difference with local communities. its customers could feel that whether it was a beach clean weather, donating clothing to local charity, Oxfam charity shop all the time that M&S was useful to your locality. So partnerships across your own supply chain across the industry with your customers.

Will Richardson – 14:15

It’s brilliant, isn’t it? Because I would imagine that many people listening to the podcast are within partnerships, possibly within the food chain, or supermarket chain or have their own partnerships with other organisations. And I think there’s a massive learning curve through that, isn’t it and listening to you its collaboration.

Mike Barry – 14:40

Will can I just hop in very briefly to say, that seems really self evident to us. But I grew up a man in 50s with a college of business leaders, used to just winning on their own. You’re the chief executive, your company, your job is to beat everybody else not to collaborate with them. So there’s had to be a huge mindset shift in this sort of group of cadre of traditional leaders to say, one day you’re competing with  and one day you’re collaborating, you have to be able to move smoothly and seamlessly between those two worlds. But the consumer goods forum, you’re bringing together Coke and Pepsi, Unilever, Nestle. Tescos and Walmart huge competitors. You always have a lawyer in the room to make sure the right words and seconds right away, but mindset wise, these businesses have spent decades trying to beat each other and now some are still trying to win in the marketplace, but behind the scenes they have got to collaborate, got to share.

Will Richardson – 15:32

Yeah. Yeah.

I think you’ll see it’s I think sustainability is probably was probably and is probably the first pure collaborative approach that organisations have because I know that say Puma, Adidas, Patagonia, North Face, and a group of other companies have been sitting together for years. They never discussed the cost and price of their products. They never talk about stuff that’s very unique to themselves and also their USP. But I do know that they talk sustainably. We’re going to be we’re bringing out this new cotton that’s uses much less water we’re able to because it’s it’s improving sustainability within each of the organisations because that’s what their core goal is. And you would not have had that 20 years ago.

Mike Barry – 16:30

Yeah. And two other practical examples, I think this week, the Dutch competition authorities have turned around said we recognise in this world of sustainable partnership that we’re going to have to look at competition law. So the laws that govern how business were kept apart in the 20th century. Absolutely right. You don’t have price gouging in the marketplace. But in the 21st century, we’re facing a climate crisis, a plastic pollution crisis. We need to be more sophisticated, so it will be interesting to see what the Dutch discover there as well. And then you’ve also got to recognise that a lot of the challenges that we all face are systemic it’s not, it’s not about Marks and Spencers. Marks and Spencer uses a lot lorries lots of lorries for logistics using diesel. Decarbonizing heavy goods vehicles is difficult. It’s not like electric cars which you can see a pathway to quite rapidly. heavy heavy goods vehicles are difficult. There’s no point M&S trying to come up with a solution and test cars coming up with a solution and says there’s nothing else. You need one approach wherever you’ve shared infrastructure, you can roll out rapidly drive down the costs because he goes to scale rapidly. You need collaboration, things like a pricing carbon, we desperately need a price on carbon across the economy. And for whatever reasons, politicians for some good reasons, some less so are nervous about pricing carbon, you need all the businesses lined up together. So we would welcome one. Now in terms of paying, if we pay top carbon tax, we want to pay less tax over here on the positive things in society, but we should all pay the price on carbon. So you need these collective voices, both in terms of technology shifts, taxation shifts and infrastructure shapes if we can have a stable future, because we haven’t got time on our side, we’ve got 10 years to really start to bend the arc in the right direction. That’s all, 10 years.

Will Richardson – 18:19

Yeah, yeah. Yeah,

That’s slightly worrying. Um, but the when, so you left in 2013. And since then, you have been helping many different organisations to become sustainable. What do you see as a really? Have you ever seen any kind of common themes through helping these organisations? Are there any Is there any, anything you can think of that could help?

Mike Barry – 18:55

Just a tiny bit clarification when I left last year 2019, but do I’ve been freelancing for the last 12 months. But in 12 months, I’ve learned so much and very humbling experience. I’ve been 19 years in business, and I describe my learning using the following: I ask three questions in any boardroom big or small any industrial setting. Why are you doing sustainability? What are you committing to do? How are you integrating it into your business? So the why is the strategy and that’s very much saying what are your customers saying? What society saying? What are the regulator saying? What are your investors say? What you what your competitors doing? What marketplace disruptors doing? How would you respond as a business with the right strategy to become more sustainable so you can survive and future proof and prosper in a very different marketplace in the future so that’s the boardroom conversation about Strategy. The second conversation about the what is when most people rush too quickly. So the what is science based target on climate change it’s human rights audit, it’s water targets, energy targets. They’re the bread and butter they’re the engine rooms of sustainable change, you need them. But only once you’ve worked out the why the strategy can you work out truly what you need to commit to do. So the what is not just I’ve got science based targets. It is then the governance system that you will use to actually implement it. To hold yourself to account internally for deliverables and how you report to the outside world on your progress. This is working, this isn’t working. Again, M&S had a really good what system the plan A machine.100 commitments reporting every year independently assured was a vital component. And then the third question is one that every business big and small tends to avoid which is how do I integrate it? How do I turn it from being a set of words that signed off in a boardroom that everybody forgets into the beating hearts of how the business does business? How do you work with your suppliers in the way that we just talked about bronze, silver, gold, ladder for food suppliers. How you work with your customers. Again, we have used the example of greener light green products and also localization of business difference in neighbourhoods. How do you work in partnership with other organisations to spread the burden of change? We talked about the consumer goods forum and palm oil as an example. So how would you turn it into not just words on paper, but how you do business every day in every aspect of what you do? So the why the what the how I don’t care whether I’m talking to a technology company at food, drinks company, a legal company, a banking company, whether it’s turning over 10 billion a year or 10,000 pounds here, it is the same three questions that you ask.

Will Richardson – 21:42

And it’s funny look, listening to what you did in those early days and picking up someone to speak to or work with Roland who had what you said 16-17 years he’d been working at M&S. I mean it’s, it’s kinda it’s just brilliant that you did that. It was that hard was that in hindsight, oh, that was good or did you? Did you? Oh I’ve learned that and this is what you should be doing or just like just a curiosity really, because it’s such a good way of in cooperating sustainability and a culture within an organisation.

Mike Barry – 22:22

Yeah, and the story of me working with Roland is an important one, Roland had been there 20 years he knew Mark Spencer inside out. I didn’t know, so I could walk in with all this environmental knowledge lifecycle assessments and targets. But unless you truly understood M&S you didn’t know how to make it stick. So that the words and paper became a reality for thousands of store managers, supply chain managers, marketeers, finance people, product designers, all these people had to be energised to get behind what we’re doing and Roland was absolutely brilliant. Now, that’s a nice theory but that’s not gonna work here because of the culture. So we were a really good partnership. I brought that sort of deep scientific external knowledge stakeholders and science, systemically. Roland knew a lot of that already but he really, really, really you Marks and Spencers. And without him I wouldn’t have got to where we got it. Yeah,

Will Richardson – 23:20

it’s Yeah. And I think that’s and that whole How is a part of Roland and yours journey isn’t it? It’s working it through and incorporating it in.

So what are your plans now? You?

Mike Barry – 23:42

Yes. So, so I’m really enjoying myself after 19 years of one business which seems a crazy amount of time. And, and loved it to bits at M&S. You know, got grey hair made for reasons not just old age, it was tough at times, but loved it to bits you know brilliant business and people. But came out last summer. And I deliberately said that having been in one place for 19 years, I want to work across the economy for at least 12 months. So I’m freelancing at the moment I’m working, say in property companies, technology companies, fast moving consumer goods, businesses, couple of fin tech startups Cogo and Clim8 really trying to energise people to make their own decisions sustainably on daily expenditure Cogo or long term investment Clim8. So for me, the corporate boy havingspent all my time in suits in the big business, it has been brilliant to work with startups as moving innovative, agile, really testing the marketplace for these new approaches. And, and also then working the think tank blueprint for better businesses really trying to bring all this thinking together into a template or a roadmap by which any big business could go on the journey from dealing with corporate social responsibility. Social advantage is on the edge of the business, to putting it to beat heart of everything you do blueprints a bit bit platform for that. So that sheer diversity is brilliant because I’m just, I’m a junkie for knowledge and learning. That’s why there’s so much in social media,

Will Richardson

You can see you can definitely see that from the answers you post on LinkedIn.

Mike Barry – 25:17

It just goes to show that an old man can learn new tricks ish and but great fun, but I’m, it’s weird because I’m an eternal optimist. I’ve got a glass of blackcurrant juice here, and it’s, I’m showing it to Will and it’s got its 10% full. I’m a 10% full guy, even even though I know as a scientist, the world is burning, and it literally is destroying biodiversity. We’re reaping all kinds of existential risks to the planet. I get up every morning believing that we can, we can solve it. And and that’s not that’s not natural for everybody. There’s a lot of good people out there who feel the tragedy of what we are doing to this planet. I do in many ways but I’m just this incredible optimist that ingenuity and drive and innovation can solve this. And that’s what I bring I bring to every one of my clients is just just the sense of not only Yes, we can solve this problem, but in doing it we can make your business better because one of the things we did at M&S was we also tackled wider cultural challenges at the business. It was quite an insular business at M&S so plan A forces the business to look out. Businesses are quite risk averse. And it was a huge risk setting with a huge brick in the in the pond of global retail unless was that where it needed to be a real leader. It joined the business up you know, the food, business and clothing business had been traditionally quite siloed Plan A brought everybody together to work horizontally across the business. So I’m a great believer as well that sustainability is not just better for the planet, and society around you. It’s better for you as a business in terms of your culture, your structures, your product mix your cost base your 750 million pounds net out of the Marks and Spender net out of the cost base over a period of 10 years with plenty less waste less energy. And a lot of the savings that we made would not have been identified on their own because we’re all individually small. And you need a Plan A to energise the whole business to go looking under the proverbial mattress for them all. So again, So for an example. This store rang us up and said, I’m printing this colour document out every morning with sales figures for Barnsley store every day. 60-70 pages and never use it for because they use another document. So we looked into it, and every M&S store in Britain was printing this document out in 2007. Stopped doing it overnight, we saved 138 grand from just turning off a document that no one was using. Just wasting everybody’s time by printing it out. So it was thousands of savings like that. Lots of good people just spotting the local opportunities to make savings that I in the centre of the central team could never see. Yeah, Plan A did energise people to look for those benefits. So get fundamentally, there is a business case out there that you can reap. And it becomes actually the business case. And it’s now even more existential because we’re now shifting from making businesses less bad fundamental shifts in your product mix. And again, we’ve talked about the shift from diesel to electric core to wind meat based upon base. If as a business, you miss those shifts, you’re out of business. You’re not relevant in the marketplace. And that’s why I think investors are starting to get more interested in now. They used to look at this as very much a reputational issue. You might embarrass me back because you’re in a sweatshop. Actually now, it’s, my goodness. So you’re selling you’re trying to sell clothing, but everybody’s buying them off a resale platform. It’s not abusiness model. I’m investing all your time just sell meat but more and more people are looking for a plant based alternative. Why aren’t you selling both? So now investors are starting to understand these existential risks of being on the wrong side of these great big shifts in the marketplace. And that’s what shifts next decade.

Will Richardson – 29:04

You talked briefly about the food, food industry supermarkets in the UK. And you said that the UK is leading in this area. Can we explore that and understand more about that, please?

Mike Barry – 29:22

Yeah. So let me just list them out because when I was growing up and launched plan A, M&S is a hugely complex issue Marks and Spencer wants to be better than Sainsbury’s, than co op it wants to be better than Tesco, Morrisons now Aldi, Lidl, Waitrose Co-op, you name them. And Iceland so the big 10, actually now I’ve learned a huge amount respect for all those big ten companies. They’re all doing a huge amount in different ways. And everybody’s got a slightly different business model. M&S has business model 90% private label, you know, quite high end it’s all about quality. So what we’ll do with sustainability is broadening the definition of quality at M&S. What other brands have done is the very much used it as a way of connecting with their customers in terms of their quality credentials or their local credential so the Co-op have be brilliant at saying each Co Op store is really well connected with its local community. The Co-op lost its way for decades, way back when it has re-found itself brilliantly now really well connected back with the marketplace. Tesco’s now really do good stuff in terms of food waste reduction, and not just in terms of the owner actual operations but leading a global coalition go back to this concept of coalitions. Let’s bring together the world’s biggest food drink comes to work together systemically on food waste issues, thier you know that chief executive moment Dave Lewis has done a brilliant personal job at trailing a Global Coalition for change. So tescos fantastic stuff. Waitrose have been innovating in terms of these instant refill systems where you can come back and fill up your rice or your sugar or your coffee or you pasta rather than walking out with single use plastic, come with your own container and you fill it up, you buy it, you take it back, you reuse your container. So wherever I look, there’s opportunity and again, people can be a little bit sniff sometimes about the Aldi’s and the Lidls and the Asda, Walmarts, you know, cheap food for people on budget, but they don’t care about sustainability. Yes, they do. And I think one of the great opportunities next decade is for people, businesses to democratise sustainable living. So in a way that felt a very middle class thing there just for people with reasonable incomes, certain educational background, absolutely not. It has to be made real and relevant for millions of people across a whole strata of not just British society, but global society. And the value retailers are doing a good job at that already will do even more in the future. So wherever you look across the UK marketplace, from the M&S, Ocado or Waitrose, to the Aldi, Lidl end, Morrison’s, Tesco and Sainsburys somewhere in the middle Waitrose it, I just see collective good performance. But I don’t I don’t see that many of the sector around the world and the other in other geographies and other sectors, I tend to see one or two absolute leaders. There’s a huge gap down to everybody else, what the UK food supermarkets and let’s also take our hat off here to the UK NGO community, who have been relentless in ceaseless holder to account of the supermarket sector, driving them to be better. And I think that that working in tandem that the NGO community spurring voluntary action because what not much of this has been driven by rule of law, and then the retailer’s responding collectively has been very, very powerful. Having said all that, at most the UK food retail sector is 20% sustainable. At most, it’s still using too much plastic is sourcing raw materials, in a way that’s bad for biodiversity, bad for climate, it’s inefficient, generates too much food waste too much human rights abuse in supply chains. That is one of the best sets in the world. And I’m saying it for roughly 20% sustainable to pick up 100% sustainable, or at least close to it. This is where you need the radical shift of business model. And I talked about the Waitrose refill systems. I’ve talked very briefly about this new system that’s coming out to deliver branded goods to your home in reusable containers. I talked about plant based food ranges rather than meat based. It is a step change in these new business models, new product services, ways of getting products to people, that will get you from 20% to 60 to 70 to 80%. We need to do that quickly in the next 10 years.

Will Richardson – 33:42

And I kind of know your answer to this. Do you think that’ll happen? Everything?


No, you know.

Mike Barry – 33:54

So let’s, let’s answer that in two ways. We Very close to 1.5 degrees warming. And in the next decade, a single year might take us to 1.5 degrees warming, let’s put a 25% chance of that happening on a single year. And it might not hold there. But within 10-15 years, or 20 years 1.5 will become the norm across the planet. 1.5 is going to have a huge impact on human life and livelihoods in the economy. Let’s be really clear about that. But we’re going to pile through 1.5 on the current structure, we’re heading I think, for 2.8-3.2 warming. Wow, that is scary numbers. I don’t think we’re going to get to five or six which was where we might fall we might get to 20 years ago, but 2.8 to three 3.2 degrees of warming, catastrophic for society in many ways that we’ve never imagined. Do I think overnight that everybody can wake up, smell the coffee and turn the taps off of global greenhouse emissions We’re still gonna stop at 1.5. No, no, we’re going through 1.5. And that’s a tragedy. And I’ll do everything I can as an individual stop is going through 1.5. But we will, we will. What I believe is that through collective accelerated action the next decade, you can bend us away from hitting three degrees, you might be able to hold it around to two degrees of warming, which again, would have huge impacts on society and economy. But we can do it again, I think we’ve seen this during COVID was stopped the entire global economy killing COVID just switched everything off. And global emissions have come down 7% across 2020 projected down by 7%. We need to do that every single blinking year into the future to hit it to even remotely some chance of a 2 degree world. That’s the enormity of the challenge. That’s the elephant in the room. I then break down the elephant in the way that you can eat it to say, look at the moment, the UK food retailers are collectively showing a pathway that very few of the sectors of any type in the world collectively showing, which is the ability to recognise that problem. They have in place plans in place to drive the change that we need, and will accelerate that. So the British retail consortium that represents the most of the UK retailers, not all of them, as announced last week that is bringing 20 Uk retailers together, not just foods but others to come up with a collective net zero pathway, they are going to develop it over next few months. It’s so important to set to step forward, collaborative and systemically we need to reduce our emissions when none of us individually can to try and hold us within these two degrees.

Will Richardson – 36:49

Is that true net zero?

Mike Barry – 36:50

It has got the word net in it for reason there will never been absolute zero in any economy. There will always be some form of hopefully minimal offset at the end of it. And again, I think the food sector is really interesting because its ability to look at carbon in well managed soil and ecosystems and reforestation is such a powerful pathway to true net zero. So I think that the food sector will be tremendously innovative in terms of both reducing its emissions, but also then leading the way in terms of nature based solutions to lock up carp. So we get net zero in other sectors, let’s just use the example of airlines will be buying into the solutions that the food industries have and actually I, I think farmers in general and retailers and brands in the food sector will make a lot of money in the future and managing carbon storage solutions for other sectors that can’t be carbonised at the same rate.

Will Richardson – 37:52

That’s really yeah, that’s really

It’s a lot to do. It’s an awful lot to do

Mike Barry – 37:58

It is Will and you know, I’m not immune to moments of dread and fear. Four o’clock in the morning lay in bed thinking what the hell to do. But you know what, I let that pass and I get up at six in the morning and think, you know, I’m now going to march in today with that weight on my shoulders, but positively trying to do much as I possibly can.

Will Richardson – 38:21

And I think you have to, I think after

I mean, you’ve been in this industry the same as same time as me. And I think that the amount of conversations that you have with people that you don’t necessarily know on networking events and stuff, and you start talking about it, and it’s, it’s really interesting, I would say, I would say seven, eight times out of 10. You that kind of the conversations go negative slightly, and then move into positive going actually, this is what we can do this is this is how we can do it and it very rarely, you very rarely go this is awful. Oh the world is gonna end. Do you ? It’s really interesting. It’s really quite nice to see that people in this industry really do just go right. get up in the morning. Let’s get on. Let’s move this forwards.

Mike Barry – 39:09

But But let’s use the example of the finance sector so 20 years or so I was doing planning, M&S the finance community investors with very limited engagement not just with Mark and Spencer, but any business in terms of sustainability. Suddenly over the last couple of years, this concept of ESG, environmental social governance has come to the fore. And investors are starting to look at their portfolio predominately through the lens of risk. So what is the risk of me having my investment embarrassing boohoo factory in Leicester the share price has come down by 40% in a couple of weeks as people have reflected on the reputational damage and the damage of that and the potential damage to their sales. So investors are starting to think about risk in a way it should have been a decade ago, but it didn’t. We are where we are. Now what we need to do is do two things. One is to apply ESG principles every day consistently to over investments and benchmark their investments and their portfolios in terms of risk, don’t stop there. start to understand the and this is what turns bankers and finance in any calculus on what’s the opportunity to grow new business models out of the ashes of today’s economy COVID ashes and climate ashes. And you know, I’d use the example of Allbirth, we can talk about Tesla, Impossible meats. There are thousands of new startups emerging who have at the heart of their basic principles, more sustainable ways of living your life, but they’ll also make lots of money, many of them. Now, that also that, you know, we shouldn’t shy away from every environmental step for we’ve ever taken always brings a secondary negative effect. So we’ve piled out of hydrogenated vegetables to food 20 years ago because they are bad for the human heart. Now, where do we rush to? Palm oil. So we chop down a rainforest. We jumped out of petrol cars into diesel cars, we thought they would get more miles per gallon but we caused an air pollution crisis in cities. We jumped out of CFCs and refrigerants because of the ozone layer of we ended up with HFCs. Which are greenhouse gas emissions. Obviously we get piling to electric cars. What do we do with the batteries? Where’d you get the lithium and cobalt for the for the batteries, you have to think about that. There are a series of consequences that will come from every step that we take into the future. And again, investors need to be investing with open eyes to say, I want to back a new future a positive sustainable one, but also understand the risks of the shifts that come and I fear that too many investors still got herd mentality that just drifting along without truly understanding both risk and opportunity. And you know, we’re gonna see a shakeout in the finance system, a lot of today’s financial system as much as the fossil industries. Won’t survive the next decade because it doesn’t truly understand the risk and opportunities or sustainable change, which will happen very quickly.

Will Richardson – 42:06

Yeah, I think I think we’re already seeing that change in financial industry. And I think it’s leaders like Alison rose, at RBS who, what I know. And I know she truly does believe in sustainability. And she knows that it’s actually the fault that that’s where RBS needs to go. It’s, it’s clearly obvious talking to her. But I hear then in conversations that many of the other banks are actually looking at similar things as well.

So what you ended up and again, let’s just use Alison Rose as an example. She’s a brilliant leader, and she will shake up that organisation. And in the way that Marks and Spencer with plan A 13 years ago, to a degree and I’m not going to sort of overclaim here but to a degree shook up the UK retail space and then everybody else responded to plan A with their own versions of it. I think what Alison rose will do with NatWest is shake up the banking community and everybody will respond by the end of the 2020s. I hope we’re describing the UK financial sector as a whole in the way that I’ve just given some credit to UK food supermarket, etc, as a whole being a global exemplar for change. So, so, but the other thing, let’s just quickly look at the accelerators because we can be a little bit glib about where we are. One of the things I’m taking from COVID is that the moving intergenerational crisis that we face. So you and I gentlemen of a certain age, you look at what we’re passing as a settlement to anybody under 40 now. Gig economy. So you and I grew up in a world of reasonable career, stability reasonable. We grew up in a world with rising house prices now got generation rent, we dropped the time of you know, to a degree pension certainty. You’re where you’ll be in 2030 years time what income you might have. No pension certainty now. I’m giving you all the cost of the Covid bailout. The young people have locked themselves away to protect all the people writing today, but it has cost. I’m giving you a climate crisis. I’m giving you a fractured global institutional system with the rise of popularism, giving you a bit of a mess. And if I was now under 40, and certainly between 16 and 25, I’d be pushing our generation out the way when we’re taking over and you’re stuffing up our future, at very quick rates, I think the 2020s will see a rapid rise of a young generation saying you’re burning the planet guys get out the way and I stress the word guys because it’s white men with grey hair like me, that’ve got us where we’ve got. Got us where we are. The other thing I just want to say is that is an accelerator is technology. So we’re stepping into the fourth industrial revolution now, but it’s AI, big data, machine learning, drones, remote sensors, 3d printing, genomics, whatever we look, there is a plethora of New technologies now, huge risks associated with them. Surveillance society, what does business do with all that data, who’s spying on who, but also huge solutions. If you want to track and trace billions of individual items in global supply chains, make sure they’ve got dodgy palm oil in them. You need satellites, you need sensors, you need AI, big data to crunch all the different data points to track and trace. And we’re literally at crossroads in terms of what I call either tech for bad or tech for good. We, as have got to seize the positive opportunities of technology, progress them a future very, very quickly. So that intergenerational shift, and that technology shift, I think says there will be an acceleration next three, four years but none of us are prepared for in terms of sustainable change.


Will Richardson – 45:48

I’m conscious of the time and actually I really want to carry on talking to you, but I know that we’ve we do set it out but it’s 30 to 40 minutes because I think that’s right for people listening but maybe we can carry on another time but thank you so much for yeah, just talking to me and talking to us at Green Element podcast because it’s been so interesting listening to you and work where you see us going.


Thank you.

Mike Barry – 46:15

Well, thank you for the kind invitation to join you and I’d just in 30 seconds flat to all the listeners, I don’t care what age you are or what job description you have whereabouts in the world where you can be a positive agent for change. I want us all to feel the heat literally the heat on our on our feet that said, we have to change we should all be worried about the trajectory of the world. I also want you to be passionate and positive about your ability to lead change in your neighbourhood, through products through services through linkages, community groups, through conversations on social media, through innovation. You can be that cadre for change. That’s what you need to be. Thank you very much.

Will Richardson – 46:54

Brilliant. Cheers, Mike. Thank you. Thank you.

Today we’ve got Mike Barry on the podcast. I was really excited before the podcast talking to Mike. And quite rightly so it was a really cool conversation about what he did. Integrating sustainability into M&S, what ramifications that has and the I don’t know his thoughts of what we can do in organisations and how we can progress and become more sustainable and where he sees the future in the UK and the world with regards to climate change. I hope you enjoy the podcast.

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Hi! I’m Will Richardson. I’m the host of the Sustainability Business Podcast and the founder of Green Element. With over 20 years of experience, my team and I can truly help your business become more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Book a free consultation to have a chat about how your organisation can embrace the change towards sustainability.


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