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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Strategic CSR - M&S

Over the summer, I read about a great idea by Marks & Spencer (M&S) that is called “Clothes Exchange.” The policy, which is a partnership developed in connection with the UK charity, Oxfam, is described on M&S’s website as:

“…the biggest programme in the UK to encourage consumers to recycle their clothes.”

The idea makes good business sense, while also helping the firm meet its aggressive “Plan A” goals (Case-studies: Primark vs. M&S, p198).

First, the socially-responsible benefit comes from encouraging more people to donate their old clothes to charity, rather than throwing them away (which, M&S claims, happens in 80% of cases currently). M&S’s solution, via the three-year old Clothes Exchange, is to “pay people to recycle”:

Anyone who heads down to an Oxfam store with a bag of unwanted clothes gets a £5 shopping voucher. The idea has been a roaring success with us, the consuming public. Oxfam has collected over seven million garments – that's an item from almost one in every eight UK residents.

Second, the business benefit comes from ensuring that the vouchers that people receive from Oxfam are spent at M&S, but in a way that generates additional business that may otherwise have gone to the firm’s competitors:

There are two conditions to the scheme. First, at least one of the recycled items must be an M&S product. Second, the £5 can only be used against purchases in M&S of £35 or over. Both make eminent sense.

The result is that M&S is able to reduce its environmental footprint (reducing waste and used landfill space), while supporting one of the UK’s most popular charities in its goal to reduce poverty, while also generating increased custom in its stores:

Oxfam is in the business of reducing poverty. More clothing donations means more funds to do just that. M&S is in the business of making profits. Persuading people to come into its stores and spend is therefore fundamental. A voucher helps towards that. Consumers feel happy (they’ve collectively pocketed vouchers worth over £7.5 million so far), as does M&S (whose tills are busier).

Ultimately, the plan is altering consumer behavior, which is essential if meaningful, lasting change is to be achieved:

Companies can’t force us to ‘do the right thing’. But they can present us with options that take the hassle out of doing what – in our more principled moments – we know to be right.

For more information about the M&S/Oxfam partnership, see:
For more information about M&S’s Plan A, see: