Marc Bolland, CEO, M&S: COP21 a “turning point” thanks to business engagement and demand

Ilario D'Amato
6 December 2015

Marc Bolland, CEO, Mark & Spencer

PARIS: The ongoing climate negotiations in Paris are “an important turning point,” since “we see now more engagement of business than we've ever seen before,” says Marc BollandCEOMarks & Spencer, in The Climate Group’s latest exclusive Climate TV interview.

At the same time, businesses are convening at the Conference of the Parties (COP21), not only to engage, but also to demand the policies they need to spur the transition to a prosperous, low carbon economy. To achieve that, action is needed "at all levels" underlines Marc Bolland. “And I think it’s going to happen. It’s happening now that real action is taken.”


However, forward-thinking businesses are not waiting to take climate action. Last May, Marks & Spencer joined RE100, the global campaign promoted by The Climate Group and CDP to help companies transition to 100% renewable energy. “RE100 is what I call a logical development of all kinds of companies that already are doing much more of the right thing,” says Marc Bollard.

As opposed to the climate negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009 that ended with a weak agreement, the presence of big business initiatives such as RE100 and We Mean Business here at COP21 “makes a difference,” he explains.

However, “businesses need to do things by themselves,” stresses Marc Bolland. The first step Marks & Spencer took was toward energy efficiency, saving about a third of the energy it used. “After that we started using 100% renewable energy,” says the CEO, “and therefore being one of the forefront leaders there in operations.”

The fundamental shift for the leading retail business has been to start selling renewable energy to its customers in some parts of the world: in the UK alone, 250,000 customers are buying renewable energy from the company.


At the same time, these great achievements are just a fraction of what the world needs and of what it is possible to do if companies join together to spur a clean energy revolution: “Now it starts being very much a collaborative field with other companies,” agrees Marc Bolland, to make sure "we get the skill of other companies joining the real drive for renewable energy.”

The next step, complementary to the first one, is to engage strongly with customers – in particular the under-30s generation composed of so-called ‘Millenials’. They “need to be extremely involved” and “to put down demand, like business does, to come to renewable energy,” says Marks & Spencer's CEO.

To spur this pledge, the company has also joined the ‘We Got Power’ campaign by Collectively: “In the UK or the US you get access to your energy if you are lucky,” explains Marc Bolland, “but in lots of parts of the world you don’t. We need to get the engagement of the Millenials to get that happening. If they start a strong pledge that they need to have that renewable energy now, for their future, it’s going to work.”


Speaking of what COP21 can achieve, the Marks & Spencer CEO underlines how difficult it is to forecast an outcome while negotiations are still ongoing, but he feels encouraged by the energy of the first day when governments gathered in Paris.

“I think now it’s all depending on the negotiations that are happening over the next few days,” he says, “but being informed by a number of ministers that are at that table, there’s clearly an intention to get to a real good, conclusive and binding resolution. I have a positive view on that.”

The Paris agreement should be comprehensive of the business ask and not too short, otherwise “it would be a very lost opportunity”. There is “absolutely momentum to get now to a real hardline future, and COP21 has at the moment the opportunity to get there,” he says. “Never before has there been so much alignment between high-end governments, local and city governments, business and stakeholders in any form and shape around the world.”

At the same time, he hopes for more engagement from customer consumers and Millenials, but he also feels that this last link will come over the next few months: “Consumer engagement will come over the time,” he says. “It’s always a little harder to achieve, but it will come certainly.”


Key for businesses to achieve this inevitable, irresistible transition toward a low carbon economy is “more engagement with each other,” says Marc Bolland. Secondly, big companies that are already undergoing this journey need to share their best practices with small and medium enterprises.

“Between 70% and 90% of businesses in countries are not the bigger ones you see here [at COP21 in Paris],” he underlines. “These are small-medium enterprises that need help, and that help can only come through governments and best practices, learning from bigger organizations."

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