Marks & Spencer won the award for corporate social responsibility (CSR) at the inaugural Director of Finance Awards.
The Director of Finance Awards judges recognised M&S for the progress the retailer continues to make through Plan A. Since launching its transformational change programme in 2007, M&S has sought to embed the sustainable management of relationships and resources across its operations. The overall aim of Plan A is to save money, be more innovative and safeguard the future of its suppliers, employees and customers.
Given there's a growing need for finance directors to get to grips with CSR, Director of Finance felt it deserved a separate category. A global study earlier this year by professional services firm EY found almost three-quarters (74%) of the more than 500 CFOs surveyed said their company reporting needed to move beyond traditional compliance and incorporate information that is useful to current and potential investors. Within three years, 90% of the surveyed CFOs said they expected to report on forecasting, sustainability reporting, integrated reporting and CSR reporting.
Consumer goods giant Unilever was Highly Commended in the CSR category largely for its sustainable living plan and ability to bring transparency to sustainable reporting. The company's mission has been helped greatly by the sustained belief in good CSR practice by its CEO, Paul Polman.
For instance, earlier this year at a business climate summit in France, Polman challenged governments to set clear CO2 targets to force low-carbon innovation, and urged fellow CEOs to help create a political licence for politicians to promote clean energy.
But it was M&S who ultimately won the prize for CSR. Jamie Lyon, head of corporate sector at accountancy association ACCA, who was on the judging panel, said M&S won for "the fantastic work that the finance team has undertaken on supporting the Plan A project and reporting on this".
Among some of the specific achievements, M&S has externally published and produced an assured sustainability report since 2003; its governance structure includes the full Plc board and an external Advisory Board; and all M&S directors have a proportion of their bonus linked to delivering against Plan A.
Its latest update on Plan A highlighted some of the new ground it has been breaking over the past 12 months:
- M&S continues to be the only major retailer to be carbon neutral and to send zero waste sent to landfill
- Of the 2,000 work placements in M&S stores and offices for the young unemployed, 62% have gone on to find employment
- Almost two thirds (64%) of M&S products now have a Plan A attribute, an eco or ethical quality over and above the market norm.
Commenting on receiving the CSR award, Adam Elman, Head of Global Plan A Delivery at M&S, said: "We are really proud of what we have achieved to date, and our finance team has played an extremely important role, although we know there is still a long way to go. Plan A has galvanised us to stretch ourselves to change, to be the best we can and inspired others to take up the challenge too.
"The sustainability challenge demands a bold response and so we won't rest until we're a truly sustainable business. Awards like this keep us motivated and focussed and we are extremely proud to have won it, especially given the high calibre of other companies on the shortlist."
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