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Interview with Mike Barry

by | Feb 28, 2021 | Interviews,

Mike Barry

Mike Barry

Strategic Advisor, Speaker and Commentator on Sustainable Business

Key Topics:Sustainable Business, Climate Crisis, Net Zero, Circular Economy, Social Justice, Business Model Disruption, Transformation, ESG

Mike is a change agent, helping business big and small, new and established to prepare for and succeed in the great sustainability disruption that will wash through the economy in the 2020s. He’s worked with organizations such as Unilever, SAP, Grosvenor, the Environment Agency, Royal Society of Chemistry, British Retail Consortium, GSK, Clim8invest, CoGo and Climate Action.

Mike was until recently Director of Sustainable Business at Marks & Spencer, spearheading its ground-breaking Plan A sustainability programme. He co-chaired the Consumer Goods Forum’s sustainability work bringing the world’s largest retailers and fast moving consumer goods brands together to work on issues such as deforestation, plastics and forced labour. He is a Senior Associate at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and a Trustee at Blueprint for Better Business.

How did you get to become an expert in your key topics?

Wow, where to start, ‘a long time ago in a galaxy, far, far away’….! Which is a glib way of saying in the early 1990s when sustainable business meant heavy industry not breaching point source pollution permits. I got lucky joining M&S in 2000 just as the world started the long pivot towards looking at company’s true social and environmental footprint from complex supply chains to operations and consumer use of products. Retail was a brilliant place to learn given the sheer breadth of different social and environmental issues embedded in billions of items sold from 1000s of shops/websites and produced in 1000s factories, 10000s of farms and raw material sources (fields, fisheries, forests etc). And then getting permission from the fabulous Lord Stuart Rose to put sustainability at the heart of all the company did. A true priviledge to work with an extraordinary team at an extraordinary company.

What topic areas are you most passionate about?

The breadth of complexity in retail meant you could have no ‘favourite child’. What I love is the interface between siloes – where the climate crisis meets social justice in the under appreciated need for a #justtransition to a Net Zero future. I’m very conscious of the very rapid generational passing of the baton from my generation of leaders who strove to make business ‘less bad’ to new leaders who are making it fundemantally ‘better’. Above all i’m fascinated by the rapid disruption of old unsustainable business models by new ones that are good for planet, society and the person using them. Think of the rapid shift from internal combustion engine to EVs; meat based diet to plant based; throwaway fashion to re-sale; the power of the digital disruption to empower citizens to make better choices and for companies to get their ‘arms round’ value chains consisting of 1000s of locations producing billions of items.

Which influencers influence you within those key topics?

I love the way Paul Polman stands for a profound change in how we do business. Nigel Topping is creating global collaboration between business (and civil society + policy makers) in the run up to COP26. Emma Howard Boyd is an inspiring change agent across the economy and society. The way Zoe Cohen campaigns and presses for change. New young leaders like Ali Sheridan. Tanya Steele at WWF presses relentlessly and positively for an economy that works for not against nature. The global superstars – Greta and Attenborough. Solitaire Townsend re-imaging how we consume. John Elkington and Jonathon Porrit who got sustainable biz decades before anyone else. Mike Berners Lee making the carbon footprint of everything accessible to all. Lewis Pugh swimming the coldest Oceans on earth to highlight their plight. Everyone on the Edie and Greenbiz 30 under 30 lists, you are the true change makers in business. And that is but the tip of an amazing and growing mountain of human endeavour to race to create a better future.

Outside of key topics, who else influences you?

Let me start with Rosa Parks, a humble but utterly determined civil rights activist in segregated 1950s USA. Muhammad Ali, sporting legend and change maker. Barack Obama, who recent events have shown achieved so much, again humbly, for people not for himself. Mandela who never wavered in his beliefs through 27 years of imprisonment and then helped heal a nation.

How would you describe your offline influence?

LinkedIn is my main platform for sharing sustainable business stories, trying to mainstream it across the economy. I work hard with clients to help them answer three simple profound questions – WHY do i need to become sustainable; WHAT do i need to do to become sustainable; HOW do i integrate sustainability into all that we do across our value chain, investor/owner base and the wider sector, community and policy ecosystem you participate in.

If a brand wanted to work with you, which activities would you be most interested in collaborating on?

Podcast, webinar, thought leadership, strategic consulting.

What’s your best source of information for getting ahead of a story?

Word of mouth with key influencers and commentators but also great news sources such as BBC, FT, Guardian, Business Green, Sustainable Business, greenbiz, Edie, Bloomberg Green.

What brands have you worked with?

Unilever, SAP, Grosvenor, the Environment Agency, Royal Society of Chemistry, British Retail Consortium, GSK, Clim8invest, CoGo and Climate Action, F3, Reiss, Nomad Foods, Edentree, Instinctif Partners.

Which non-paid activities would you be keen to take part in if the opportunity raised your profile or delivered value to your audience?

I am keen to co-create long form content, provide a quote for content or news article, share / create a social post, speak at or attend an event, participate in a podcast, webinar or an online chat.

What are your passions outside of work?

Family, first, always! Love sport or as much as creaky old knees will allow me to walk, cycle, run! Watch too much football and rugny, Have always read a lot. My local pub – when we are allowed back!

What would be the best way for a brand to contact you?

Through email.