UnNeutral | Spotlight on Mike Barry

A spotlight on Mike Barry: Steering the corporate world towards a greener future

More often than not, when someone mentions the word ‘activist’, the image that springs to mind is of a young person, no doubt holding up a sign and blocking traffic with their fellow Gen Zs in response to some kind of government in-action or company boycott.

But flying under the media-radar are a number of individuals who are transforming the way the brands we know and love operate from the inside-out. 

Introducing Mike Barry: A pioneer changemaker of green business in the corporate world. Awarded the Sustainable Business Innovator of the Year by the Guardian in 2011, Mike is passionate about showcasing that business change is a critical component to achieving net zero globally. He has been a leading pioneer in helping businesses to push the boundaries and set more comprehensive and achievable sustainability goals for nearly two decades. 

Planning for a sustainable future

Mark is arguably best known for his 14 year stint with British brand Marks & Spencer (M&S), where he pioneered the way the retailer thought about sustainability. Joining in 2005 when the terms “sustainability” and “net zero” may as well have been written in Latin, the idea of living a more sustainable lifestyle or building ESG goals into business strategy was something very few people—consumers or investors alike—were interested in. 

In 2007, M&S released their 180 point plan with the overarching goal of being the most sustainable retailer in the UK. The plan—titled “Plan A”—set out clear and structured targets to reduce the business’ carbon, water and waste emissions, whilst also bettering their community engagement. 

Mike headed up the internal implementation team, and Plan A has been recognised throughout the business world as a prime example of what corporations should be doing to better their impact on the planet, winning the Best Overall Global Sustainability Report and Best Global Sustainability Report for Openness and Honesty in 2016. 

One of the most groundbreaking elements of Plan A, was its recognition of the power of data in not only reporting, but holding companies to account on their pledges and actions. Mike also saw the initiative not as a one-time deliverable, but as an on-going strategy. The plan has since gone through multiple iterations and updates—you can find out more about the plan over on the Marks and Spencer site

Following the success of Plan A, Mike was promoted to a Director in 2013 where he oversaw further important milestones for the retailer, including becoming carbon neutral in International Operations, switching to 100% sustainable palm oil, being the first major retailer to launch a tier 1 supply chain interactive transparency map, and launching the very tasty vegan food range.

Inequality, the environment, and the role of technology

In 2019, Mike left M&S and set up his own business, mikebarryeco; a consultancy servicing and supporting businesses and organisations in delivering sustainable changes. The company was founded on three major disruptions as a result of the past 40 which had led to the downfall and caused struggles across a lot of businesses; inequality, environmental and technology. 

As a new business cycle emerged, Mike wanted to make sure that it was a well balanced, structured cycle that looked to improve the issues around each area. He believed the key areas of intervention were leadership, growing start-ups, transforming incumbents and scaling change, and has subsequently built his services to help businesses deliver on each.

Further acclaim

Given his experience, it should come as no surprise that Mike is also an advisor and highly regarded guest speaker. 

He has spoken many times on the solutions businesses can provide in tackling the environmental crisis. We would highly recommend watching his 2021 talk for the Rotary Club on Hanley-on-Thames titled “Can the High Street Protect the Planet?”. 

During the 2000s Mike also served as a Programme Committee Member at WWF—you check out his TEDxWFF talk from 2011, “A Manifesto for Sustainable Business”. 

Between 2010 and 2015 he was a Board Member at the World Environment Center and acted as the Co-Chair Sustainability Steering Group at The Consumer Goods Forum where he was working to bring the world’s largest consumer goods companies together to work collectively on plastics, human rights, food waste and deforestation. 

Mike has also been an advisor for the likes of Instinctif Partners, CoGo and still serves as an advisor for Clim8 Invest, whilst sitting on the Board of Trustees at A Blueprint for Better Business and working in partnership with Kite Insights, where he is on the expert faculty team at The Climate School—a sustainability education programme which aims to provide employees with the knowledge, motivation and tools to transform any organisation into a climate-friendly one for the future. 

If you were lucky enough to be in Bristol over the summer, you may have had the chance to catch Mike as he was one of the keynote speakers at the FutureLeap Festival of Sustainable Business Gala dinner.