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What makes a champion? In popular parlance, champions are the stuff of league tables and rock songs. But there is also another kind of champion that we all celebrate: the champion of causes, values and principles. Inspiring effort in support and pursuit of more sustainable solutions for people and the planet.

At M&S, as part of a commitment to continuous improvement towards sustainable goals, committed Plan A Champions are present in all stores. The role calls for a mix of skills and attitude – flashes of game changing initiative, combined with positive persistence over time – and appeals to a diverse range of individuals.

Based in the flagship Cheshire Oaks store, Plan A Champion Sonja McCready has been with M&S 11 years. By her own admission, Sonja did not have a personal history of interest in green concerns, but that has all changed, as she explains: “It’s a passion for me, now. I even take my Plan A home: I badger the kids about leaving the TV on; try to change things at my Mum and Dad’s house – pretty much everyone I meet has been ‘Plan A’d’! It is not just a job thing, it is a way of living.”

Brian Haddrell, a Section Manager in Finance and Operations at M&S Westfield, Stratford City, openly acknowledges what a big impact the role has had on his feelings for the Company: “I always believed in the importance of corporate social responsibility, but M&S really embraces it with integrity and I don't think that will ever leave me. As a Champion, seeing Plan A in action across all areas of the business, I am now even prouder of the brand.”

Brian is a Plan A Champion in an eco-store and, whilst acknowledging there is still a lot to learn, he does believe the eco-store provides him with a big advantage: “I think the team feels really passionate about working in a Sustainable Learning Store; everyone loves the atmosphere and ambience, with so much natural light… From the escalators with motion detection, to the light and open cafés, sustainability runs through everything employees see and touch. It is easier being a Champion in such an environment.”

Nuzzi Parveen, Plan A Champion at M&S Vangarde Monks Cross, agrees: “In a sense, we don’t realise how lucky we are in an eco-store. That said, there are a lot of sustainable features and it can be unnerving not knowing, yet expecting people to ask questions.” Learning how to communicate effectively and motivate colleagues in all sectors of the business and at all stages of Plan A awareness is key to the challenge, explains Nuzzi: “Engagement with colleagues is generally good. However, for some, sustainability may still be seen as an extra chore, segregating your plastics for example… It is the job of a Plan A Champion to engage with them, explain the reasons and pass on the information needed to help them understand why it is important.”

For Sonja, the structured recruitment and training programme in her store assists in bringing starters up to speed: “At Cheshire Oaks, we go in at induction stage and tell new staff about Plan A, about the eco-store and what special features it has. So right from the outset of their career at M&S, they have an insight into the issues and that helps us a great deal.”

Her senior colleague there, Deputy Facilities and Operations Manager, Amy Phipps also sees the benefits of the eco-store approach: “There is such a lot to know it can be quite challenging. You might understand something to be interesting and important, but then ask yourself: ‘How am I going to tell people about this?’”

“It is a big responsibility”, agrees Nuzzi, “but being a Plan A Champion is also a lot of fun, especially doing all the community work and seeing the difference it makes.” 

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