Firms' social angle not a fad, says M&S boss
Customers were right to be sceptical initially when large companies introduced corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes, according to Carmel McQuaid, head of sustainable business for Marks & Spencer.
The Dundalk woman, who was back in Ireland for an M&S International Women's Day event, said: "They were quite right to be sceptical at the beginning. It's very easy for anyone to say 'we're going to do this' or 'we believe in that'.
"But I think that's changed now. People are now seeing it wasn't a fad, they can see a difference in the shop, they can see a change to the products."
She said that a lot of startups have also entered into areas such as social awareness and sustainability, including Irish company Foodcloud.
"They bring a freshness and authenticity to it," said McQuaid. It also prompts consumers to ask what companies such as M&S are doing.
The retailer tracks which issues are high on consumers' agenda and she said that environment was now in focus for the first time in a decade. During the recession, people were more focused on issues such as social affairs as people struggled economically. "People were worried about jobs and that sort of thing and they are still worried about those things but because people see the environmental break down around them, it's now become more top of mind."
McQuaid, who trained as a chemical engineer before moving into management consulting, took up a job with M&S 11 years ago.
She said her decision to study chemical engineering was inspired by growing up nearby the Harp brewery. A degree in chemical engineering would have been required to become head brewer - at one point an aspiration of hers.
However, McQuaid was later drawn to environmental issues and climate change in particular.
Areas which she covers at the company include gender equality, mental health, climate change, environment and social issues.
She said customers' key demand now is transparency, which equates to information such as the origins of particular products and the conditions for people producing the products.
Sunday Indo Business