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Organisations, environmental management and innovation
Organisations, environmental management and innovation

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2.12 The supply chain

The sense of connection to the natural environment depends on where the boundary of an organisation’s responsibilities is drawn and by whom. Some organisations are attempting to engage in a more system-level understanding of these connections in terms of the whole organisation.

One of the most high profile in the UK is the retailer Marks & Spencer. It has publicly committed to improving its sustainability profile by making connections to the natural environment as well as social concerns through all aspects of its supply chain and activities under the aegis of its ‘Plan A [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] ’ programme.

At the heart of the Plan A programme is an attempt to connect the organisation more fully to its supply and waste chain – i.e. the life cycle of its different operations. In systems language, this would equate to the environment in the system sense – i.e. those things outside the organisation, but which influence its operations. The innovations being explored within Plan A include improving the efficiency of its activities – such that ‘waste’ (e.g. wood packaging) becomes a resource to be used in some other part of the system, for example, by being offered to community groups. In other words, one organisation’s waste is another organisation’s input of raw material.

It is this more systemic understanding of connections that underpins the attempt to move away from the prevailing linear conceptualisation of the economy and economic model where inputs and outputs are largely divorced from the responsibilities of the organisations utilising them.