The spinnable business of CSR

From all those shooting stars on the cover you'll have gathered that it's Most Admired time of the year again.

by Matthew Gwyther, MT editor
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Marks & Spencer has finally knocked Tesco off the summit that the Cheshunt grocer called its own for the past two years. Well done to M&S and to its boss Stuart Rose, who will be pleased to see himself, Sinatra-like, an ice-cool leader of the business Rat Pack in our accompanying illustration.

M&S scored eight out of 10 for Community and Environmental Responsibility, which meant it led its Retailers sector in this measure, and was only narrowly beaten into second place overall by BSkyB. Just how vexed this whole CSR issue is becoming, though, was shown by a report published a few weeks ago by the Local Government Association. This suggested that M&S was lagging behind its competitors when it came to recyclable packaging. (It's all those blister packs enclosing not just any old pears but M&S sweet, juicy, Comice pears - it seems we're willing to pay far more for them than loose pears.)

Suddenly, a perception that M&S was one of the good guys - it won the Business in the Community top gong this year - was briefly sullied. What this tells me is that CSR and the whole carbon debate are still immature. How one does The Right Thing is anything but clear. Do you refuse to eat mange tout flown in from Kenya by 747 freighter because of the food miles, or do you worry about Kenyan families losing precious jobs and being unable to feed their children if they can't export peas to us?

Nobody knows what the true rules of the game are except those inside the PR departments of large organisations who count and then cost-out positive column inches with a favourable green tinge. I don't want to sound cynical here, but we've all got a long way to go before we can be sure we're making sound planet-saving judgments. CSR is not a science but a hugely spinnable business of speculation.

In case you're bored with the Etro shirts, you may notice the extraneous feline that has crept into the editor's portrait this month. This is Minsk, the family's Russian Blue - most admired for his looks and long pedigree, less so for thieving food, sleeping in the baby's cot and fighting his way uninvited into his master's photo session. Festive greetings to you all from MT - keep reading, keep writing and keep looking at the website. Traffic has doubled since the relaunch in September. Even my blog is going swimmingly.

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