According to Marc Bolland, chief executive of British retailer Marks and Spencer Group (M&S), it’s something we all should be talking about, particularly as we head into the holiday season. During the opening session of the BSR Conference 2012 Wednesday, Bolland reflected on M&S’s work to coin this new term with the goal of sparking consumer engagement in sustainability.

As Bolland explained, the phrase and related campaign is part of the company’s Plan A for becoming the world’s most sustainable retailer. Earlier this year, M&S introduced shwopping to spotlight its work with Oxfam International to resell, reuse, or recycle consumers’ unwanted clothes. Conceptually, he said, shwopping marries shopping and swapping, encouraging customers to donate old clothing items whenever they come to an M&S shop to buy something new. From a practical perspective, the program institutionalizes recycling: M&S collects these old items and passes them along to Oxfam, which redistributes the items to those in need.

Since its launch, the shwopping program has garnered international attention for its creative and fresh approach to sustainability. It also has made quite a difference—this June, ri">M&S said the campaign had resulted in the exchange of more than 500,000 items in the first six weeks. Bolland noted that perhaps most impressive has been the business strategy that the campaign illuminates: behavior change.

So what lessons can people draw from Bolland’s talk?

  • Get it in writing. Strategy documents such as Plan A create opportunities for a company to set clear goals and offer a clear vision for sustainability.
  • Let customers lead. Consumers are a critical, central force for driving corporate progress in sustainability.
  • Champion something cool. Companies need to focus on creating desirable ways for consumers to “do something” in sustainability.
  • Pick the right spokesperson. Shwopping is a great effort, but having actress Joanne Lumley (from Absolutely Fabulous, a popular U.K. television show) as the “shwopping” sustainability champion certainly hasn’t hurt the cause.