Meet the E&E Award-winner: Environmental Initiative - Primark

Like almost every other fashion retailer, Primark products are made in Asian countries such as India and Bangladesh, where wages are lower and factories are closer to raw materials. Meet the Environmental Initiative Award winner...

The Primark team collect their E&E Award from host Andrew Ryan (far left) and NEBOSH development manager Barry Wilkes (far right)

The Primark team collect their E&E Award from host Andrew Ryan (far left) and NEBOSH development manager Barry Wilkes (far right)

With cotton making up a large proportion of the discount retailer’s clothing range, Primark’s long-term ambition is to ensure that 100% of the fibre that enters its supply chains is sourced ethically and sustainably.

In this vein, Primark has brought together agricultural experts CottonConnect sand the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) to create the Sustainable Cotton Programme. Agricultural expertise is provided by CottonConnect, while Primark provides managerial oversight and funding for the programme, ensuring it is delivered on time and on budget.

The three-year training programme, which has so far involved 1,251 female smallholder farmers in India, comprises classroom sessions, in-field training and the formation of learning groups to  help farmers produce more environmentally sustainable cotton; increase cotton quality and improve livelihoods be increasing income.

The training is focused on techniques that make conditions optimal for increasing yields, reducing environmental impacts and producing better quality cotton. Farmers are taught about the most appropriate farming techniques for their land; from seed selection, sowing techniques, soil and water use, and pesticide and pest management through to picking, fibre quality, grading and storage of the harvested cotton.

The results: farmer yields have increased by 12.6% in the space of two years, with average profit up by a massive 211%. Moreover, the amount of fertiliser and pesticide used has been reduced, by 14% and 54% respectively, and water usage decreased by 27.9% - indicating that Primark’s efficiency training practices are being successfully adopted.

By having more disposable income, the farmers have been able to spend money educating their children and improving their lifestyles through better nutrition and housing. But what is perhaps most notable about this programme is the cultural shift it has generated.

The success of this programme has empowered often-neglected women – their livelihoods have improved and their voices are now heard and respected. This empowerment means these women are now part of the decision-making process within their families and communities, helping to narrow the gender inequality gap in these areas.

The overall success of this project has led to Primark extending its Sustainable Cotton Programme for a further six years, with an aim to reach a further 10,000 farmers and their families. With cotton accounting for around 40% of global textile production, this is a much-needed project in the global transition to more sustainable supply chains.

Judges’ comments

This is how environmental projects should be done. With its Sustainable cotton Programme, Primark has focussed on a holistic approach, taking the time to do it right rather than being fixated on short-term outcomes.  This is a great collaboration between a major retailer, issue expert and on-the-ground-contacts, and it’s fantastic to see it being rolled out further.

Environmental Initiative: Meet the finalists

Northern Rail

Northern Rail’s proactive initiative to gain a revised ISO 14001 certification during the first month of its launch in September 2015 was undertaken to promote the company as an environmentally leading train operating company. Northern Rail successfully obtained the ISO 14001 certification on the first day of the new standard, making it the first company in the UK to do so.

St Stephen's Shopping Centre

Through the implementation of various successful sustainability strategies, St Stephen’s Shopping Centre in Hull has reduced water usage by 75%; reduced energy consumption by 35%; and diverted more than 2,408 tonnes of waste from landfill – saving £186,700 on energy, water and waste cost. St Stephen's has also become the largest shopping centre in the region to install on-site solar panels, with the 1,100 PV rooftop array generating enough electricity to power 35% of the centre.

Matthew Algie

This wide-ranging, innovative project sought to assist 146 farmers in building climate change resilience by planting trees to protect water resources, reduce soil erosion, capture carbon and provide shade for coffee trees; training and verification against the Rainforest Alliance Climate Module to promote adoption of sustainable farming techniques and providing equipment to reduce the risk of water stress and stop localised pollution.

The Crown Estate

Asset management firm The Crown Estate is creating a green corridor in central London, linking Regent’s Park and St James’s Park. The organisation is installing green roofs, brown roofs, green walls, pocket habitats, community gardens, window boxes, planters, bird boxes, bat boxes and beehives – creating valuable habitats for wildlife and improving the experience for people living, working and visiting central London.

Transport for London

TfL’s innovative swale system was created at Upminster Bridge during the building of a new London Underground power substation. The water efficiency benefits of the swale include the improvement in the quality of surface water and track drainage discharge entering the River Ingrebourne, along with a significant reduction in soil saturation and an improvement in the stability of the adjacent railway embankment.

Martin Brower UK and McDonald’s Restaurants

The development of an innovative and industry biodiesel heating system was made to maximise Martin Brower's use of bio diesel and significantly reduce its greenhouse gas output as a result. The goal was to create 100% biodiesel for all road fuel. For every additional litre of biodiesel used, it can achieve greenhouse gas savings of 88% versus fossil fuel diesel. In 2014, Martin Brower commenced the collection of food waste from McDonald’s restaurants alongside the used cooking oil.

edie staff


environment & energy awards 2016


Energy efficiency & low-carbon
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