Al Gore hails Marks & Spencer’s Plan A as a global inspiration

Former US vice president Al Gore has paid tribute to the achievements made by Marks & Spencer under its Plan A programme, as the retailer announces the next stage of its sustainability journey will work towards cradle-to-cradle ambition.

Gore, who is one of the world’s most influential climate campaigners, gave a keynote speech earlier today (June 13) at Marks & Spencer’s (M&S) annual Plan A conference in London where over 1,000 of its suppliers gathered to share best practice.

He was unequivocal in his support of the retailer, saying that he admired the company’s work in engaging with its entire supply chain to push the business case for sustainability forward.

“You are proving this important business case and inspiring millions of people around the world,” he told delegates. “A business that is carbon positive, committed to a circular economy, is a leader.”

Earlier, M&S chief executive Marc Bolland announced a new pledge on the back of the company’s Plan A drive – to make 5% of its product range cradle-to-cradle certified over the next five years.

Admitting it would be “very difficult”, Bolland called on delegates to help achieve this target. “We want to do this [but] it’s the approach and mentality of your cradle-to-cradle thinking that we need,” he said.

This pledge directly feeds into a larger environmental product objective for the retailer – under its sustainability plan, every product will contain at least one Plan A attribute by 2020.

Last week, M&S reported strong progress against its Plan A 2015 targets, highlighting the fact that 139 of the 180 commitments have already been achieved with a further 31 on track to be reached by the target date.

The original, iconic Plan A commitments – being carbon neutral and sending no waste to landfill – have been maintained and improved as part of a business as usual approach with further reductions in carbon emissions (down by 23%) and waste (down by 28%).

The company also revealed that last year Plan A delivered £135m in net benefits to re-invest in the business. Despite this progress, Bolland expressed caution going forward in terms of instigating behavioural change on a wider level.

“We are not engaging people on our journey – I am worried about this. The role models for the world of today are going in the wrong direction. Green issues are seen as a bit dull, they lack status, desire, they are not sexy enough,” he argued.

What will set M&S apart from its competitors going forward, Bolland maintained, would be successfully engaging the public on sustainability.

“The next step we are taking is a step towards stronger engagement on the consumer side, and that means greater transparency. Over the next three years we want to be a completely transparent company, including our supply chain,” he said.

Maxine Perella

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