M&S pledges £2m for innovations to cut emissions

Marks & Spencer (M&S) has announced a £1m investment to cut methane in its milk supply chain, and set aside a further £1m to support clean technology innovations that could transform its fashion and food value chains.

M&S pledges £2m for innovations to cut emissions

The retailer is aiming to achieve net-zero carbon operations by 2035 and a net-zero emission value chain by 2040. These are headline pledges under its long-standing ‘Plan A’ sustainability strategy, which was significantly refreshed and updated in September 2021.

Today (9 April), M&S has launched a £1m ‘Plan A Accelerator Fund’ which will support innovative solutions for decarbonising its supply chains in food and textiles.

In food, M&S will explore opportunities for the generation of green hydrogen and the use of this fuel to replace fossil fuels in food processing plants.

It will also support farmers producing root vegetables to adopt minimal-till approaches, integrate lower-carbon fertilisers and adopt autonomous vehicles and drones.

Another key area of focus will be enhancing water stewardship on farms. Agriculture is globally estimated to account for more than 70% of freshwater use and while processes are generally more efficient in developed nations like the UK, there is still much room for improvement. M&S believes that increasing oxygen in water using ‘nanobubble’ technology could make for far more efficient irrigation systems that could help bolster climate resilience and cut emissions for farms in water-scarce regions.

In fashion, M&S is supporting innovators in he first of fibre-to-fibre recycling in partnership with Oxfam. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that less than 1% of the clothing produced each year is recycled in a closed-loop manner due to a lack of at-scale technologies capable of recycling blended fabrics.

The Plan A Accelerator Fund is also backing applications of artificial intelligence (AI) that can enhance energy efficiency in M&S stores. Energy use data can be used to predict a store’s optimal heating, ventilation and air conditioning needs, then optimise digital controls accordingly.

M&S’s chief executive Stuart Machin said: “By turning our obsession with innovation towards climate change and tapping into the entrepreneurial spirit of our suppliers, we can turbo charge our drive to be a net-zero business across all our operations and entire supply chain by 2040. I’m excited by the big difference these small changes could make to some of the toughest climate challenges we face.”

Separately to the Plan A Accelerator Fund, M&S has announced a £1m investment in altering the diet of cows within its dairy supply chains in a bid to cut methane emissions.

Agriculture is the largest man-made source of methane emissions, with the sector’s methane footprint globally being slightly higher than the energy sector, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Livestock – cows in particular – are a major offender.

M&S is hoping that the change, which will impact 40 dairy farms, will mitigate 11,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually. It has described its approach as a “first” in the UK market. It entails providing pasture-grazed cows with a feed additive that safely prevents their digestive enzymes from forming methane.

W23 global

In other sustainability news from the grocery retail sector, a coalition of five retailers have established a collaborative venture capital fund called W23 Global.

Announced this week, the fund is aiming to funnel $125m into startups and scale-ups over a five-year period. Along with enhancing customer shopping experiences, addressing environmental challenges across the industry’s operations and supply chains will be a key focus.

There is little detail at this stage on the exact technology focuses of the fund, but the founders have touted plans to support projects that will cut emissions, reduce waste, improve product traceability and contribute to biodiversity improvements on farms.

Tesco, Ahold Delhaize, Woolworths, Shoprite and Empire Company will all serve as equal funders and partners in W23 Global.

Ingrid Maes will act as the fund’s CEO and chief investment officer, following a seven-year stint at Woolworths and several years spearheading the retailer’s standalone corporate VC Fund, W23 Australia.

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