­Marks & Spencers’ Plan A initiative has received plenty of accolades since its launch in January 2007. But the company has stepped up its ambitions and now has its sights set on being the world’s most sustainable retailer. And it might just do it.

Its latest sustainability update, How We Do Business, reports a 20% reduction in food packaging, a 19% increase in energy efficiency in stores, 417M fewer carrier bags used last year and over £50M of profit invested back in the business from Plan A activities.

After three years, 62 of the original 100 commitments the firm made have been achieved. Thirty of them are ‘on plan’ to be achieved by 2012 and just seven are ‘behind plan’, including the use of bio-diesel, which is quite rightly on hold until sustainable supplies become available.

The headline achievements are very impressive indeed: a third less waste sent to landfill; 40% of electricity now being sourced from renewable energy supply tariffs; an 18% cut in emissions coming from refrigeration emissions; packaging cut by 36% on general merchandise products; and 84% of PET food plastic packaging made using recycled materials.

Healthier food now makes up 38% of food products ranges. Ninety-one percent of food products now meet FSA salt reduction targets. More than £13M was invested in community projects last year.

“We’ve made excellent progress, but there’s no time to stand still,” said Sir Stuart Rose, the company’s chairman. “It is clear that evidence of environmental damage and social inequality has increased since we launched Plan A.

“That’s why we’re now pushing ahead with our new, bigger and bolder version of Plan A with 80 new commitments and the ultimate goal to become the world’s most sustainable retailer by 2015.”

Plan A was extended in March this year to incorporate 80 new commitments and extend others beyond their original targets. And the goals are tough. Water use, for example, is proving difficult to measure accurately because at many locations the company relies on estimated bills. Developing a useful and practical set of measurements for sustainable farming has been more difficult than the company anticipated too. And sales of organic food have continued to decline despite the introducing new products.

However, the company continues to strive for excellence. In February, one of its Simply Food stores in Leeds became the first ‘zero waste to landfill’ M&S store. Food waste has been reduced by 29% and last year it collected 133M clothes hangers, re-using 76% of them with the remainder being recycled.

Elsewhere, M&S says it has become the first UK retailer to purchase GreenPalm certificates, which fund the development of sustainable palm oil, to cover its entire palm oil usage and launched eight products that use Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil-certified palm oil. These are amongst the first products in the UK to receive the certification, according to the company.

“We aim to engage every one of our 21M customers by building Plan A qualities into all of the 2.7B M&S products we sell and helping customers to develop their own Plan A eco-plans,” adds Rose.

“We also aim to accelerate the transition of Plan A from ‘Plan’ to ‘How We Do Business’ by integrating it into processes and giving our people the skills, tools and motivation required to make a difference.”


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