‘The world never stands still’: M&S continues green business evolution with Plan A update

Nearly three-quarters of products now have an 'eco' or ethical quality; retail food waste has significantly declined, and energy and water efficiency have greatly improved, capping off another hugely successful year of progress for Marks & Spencer's (M&S) Plan A sustainability programme.

In its 2016 Plan A report, released today (9 June), M&S reveals that a further 22 sustainability and CSR commitments were achieved in 2015/16, meaning that 57 of the retailer’s 104 Plan A targets for 2020 have now been achieved. (Scroll down to read full report).

Highlights from 48-page report – the first to be published under new chief executive Steve Rowe – include 73% of all M&S products now having embedded sustainability credentials, up from 64% last year; along with notable progress on improving UK and Ireland store and warehouse energy and water efficiency – energy use is down by 39%, while water use has dropped by 31% from a 2006/07 baseline.

The report also marks the launch of several ‘firsts’, including the establishment of an interactive supply chain map and the publication of a new M&S Human Rights report.

New trends

According to M&S’s director of sustainable business Mike Barry, this Plan A update serves to highlight the retailer’s continued evolution of sustainable business and a heightened ambition in three particular areas – human rights, localisation and collaboration.

Speaking exclusively to edie for this week’s episode of the Sustainable Business Covered podcast (released this Friday), Barry said: “The world never stands still – there’s always new trends and new issues that emerge.

“The big one for us in the last 12 months has been human rights.  M&S has always been very good at social compliance – stopping bad things happening in a supply chain that involves thousands of factories and farms. We looked ourselves in the mirror this year and said ‘is it enough that M&S is managing a risk there; should we be more ambitious?’

“We’ve said, unequivocally that we not only need to stop bad things from happening, we also need to promote human rights, and help people reach their potential.

“We’ve also seen an important trend towards localisation. People are concerned about what’s happening in their communities. On its own, this might look like old-fashioned CSR or philanthropy, but it’s not – it’s a very sophisticated approach to link every M&S store with the local community it serves.

“And the third area is partnerships – to truly become sustainable, you have to work with others. We’ve worked very hard within the Consumer Goods Forum to get the world’s biggest food and drink companies to work together on sustainability. Deforestation, low-carbon refrigeration, tackling forced labour – we’ve got the world’s biggest companies working together to drive change systemically.”

Other key milestones outlined within the Plan A report include food waste being reduced by 9% per 1,000 sq.ft of food selling space – achieved in part through the nationwide roll out of an unsold food redistribution scheme with social network Neighbourly.

Meanwhile, plastic microbeads – a key issue this week – were removed from M&S’s wash-off personal care products in April 2015 – almost a year ahead of the 2016 Plan A target, and all palm oil used in M&S products in 2015/16 was Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil-certified.

However, the report does highlight five Plan A targets that were not achieved, including achieving a 35% improvement in fuel efficiency in food deliveries to stores; integrating Plan A information into how the M&S brand is marketed; reducing UK and ROI Clothing & Home transit packaging waste; the development of international sustainable learning stores; and customer clothes recycling.

‘Awake at night’

On the latter, M&S’s ‘Shwopping’ clothes recycling initiative saw 2.7 million garments donated by customers last year – the lowest amount in six years. Since 2008, 24 million garments have been recycled, with four years to go to reach a target of  50 million. 

Barry said: “Shwopping is absolutely integral to Plan A and it’s one of those issues that keeps me awake at night. We’ve got to execute it better in our shops and on our website,

“And we have to normalise the concept of circular thinking on consumption generally across the high street. As other retailers introduce similar models, it becomes normalised in the marketplace – if everyone was asking you to recycle clothing, it will help us all drive on to another level.”

The release of this Plan A report comes just a day after edie spoke with M&S’s primary food packaging innovation lead Kevin Vyse, who said he wants the retailer to be ‘ahead of the curve’ when it comes to applying circular economy principles to plastic packaging and therefore developing more sustainable, collaborative supply chains within the retail industry.

M&S at the edie Resource Revolution Conference

M&S’s Kevin Vyse is speaking at the edie Resource Revolution Conference to discuss “tackling the plastic packaging conundrum”.

Taking place on the 5 July, the Conference provides resource management, sustainability, waste, product, supply chain and design professionals with tools they need to rethink their approach to resource use and waste outputs, drive organisational efficiencies, behaviour change and profitability, and effect a revolution in their company’s sustainability credentials.

You can view the agenda of the conference here at register to attend here.

M&S PlanA Report 2016

Luke Nicholls

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