Marks & Spencer’s ‘Plan A’ on sustainability

Marks & Spencer (M&S) is a company that sells quality clothing, home and food products based in the United Kingdom that has an annual turnover of 10.4 billion pounds with 58% from food and 42% from general merchandise. The group operates in 59 international territories with 468 international stores and 914 UK stores.

At the heart of M&S’s Plan A is to become a leading sustainable, international, multi-channel retailer. Their original Plan A included commitments for carbon neutral operations, zero waste to landfills and reducing packaging by 25%. After achieving these commitments, M&S have launched their new Plan A in 2014 which tackles sustainability in the areas of climate change, resource efficiency and circular economy, responsible sourcing and product sustainability. Plan A also addresses social issues such as animal welfare, Fair trade and sustainable fishing.

Despite the lack of government action on climate change, organisations such as M&S have continued to commit themselves to making a difference in whatever possible way. As a business, M&S assessed their emissions to understand how and where they can take action to reduce their GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions. M&S recognised that mitigating climate change cannot be achieved through one initiative which is why the company has taken a multi-pronged approach with a 100 commitments and initiatives. For climate change, these include avoiding or eliminating emissions at their source, implementing low-carbon technologies, assessing and reducing transport and logistics related emissions and minimising the impact of refrigeration by phasing out HFC refrigerants. Outside of these initiatives related to company operations, M&S is developing programmes to reduce emissions over their supply chain and engaging employees and customers to participate. For example, M&S is pushing for its top 100 clothing factories (some of which are in China) to achieve energy reductions of 10% by 2020. The company is also benchmarking its suppliers based on a sustainability scorecard that looks at their environmental and energy efficiency performance with an encouraged grading of ‘Silver’ (suppliers can be graded Gold, Silver and Bronze). As a result this initiative, 48% of the food the company makes today is from sites that have reduced their energy use by 20%. In 2012, M&S officially declared that its business was carbon neutral through efficient refrigeration and counting renewable energy tariffs and offsetting.

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Image credit.

As global population continues to boom, there will be greater strains on our natural resources which means companies such as M&S will have to pay higher prices and face greater competition for the materials they need to produce their quality products. Dwindling natural resources means that companies must change their business and manufacturing approach to more efficiently use resources as well as how they manage their waste. M&S has adopted the concept of circular economy where there is to be no waste produced from their business, that is, everything is reused or recycled. Aside from ensuring its operations are waste free, M&S has entered into partnerships to help customers reuse and recycle their M&S products and packaging. An example of this is their ‘Shwopping‘ initiative that allows customers to drop off any clothing at ‘Shwopping’ bins in M&S stores which are then given to Oxfam for resell online or in international markets or recycled for their materials. The ‘Shwopping’ initiative also encourages shoppers to hand over something old when they purchase something new. This aims to reduce the current staggering 1 billion items of clothing that is sent to landfills annually in the UK. M&S has continued being a leader in sustainability with measures from adopting voluntary charges on their recyclable carrier bags before legislation requirements came into place to committing to halve food wastage by 2025. The company now recycles 100% of its waste and 89% of its food waste goes to anaerobic digesters to generate energy with the remaining being composted.

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“Thursday April 26 2012 Joanna Lumley OBE and Marc Bolland (M&S CEO) at the launch of ‘shwopping’. Using 5 minutes worth of UK clothing waste – 9513 pieces – M&S transformed a London street to show how it plans to give old clothes a future through its new fashion initiative.” Image credit.

Many companies take action on climate change because it makes the business more profitable and to comply to regulations but also because consumers who are more conscious of their personal impacts demand more. There is always room for these organisations to do more but it is the consumers responsibility to push them. As consumers we have the power to choose where we spend our money, spend wisely by supporting organisations that are choosing to make our world a better place.

Make sure to read their website for details on their commitments to responsible sourcing and product sustainability.

Feature image credit.

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