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IKEA, Marks & Spencer sign up to ambitious new sustainability goals

Supermarkets are committing to a raft of joint targets based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Facing growing pressure over the use of plastic packaging and perennial questions about the impact of its supply chain, the retail industry this week unveiled a wide-ranging new strategy designed to bolster its environmental performance and support the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) published its new Better Retail Better World strategy, confirming that over 25 leading firms have signed up to the strategy, including household names such as Aldi, Boots, House of Fraser, IKEA, John Lewis, Lidl, M&S, Next, Sainsbury's and WHSmith.

Most signatories to the new plan already boast their own sustainability initiatives, including a wave of recent pledges to tackle plastic waste. But the BRC said the industry-wide program was one of the first of its kind to see firms agree to shared sustainability goals, commit to jointly disclosing their progress and promise to share best practices.

"This is part of a growing movement for change," said Richard Pennycook, chairman of the BRC, in a statement. "It is time for the retail industry to show what it can do for the common good. We are taking collective action to build a better, more prosperous and sustainable world, and demonstrating how we are making a positive contribution to society, in terms of the supply chain, food packaging, and waste."

The new strategy includes a mixture of specific targets and more general goals with deadlines ranging from 2020 to 2030.

For example, on climate action the plan eschews a commitment to science-based emissions targets or 100 percent renewables sourcing and instead states only that signatories will by 2020 "reduce our business's greenhouse gas emissions and, if applicable, increase our use of renewable energy."

However, in terms of deforestation it makes a firmer commitment, pledging to "collaborate to reduce deforestation, in order to have eliminated it by no later than 2030."

The goals in the plan address five of the 17 goals established by the U.N.'s SDGs, covering decent work and economic growth, reduced inequalities, sustainable cities and communities, and responsible consumption and production, as well as climate action.

Other eye-catching environmental commitments for 2020 include pledges to publicly disclose business's climate change risks and vulnerabilities, reduce waste sent to landfill, ensure all operational water use is measured, and unveil community engagement strategies.

In addition, signatories have committed to progressing responsible sourcing practices for key raw materials so they are ready for public disclosure by 2022 at the latest.

Writing on Twitter, the BRC said the initial 2020 goals on waste and carbon emissions were "designed to honor and acknowledge existing industry goals."

It added that it would be "regularly reporting progress and new developments."

"From 2020 we will agree on a new set of actions for the industry, and then again every two years after that to 2030 to ensure we take account of a rapidly changing world," it said.

The plan is being supported by environmental NGO WWF. Chief executive Tanya Steele said the goals would "provide BRC members with some of the best information and guidance to engage with the Sustainable Development Goals."

"The goals are what the SDGs are all about: bringing business, civil society and government together to bring about change in the world," she added. "Retail businesses working with consumers are key to the success of the SDGs and key in the race to restore nature."

Her comments were echoed by retail minister Andrew Griffiths, who was to attend a parliamentary launch of the new strategy. "Through our Industrial Strategy and the Good Work Plan, we have already made steps to create a stronger, fairer society, and it's encouraging to see retailers coming together to fulfil these ambitions through the Better Retail, Better World initiative," he said.

The launch comes the same day as Chancellor Philip Hammond prepared to open up a new front in the government's war on plastic waste with the launch of a call for evidence on potential fiscal measures for curbing plastic waste expected to form a centerpiece of the Spring Statement.

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Business Green

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