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Marks & Spencer racks up a billion sustainable products

<p>A third of the retailer&#39;s products are now sustainable in some way, bringing the company&#39;s 2015 targets into reach.</p>

Over a third of Marks & Spencer (M&S) products sold, amounting to over a billion items a year, now boast some form of sustainability credential.

Interim results for the retailer's pioneering Plan A sustainability strategy show 35 percent of its products have an eco or ethical feature that goes beyond the market norm.

Adam Elman, head of Plan A delivery at M&S, said the company was confident it would reach its targets of embedding sustainability features into half of its products by 2015 and its entire range by the end of the decade, but he also acknowledged there was still "work to do."

"It's something we still have to work really hard at," he told BusinessGreen. "We don't want to stop at one attribute, we want products to have multiple attributes."

Referencing product lines including the "world's most sustainable" suit, coat, bra and chinos, Elman added: "We don't want to do a few one-offs, but get the learnings [from these lines] into every single product."

Plan A racked up savings of $166 million for M&S last year and while Elman declined to discuss figures, he said the company is still looking for new areas of opportunity for its Plan A push, which could include investment in renewable energy.

"Renewable energy is important from an environmental point of view, but also there's a good business case," he said. "We're looking at wind, [solar] PV, solar thermal ... and we have biomass at Cheshire Oaks, which provides 70 percent of the store's heating."

Image of Marks & Spencer in Hong Kong provided by TShops via Wikimedia Commons.

In addition, a new distribution center in Castle Donnington is set to open next year featuring Europe's largest solar wall, which uses the sun's energy to warm fresh air that can then be used to heat and ventilate the warehouse.

The wall is larger than 16 tennis courts and is expected to provide energy savings of 1.1GWh, equivalent to the energy use of two large M&S stores, and save 250 tons of CO2 a year.

However, Elman echoed the sentiments of his colleague Mike Barry, head of sustainable business at M&S, who earlier in the week criticized the government for shifting the goalposts on green policies.

"What we need is consistent legislation that helps us make long-term decisions," he said, adding the company is maintaining a watching brief on the government's flagship Green Deal energy efficiency scheme.

M&S was name-checked by the government as the kind of company it wants to help kick-start the Green Deal, but ministers were forced to pronounce the scheme was still on track earlier this year after a number of high profile retailers, including M&S, failed to sign up to the initial launch.

"We think it's a hugely exciting opportunity," Elman said. "Clearly, it's early days and we'll have to see how it pans out. We're very interested, we're excited, but we're sitting back to see how it goes."

This article originally appeared on Business Green and is reprinted with permission.

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