Marks & Spencer Vows to Win Green Retail Arms Race

Marks & Spencer Vows to Win Green Retail Arms Race

Image CC licensed by Flickr user francisco_osorio

Marks & Spencer outlined ambitious plans today to become the world's most sustainable retailer by 2015, with the announcement of no fewer than 80 new commitments under its eco and ethical manifesto known as Plan A.

Under the extended program, M&S will enhance all of the 2.7 billion products it sells across food, clothing and home ranges to ensure they boast at least one environmental feature, such as Fairtrade, Marine Stewardship Council, free range certification or use of more sustainable ingredients.

The company said it will aim to modify half its products by 2015 and 100 percent of its product range by 2020.

The commitment was also backed by the launch of a five-year £50m (nearly US$75 million) Plan A incubator fund designed to support the development of "Plan A" products and services.

The changes to Plan A similarly extend to the way M&S works with its suppliers, particularly those in developing countries. The company said that following a successful pilot in Bangladesh the company will set a "living wage" and take action to ensure clothing suppliers in countries such as Sri Lanka and India meet the wage.

In addition, it said it will the first major retailer to ensure full traceability of the key raw materials used in its clothing and home products including cotton, wool, polyester, nylon, leather and wood; it will also become the first major retailer to ensure that six key raw materials it uses -- palm oil, soya, cocoa, beef, leather and coffee -- come from sustainable sources that have been certified as not contributing to deforestation.

Meanwhile, the company pledged to help create 200 "Plan A" factories with new ethical or environmental features, and step up efforts to encourage 10,000 farmers to sign up to the firm's sustainable agriculture program.

Marks & Spencer launched its high profile Plan A campaign in January 2007 with 100 commitments and an overall goal of making M&S carbon neutral; sending no waste from operations to landfill; extending sustainable sourcing; setting new standards in ethical trading, and helping customers and employees live a healthier lifestyle.

Sir Stuart Rose, chairman of Marks & Spencer, said that since the launch, M&S had reduced its environmental impact, developed new sustainable products and services and saved around £50m by being more efficient, while already meeting 46 of the original commitments that had a 2012 target.

"Our extended Plan A will reach further and move us faster - covering every part of our business and reaching out to forests, farms, factories, lorries, warehouses and into our customers’ and employees’ homes," he added. "We believe sustainability is a key ingredient of business success and that Plan A will continue to make us more efficient, develop new markets and build customer loyalty. It's therefore not just the right thing to do morally but also makes strong commercial sense."

The latest wave of commitments was welcomed by Jonathan Porritt, founder director of think tank Forum for the Future, who said that Plan A has established itself as the undisputed "market leader" for corporate sustainability initiatives. "Through it, M&S is addressing the right things, in the right way, to secure critically important outcomes," he said. "It's not just progress against all the specific actions that matters, but the way in which M&S is transforming its core business model through Plan A."

The new pledges were backed by the launch of a new customer competition -- "Your Green Idea" -- which aims to encourage the retailer's 21 million customers to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

Customers will be invited to submit their ideas for "green" actions for M &S to adopt. The winner will receive £100,000 (nearly US$150,000) to be spent on "greening" an organization of their choice such as a school, charity or small business, while the winnign idea will be rolled out across M&S' stores.

The competition website went live today and will be open for entries from Monday March 15.

This article originally appeared at BusinessGreen.com.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user francisco_osorio.