Julia Hailes MBE

Sustainability Pioneer


M&S Plan A – 1 year on (Jan08)

One year ago I went to the launch of Mark’s & Spencer’s Plan A initiative – and last week I went to hear how it was progressing.

M&S say that it’s Plan A because there is no Plan B.  And they do seem committed.  Stuart Rose ruefully forecast a difficult year for the store but said that there was no going back on their sustainability initiatives.

Plan A has 100 points and zillions of sub points in terms of what the company is doing or plan to do. Listening to the M&S executives in charge of putting these actions in place, I was left in no doubt that they were being kept very busy.  Most press briefings I’ve attended are launching one or two initiatives – and making quite a big deal out of some relatively small changes.  In this case, the speakers were firing out initiatives, targets and improvements like bullets from a machine gun.

For example, Richard Gillies, Director or Store Design and climate change initiatives, told us, amongst other things that they’re building 5 eco-factories, switching business travel from road to rail, extending their green refrigerants from 3 trial stores to 25, buying green energy and promoting anaerobic digestion (AD), which means using the gas from rotting waste for fuel.

He also revealed that the number of customers washing clothes at 30C had increased from 23% to 31%, since they had changed laundry instructions on labels. This results in substantial energy saving.

The biggest concern for most people I talk to is waste – in particular packaging waste.  I was intrigued to hear that when M&S got their people at the till to ask customers ‘Do you need a bag’, there was an 11% reduction in bags handed out.  And in Northern Ireland, where they did a trial charging 5p for each bag, there was a 66% reduction.  This scheme is now being extended to 35 stores in the South West.

More importantly David Gregory, who is in charge of waste issues, as well as food, told us that two thirds of all M&S food is delivered to the store in re-usable green trays. This substantially reduces packaging throughout the supply chain, rather than just in the store.  He also revealed a move away from plastic trays to plastic bags, where possible, making trays lighter and a large-scale switch to using recycled plastic for bottles.

Other key areas covered were sustainable raw materials, fair trade and health.  Given that the store was doing so much internally, I wondered if it was doing enough to make customers aware of the issues and encourage them to make some lifestyle changes.  After all, we can’t all have our cake and eat it – even if it’s an M&S cake!

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