Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Big M&S push on CSR becomes ‘cost positive’

July 2009

Marks & Spencer’s five-year social and environmental programme has paid for itself after two years and is now making money for the company.

The UK-based high street retailer announced last month that its Plan A, setting 100 corporate responsibility targets for 2012, became ‘cost-positive’ by the end of the 2008-09 financial year, mainly through savings made by climate change and waste policies.

In addition, M&S says Plan A has improved its brand and has attracted more shoppers, particularly thanks to a clothes exchange scheme run with Oxfam, under which 3.2 million garments have been donated in stores.

M&S could not give EP details of the savings achieved by Plan A, but says it will provide figures in next year’s annual How we do business report, which covers sustainability issues and provides an update on the programme.

Direct cost savings from Plan A targets include ten per cent improvements in store energy efficiency, the opening of ‘green’ factories using 50 per cent less energy and water than their predecessors, and fuel consumption cuts of more than 20 per cent in delivery fleets.

Jonathon Porritt, founder director of Forum for the Future, which advised M&S when it introduced the programme two years ago (EP 8, issue 9, p7), said that after ‘some wobbly moments’ on some of the commitments, partly due to the past year’s tough economic conditions, Plan A has now made ‘a compelling  business case for shareholders’.

Altogether, 39 of the 100 stated commitments have been met ahead of time, and 24 have been extended with more ambitious targets. However, targets on which M&S is behind schedule include cutting business travel, measuring the carbon footprint of the food it sells, selling more organic food and phasing out pesticides.

M&S now has independent assurance covering its 32 most important Plan A commitments, compared with 18 in 2008.

When the retailer introduced Plan A, covering climate change, waste, raw materials, fair trade and healthy eating, it put implementation costs at £200million ($330m).

Encouraged by the success of Plan A, M&S last month launched a marketing campaign under the banner ‘Doing the right thing’ which is designed to emphasize its corporate social responsibility credentials.

In a move that mirrors the Co-operative Bank’s recent decision to push its CSR credentials in recessionary times (EP10, issue 10, p3), the print, broadcast, online and in-store campaign will highlight M&S’s ethical and environmental commitment and will specifically refer to its progress over the past two years. M&S executive director Steve Sharp claimed Plan A ‘has put us in a leading position when it comes to environmental and ethical issues’.

Marks & Spencer | UK & NI Ireland | Target Setting


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