Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


M&S reaches for the sky with update of its Plan A

April 2010

Marks & Spencer has launched a bid to become ‘the world’s most sustainable retailer by 2015’ by announcing that it will roll out its Plan A sustainability programme to all its products, along with 80 other corporate responsibility commitments.

M&S says the expansion of Plan A, introduced in 2007, should ensure that 2.7 billion items sold will ‘carry at least one sustainable or ethical quality’ by 2020. All products during the next ten years – and half by 2015 – will have some form of certification or recognized ‘ethical’ label.

M&S, which had a turnover of £9billion ($13.5bn, €10bn) and profits of £769million last year, has also pledged to pay a ‘living wage’ at its factories on the Indian subcontinent, and will educate suppliers on building ‘ethical or environmental features’ into products.

It claims it will be the first large retailer ‘to ensure full traceability’ of all key raw materials in clothing and home products, and the first to ensure its six main raw materials – palm oil, soya, cocoa, beef, leather and coffee – are sustainably sourced.

Other aspects of the revamped Plan A include:
  increasing customer recycling of clothing from two million to 20 million items through a partnership with Oxfam
  starting a five-year £50m ($75m, €55m) ‘innovation fund’ for new Plan A products
  providing training and healthcare education to 500,000 factory workers
  offering free home insulation and energy monitors to 30,000 employees.

M&S claims Plan A saved the company £50m in 2009 alone, as well as reducing carbon emissions by 40,000 tonnes, cutting water usage and diverting 20,000 tonnes of waste from landfill. It claims Plan A became ‘cost-positive’ within two years of its introduction.

Stuart Rose, chairman of M&S, said: ‘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.’

Reaction to the announcement has been mixed. Rachel Thompson, corporate responsibility manager at the communications consultancy APCO, told EP the new plan ‘looks very achievable given M&S’s strong track record on driving innovation internally and engaging its employees, suppliers and customers,’ and added:  ‘It definitely accelerates the sustainability of M&S operations and supply chain.’

However, Simon Propper, director of the Context consultancy, said: ‘Once again we see a UK retailer confusing CR with PR. They boldly challenge themselves to be the “world’s most sustainable retailer by 2015”, which is good for a headline or two ... but what does it mean? How do you measure the most sustainable retailer? For that matter, who is the most sustainable now?’

Propper said the new strategy could actually be regarded as ‘very cautious’ when compared with commitments by other British companies.

Plan A, which was initially launched with 100 objectives, now has 200. Of the original 100 targets for 2012, M&S has so far reached 46.

Marks & Spencer | Global | Sustainability

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