Once the number of plastic bags a retailer issued might have been seen as an indicator of success.
But since 1987, the number of single-use bags passing the exit doors of Marks & Spencer has dropped by 64%, or 400 million a year, as customers have discovered the joy of using the same bag again and again. Those who do want a single-use bag pay 5p for the privilege: the profits are used to help fund 79 public parks, garden and play areas through environmental group Groundwork.
Reducing plastic bags is, of course, just one small part of the all-encompassing Plan A which M&S launched in 1987, so named because, when it comes to climate change and safeguarding our planet, there can be no Plan B.
M&S's ambition in launching Plan A was unequivocal; the company set itself the aim of becoming 'the world's most sustainable major retailer' by 2015. Initially launched with a raft of 100 commitments to improve performance across a swathe of issues including climate change, waste, natural resources, fair trading and health, the plan was revised in 2010 to add 80 extra commitments and to make Plan A 'how we do business'.
At the heart of the plan is a target to have carbon-neutral operations including stores, offices, warehouses and delivery fleets by 2015, while improving carbon efficiency by 35% per sq ft over the same timescale. A significant step in that direction has been the development of an independently assured, operational carbon footprint, showing all the main sources of carbon emissions in the business.
Some of the many measures that have been adopted include sourcing renewable electricity equivalent to 40% of the retailer's total consumption; specifying more fuel efficient cars in the fleet; reducing refrigeration emissions through better maintenance and less harmful gases; and using 'loose loading' to get more products into a delivery vehicle.
From the consumer's viewpoint, M&S has conducted trials to grow produce such as asparagus and blueberries over a longer UK season and it is highlighting foods that have been imported by air. The company has opened three green concept stores and offered more sustainable sourcing for products like fish and wood. And it launched M&S Energy, with incentives to customers to reduce their usage.
And employees aren't forgotten; to those with more than a year's service it offers free home insulation. Other far-ranging initiatives under Plan A include getting customers to donate M&S clothes to Oxfam and selling more Fairtrade cotton garments than any other retailer. Plan A has put £50m of extra profit into M&S's business, as well as providing a template for other retailers. Mr Marks and Mr Spencer would have been proud.
Sponsored by RPS
WEB LINK: www.marksandspencer.com/
Other link: www.marksandspencer.com/plana