On 15 January 2007, when Stuart Rose, the then chief executive of Marks & Spencer, unveiled the company's £200m plan to become carbon neutral by 2012, he said: 'We are calling this Plan A because there is no Plan B.'
The 100-point plan promised to make M&S's 700-plus UK shops carbon neutral by 2012 and embraced wide-ranging initiatives, from reducing the use of plastic bags and packaging to slashing the company's energy bills and making clothes from recycled bottles.
In 2010, M&S announced an extended Plan A with 80 new commitments to achieve by 2015 and the ultimate goal of becoming the world's most sustainable major retailer.
M&S is the winner of the carbon emissions ambition category in this year's awards and it faced serious competition to win green business of the year, notably from two other category winners, BT and InterfaceFLOR. It was chosen by the judges as this year's overall green business for a number of reasons.
First, there is the comprehensive nature of the M&S programme, focusing on all areas of environmental impact - and recognising the inter-relationship between them. As one of the judges put it: 'Its programme is holistic - it embraces the whole company's culture as well as suppliers and customers.'
Under Plan A, the social and environmental issues addressed by M&S range from energy saving and carbon emissions to fair trade and animal welfare; from waste management to sustainable sourcing of timber and fish. It has also teamed up with many partners in delivering on its commitments, from Oxfam to the Rainforest Alliance.
And then there is the continuity of effort, encapsulated in this year's extended plan A and 'the aspiration to go even further than they thought possible just three years ago'.
The commitment to Plan A has been at the heart of the transition to a new leadership, with M&S's chief executive, Marc Bolland, taking the baton of personally leading the sustainability effort from Rose.
M&S's results have been consistently impressive since the initiative began. Highlights include an 18% improvement in energy efficiency and recycling 88% of its waste. What's more, Plan A has shown that becoming sustainable does not have to mean a business cost: M&S has generated £50m in additional profits through the programme, which it has re-invested in the business.
And finally, another of the judges' criteria is 'replicability'. M&S, the judges felt, stands as an inspiration for other businesses. Not only has it been a key player in the development of the British Retail Consortium's Better Retailing Climate framework in the UK and similar initiatives in Europe, but, as one judge summed up: 'Its approach is replicable across retail and is leading the way, making it much easier for other retailers to follow suit.'
Presented by ENDS environmental data services and Management Today
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