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Organizational Change
M&S Unveils Revamped Sustainability Strategy, First-Ever Science-Based Target

Ten years after the release of its first sustainability program Plan A, British retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S) has unveiled Plan A 2025, a new and improved sustainability strategy that builds on the company’s previous successes while addressing a communication gap that exists between the brand and consumers.

Plan A 2025 takes a three-pillar approach to the future, focusing on customer and colleague wellbeing, transforming lives and communities and caring for the planet. The plan supports the company’s bid to become a truly sustainable retailer through key actions targeting each focus area, such as sustainable sourcing, raising £25 million for charity and halving food waste across its operations by 2025. Plan A 2025 will also see a continuation of M&S’s Shwopping clothing recycling initiative and the company has pledged to use at least 25 percent recycled material in at least a quarter of the clothing it sells by 2025.

“The first 10 years of Plan A have given us the confidence to embrace a sustainable future. Plan A 2025 is now our plan for a future in which a truly sustainable M&S can, in partnership with our customers and stakeholders, have a positive impact in all we do. It will force us to address questions for which we don’t have all the answers to yet and collaborate with others to drive true change across consumer goods industries,” said Mike Barry, Director of Plan A for Marks & Spencer.

As part of its caring for planet commitments, M&S has set its first-ever science-based target and pledged to adopt a zero-waste model business model by 2025. To achieve this, M&S has said it will:

  • Make all M&S packaging widely recyclable by 2022;
  • Halve food waste by 2025
  • Source all raw materials, including cotton, from sustainable sources by 2025;
  • Ensure one-quarter of all M&S Clothing and Home products will be made using 25 percent recycled material by 2025; and
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent compared to 2007 levels in its own operations by 2030 and, during the same period, cut emissions in its supply chain by 13.3 tons.

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Since Plan A launched 10 years ago, M&S says it has helped the company redefine the role of business in society. In addition to helping M&S save over £750 million in costs through efficiencies such as using less energy, fewer transport miles and reducing packaging, it has allowed M&S to become the world’s first and only carbon-neutral major retailer. But despite the plan’s success, M&S admits that the company hasn’t done enough to communicate its work to the public.

“Customers have trust in us but it is distant, they assume we are doing [sustainability] but we have not put the detail in front of them,” Barry told Marketing Week. “In a world of great disruption and change, being trusted is even more important. We have built up a slightly paternalistic distant trust and we have to turn that into engaged trust so people can put a finger on why they trust.”

To kickstart the conversation, M&S has rolled out its new ‘Spend It Well’ campaign, which aims to position the brand as an “enabler of a life well-lived,” as well as a digital hub called Make It Matter.

Stores will also play an important role in communicating with consumers, with M&S planning a store takeover that will see store windows feature a sustainability message and 70 of its largest stores will host welcome zones that explain what that particular store is doing to support its local community.

As part of its 2025 agenda, M&S has also committed to " be open and transparent and inspire customers to live more sustainably." Specifically, it has pledged:

  • "We will become even more transparent about how we operate. We aim to add further Food and Clothing & Home supply chain details by 2019 and details of raw materials suppliers by 2022. We’ll ensure all information can be easily viewed by our customers in store or online worldwide by 2025."
  • "By 2019, we’ll develop and launch a mechanism enabling products that meet certain sustainability criteria to be clearly labelled, helping customers worldwide identify these products in store or online."
  • "By 2022, we’ll incentivise and reward our customers for making more sustainable choices."

M&S will report on Plan A 2025 progress every year in June and the commitments will be assured by independent auditors and M&S’ own audit team.

While many have applauded this next step, others fault the company for not going further to address issues such as living wages for employees. While the latest version of Plan A says that it aims to provide “a living wage for all our direct employees as set by us and reviewed by credibly stakeholders in a way that is sustainable for M&S,” critics such as Gill Owen of the Living Wage Foundation say that the retailer isn’t doing enough.

“We welcome any pay rise, but we would encourage M&S to accredit to the living wage scheme and to use that benchmark instead of creating their own. The public recognizes that accreditation means agency workers such as cleaners and security staff are covered.”

“We would like to see a stronger, clearer commitment from M&S on paying a living wage. We know that workers producing for M&S in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are not paid enough to live on and their wages often fall far short of a living wage,” added Nicola Round of Labour Behind the Label, a fair pay group.


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