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UK retailer declares financial benefits from eco-innovation


A top British retailer says that sustainability and eco-innovation are boosting its bottom line.

One of the United Kingdom’s best-known high street retailers has said it benefited by £105 million (€134 million) in 2011-12 thanks to a range of eco-innovation and sustainability measures, including the reduction to zero of the proportion of waste it sends to landfill, and the certification of its British and Irish operations as carbon neutral.

Food and clothing giant Marks & Spencer said that measures such as improved energy efficiency in its stores, and a 26% reduction in the weight of its packaging, had made its “sourcing operations and products more sustainable”, as well as providing a direct financial benefit.

M&S added that it became the “world’s first carbon-neutral major retailer” on 1 January 2012, with all of its sites and delivery fleets in the UK and Ireland achieving certification via the CarbonNeutral Company’s CarbonNeutral Protocol.  This was done through a programme of initiatives, supplemented by M&S’s purchase of ‘Gold Standard’ or Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) offsets.

M&S broke down its carbon neutrality programme into 15 sub-programmes, dealing with issues such as energy use in data centres, fuel efficiency, the reduction of business flights, establishing a green company car policy, the reduction of global warming gas leaks from refrigeration units and installation of solar photovoltaic panels and other renewable energy capacity in its stores and warehouses. The company achieved its targets, or was on plan to meet targets, for 12 of the sub-programmes. In two cases – maximising the efficiency of international logistics and reducing business flights – M&S was behind target and pledged to redouble its efforts. A target to use 50% biodiesel in its lorry fleet was put on hold because of “emerging concerns over the sustainability of many of the raw materials used to make crop-derived bio-diesel”.

To reduce waste, the company said it had installed recycling facilities at all sites and had introduced schemes that “close the recycling loop,” such as providing waste packaging to its suppliers for the production of new packaging for M&S.

Eco-innovation also involved behavioural change. Employees were trained to sort waste, and the company sponsored half a million hours of training for its suppliers on environmental and other sustainable business principles. The company encouraged executives to make greater use of video conferencing to cut down on unnecessary business travel.

As well as underpinning M&S’s £706 million (€899 million) profits in 2011-12, eco-innovation spurred product development. In June, M&S claimed to have produced the world’s most sustainable suit, made from organic wool, with linings and labels made from recycled polyester and plastic bottles. The suit was both “one of the greenest garments available on the high street” and “incredibly stylish,” according to M&S’s Mark Sumner.

The M&S focus on sustainability and eco-innovation is built around its Plan A sustainability strategy. Of the 180 targets contained in Plan A, M&S said that by mid-2012 it had met 138, with a further 30 “on plan”. The company admitted it was falling short in some areas, such as water reduction, but said it would refocus and aim to meet all objectives by 2015. 

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