Marks and Spencer: Over 60% of All Products Sold are “Sustainable”

Marks and Spencer, Plan A, Shwopping, supply chain, ethical clothing, organic, fair trade, Leon Kaye, United Kingdom
Marks and Spencer claims 63 percent of its products sold are sustainable

Marks and Spencer (M&S) has long been one of the world’s more sustainable and socially responsible retailers, dating back to its 2007 launch of its Plan A. The 100-point plan helped transform the company’s supply chain and operations. The plan was extended in 2010 with even more goals added with 2015 and then 2020 guidelines. Now six months after what the United Kingdom-based company launched what it calls Plan A 2020, the company has reported on its most recent progress.

Some of the updates are relatively ho-hum, not to be surprising as M&S has a habit of enumerating everything. LED lighting is being installed at the company’s epic food halls. The company trained 7,000 of what it describes as “emerging leaders.” More of the company’s clothing can be traced to the Better Cotton Initiative. What really attracts attention, however, is the fact 63 percent of the retailer’s products sold have had a “sustainable” attribute. The competition will be hard pressed to come close to that figure.

After all, that means about two billion products sold at M&S’ stores across the world have some kind of environmental or ethical attribute. The company’s goal was to have that percentage reach 50 percent by 2015; in 2020 M&S aims to have all of its products go out the doors—only if they are truly sustainable. One hundred percent sustainable should not be too out of reach: the number of such products sold has doubled in only two years. So what were these products?

M&S defines Plan A products as having either a fair trade, organic, free-range, cruelty-free, low alcohol, responsible supply chain, recycled, or made in a factory where workers and the environment are respected. Granted, most of the products that make up this 63 percent were sold in the company’s food section. Belgian chocolate and those (in)famous pasties are among the products M&S has touted as being responsible.

The hard part for M&S will be selling a completely “environmental” or “ethical” clothing line, but the company is on its way. The vast majority of its suppliers have made strides in energy efficiency, and more importantly, the company is bolstering its plan to make sure all of its suppliers are paying workers a fair wage. And in a sign of what’s to come, the Shwopping program at M&S continues to make strides. Last year its customers dropped off 4 million garments, which raised £3.2 million ($5 million) for its partner Oxfam. The program has also expanded outside of Britain to the Czech Republic and Hong Kong.

2020 is not far off, but M&S is well on its way. Unlike other retailers that talk about nebulous goals about renewable energy or have factory workers watch a DVD and call it “training,” this venerable department store chain is making a lot of hard choices in its drive to become truly sustainable: and backing their commitments up with real data.

Leon Kaye is based in California and most recently worked for a renewable energy investment company in the Middle East. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. Other thoughts of his are on his site, greengopost.com.

Image credit: M&S

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

2 responses

  1. Plan A is a brilliant idea but it shows how hard it is to retro-fit sustainability onto an existing model that didn’t consider it. (Or didn’t focus on it.) And Fairtrade and organic cotton seem to have disappeared from their shelves now in favour of the less impactful and cheaper Better Cotton.

  2. I can’t say how good it is to hear that responsible retailers like M&S are reaching sure relatively high levels of sustainable, responsible product. I am still concerned that the devil is in the detail. As illustrated in your article, there are so many different ways that a product can be sustainable, but only one needs to be satisfied to make the grade. To pick my most relevant example. What if something is organic, but not free range, or via versa? What if the the workers are OK but the rest of the supply chain is not?

    I am 100% behind M&S in what they are doing, and I know that responsibility like this costs real money in a marketplace where other retailers and manufacturers are not towing the line. It would however, be really useful to see not just that a product has made the sustainability label, but also how.

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