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RWM Preview: NRA retail: M&S

The judges said: “It is difficult not to continue to be impressed by the continuing drive and influence of M&S in the retail sector. The company has shown continuing commitment and the only relative downside in comparison to other entries was activity over the past 12 months.”


Back in 2007, M&S launched its major eco/ethical initiative, Plan A and with it, the goal of becoming the world’s most sustainable major retailer. Plan A specified 100 commitments to be achieved in five years. This was then extended to 180 pledges to be achieved by 2015.

A key pillar within this was its focus on waste, with the major goals of waste reduction and sending zero waste to landfill, including construction waste.

In 2010, it achieved 53.2% recycling and this increased to 100% towards the end of 2011, fulfilling the retailer’s zero waste to landfill goal. Sustainability lessons learned from managing construction waste are now being implemented around the world as M&S grows internationally.

Waste reduction has remained a key focus for the retailer. For example, in 2013 it cut the amount of non-glass packaging used across its food, clothing and homeware operations by 26%.

Such results were achieved by completely re-engineering its waste management process, challenging conventional practices and rolling out new programmes to all stores with an intensive and thorough communications programme.

Its challenge now is to ensure that it maintains its zero waste to landfill achievement, keeps up the momentum in the face of a growing estate, capitalises on innovative ideas and continues to deliver best practice.

With 766 stores in the UK, the in-store recycling programmes were designed to be easy to understand and interpret. Regular communications and targeted training were critical to ensuring that all employees were engaged and everyone fully understood how important the recycling programmes were and how they worked.

This was especially important during peak times, such as Christmas, when M&S takes on up to 15,000 additional support employees.

Aside from the waste generated and disposed of in stores, M&S also considers the materials which leave the business and are thrown away in customers’ homes. In 2013, it launched its Beach Clean-Up, a campaign to clean over 160 beaches, rivers and canals across the UK. This brought together over 5,000 M&S customers and 4,000 employees to clear 4,000 recyclable bin bags worth of rubbish. This was designed to help to build an awareness and understanding of the importance of recycling and the effects that waste has on the planet.

The retailer’s ‘Shwopping’ initiative, which has been running since 2012, has raised £4.5 million for Oxfam, with 7 million ‘shwopped’ items of clothing donated from the public going back into use or recycling. M&S has also closed the loop in this area, by using fabric from Shwopping to develop a ladies coat sold in its stores.

Packaging waste has been another target area. Processes were reviewed to simplify materials, reduce home delivery packaging and cut the weight of non-glass packaging.

The next step was to work with suppliers to develop sustainable packaging which would close the loop and secure resources for the future. In 2013, 84 suppliers, accounting for 32% of M&S’ food turnover, sent zero waste to landfill. The retailer aims to build on this success so that all M&S food is produced in plants that send zero waste to landfill.

M&S continually encourages suppliers to consider sustainability as a way of working and engages with them annually at its Plan A conference. This gives suppliers the opportunity to understand sustainability developments within M&S and how they can embed this in their own businesses.

The retailer has taken the opportunity to engage other businesses in waste recycling by talking at a number of exhibitions and conferences, including the RWM exhibition.

It has also embraced the Fresher for Longer campaign, and has shown great packaging innovations to help reduce food waste, for instance, using portion-sized packs for foods such as meats.

Maintaining zero waste to landfill has been no small achievement and for M&S to continue to be successful, waste produced needs to be monitored through barcode tracking and comprehensive reporting systems. This ensures correct handling and recycling procedures are in place at all times. In addition, a team of dedicated service managers carry out regular visits to ensure that in-store communications are current and staff remain compliant with procedures.

In 2013 the increasing size of the M&S estate and the levels of waste associated with that growth, meant that maintaining zero waste to landfill was challenging. But it was achieved by reducing the amount of waste produced, increasing reuse and recycling of waste material, innovative thinking and challenging accepted practice in the waste sector.

The same precepts and rigorous attention to detail have been applied to ensure zero waste to landfill is not only reliably sustainable, but continues to deliver real company benefits, both financial and to its Plan A commitment.

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