M&S praised for 'carbon neutral' plan

REGIONAL landowners and farmers have welcomed a £200million eco-plan unveiled by Marks & Spencer to make it carbon neutral in five years.The high street giant said the “Plan A” project, announced yesterday, was its contribution to the battle against climate change.

REGIONAL landowners and farmers have welcomed a £200million eco-plan unveiled by Marks & Spencer to make it carbon neutral in five years.

The high street giant said the “Plan A” project, announced yesterday, was its contribution to the battle against climate change.

Besides becoming carbon neutral by 2012, M&S also aims to stop sending any waste to landfill, to extend “sustainable” sourcing, to set new standards on ethical trading and to help customers and employees adopt healthier lifestyles.

As part of its commitment to sustainable sourcing, M&S is committing itself to buying as much food from Britain and Ireland as possible and doubling regional food sourcing within 12 months.

Nicola Currie, eastern region director of the Country Land & Business Association, gave her backing to the initiative, saying she was “genuinely impressed” with the company's ambitious plans.

“I'm applauding it because I think, all right, they have got business reasons for doing it, but I think businesses have got to show the way and it'll get people thinking,” she said.

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“It's positive because of the weight that Marks & Sparks carries. It will set a trend and will get other food retailers thinking and that has got to be good. It's got to be good for the market and good for British farmers.”

Pamela Forbes, eastern region director of the National Farmers' Union, described the moves as “very brave” and “ambitious”, and said it should bring many opportunities to the farming sector, not only in food production, but also other areas, such as in packaging and in energy from waste.

“We very much look forward to working with them to achieve their aims. It ticks so many boxes,” she said.

The local and regional food concept contained in their plans was “a win for everybody”, she added.

M&S chief executive Stuart Rose, who has masterminded a spectacular recovery at the firm since he took over nearly three years ago, said yesterday: “Every business and individual needs to do their bit to tackle the enormous challenges of climate change and waste.

“While M&S will continue to sell great quality, stylish and innovative products, our customers, employees and shareholders now expect us to take bold steps and do business differently and responsibly.

“We believe a responsible business can be a profitable business. We are calling this 'Plan A' because there is no plan B.”

M&S said it will make itself carbon neutral by cutting energy consumption and using renewables. It said the savings would be like taking 100,000 cars off the road each year.

M&S will also focus on sourcing its food from the UK and Ireland as it looks to reduce air freight. Food brought into the UK by plane will be labelled 'flown'.

Mr Rose, who has a home in Suffolk, near Woodbridge, said: “M&S will change beyond recognition the way it operates over the next five years.

“We will become carbon neutral, only using offsetting as a last resort. We will ensure that none of our clothing products or packaging needs to be thrown away. Much of our polyester clothing will be made from recycled plastic bottles instead of oil and every year we will sell over 20 million garments made from fairtrade cotton.

“We will clearly label the food we import by air. UK, regional and local food sourcing will be a priority and we will trial the use of food waste to power our stores. We will do this without passing on the extra cost to our customers.

“We will also help our suppliers and customers to change their behaviour. Because we are own-brand our influence extends to over 2,000 factories, 10,000 farms and 250,000 workers, as well as millions of customers visiting over 500 stores in the UK.”

He added: “This is a deliberately ambitious and, in some areas, difficult plan. We don't have all the answers but we are determined to work with our suppliers, partners and Government to make this happen. Doing anything less is not an option.”

The CLA recently launched its own “Just Ask” campaign, aimed at encouraging consumers to ask where their food has come from.

“What I think is so nice about it is a major player in the market coming up and saying these things is going to set a trend,” said Mrs Currie. “It's excellent news for British farming.”

Mrs Forbes said although the company would inevitably have to absorb increased costs as a result of the changes laid out, in the past their tendency had not been to pass those on to suppliers and she hoped that would be the case here.

Jonathon Porritt, founder director of Forum for the Future, who advised M&S on its new policy, said: “This plan sets a new benchmark in the way businesses should be tackling critical sustainability challenges like waste, fair trade and climate change. It raises the bar for everyone else - not just retailers, but businesses in every sector.

“We all know that even at the end of these five years there will still be a huge amount for M&S to do but we warmly welcome the scale of the ambition of this plan in particular the commitment to include customers and suppliers.”