Marks and Spencer's big green plan sends a message to Kiwi businesses

Wednesday 3 March 2010, 11:48AM
By New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development

A bold new bid by Marks and Spencer to become the world’s most sustainable retailer by 2015 sends an important signal to New Zealand businesses in the export supply chain.

The UK retailer is launching 80 major new commitments under a new eco and ethical plan. It will involve:

• converting 2.7 billion food, clothing and home items to meet the plan’s sustainability standards
• encouraging 21 million customers to live more sustainable lifestyles
• usher in livable wages at clothing supplier factories in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India
• training and education programmes – including in basic healthcare and workers’ rights - for 500,000 workers in suppliers’ factories
• encouraging 10,000 food supplying farmers to adopt a sustainable foods programme
• sourcing all packaging from a single model forest programme
• increasing the number of clothing garments customers recycle every year from two million to 20 million
• Launching an incubator fund to support the development of innovative new products and services worth about NZ $150m
• Offering free home insulation and energy monitor to all eligible employees - and giving them one paid, day-off a year to work in their local communities.

Marks and Spencer (M&S) says environmental and social issues remain important to UK consumers. It says a ComRes survey2 commissioned by M&S found that 72% of people surveyed are worried about environmental issues, with 73% saying that the recession had not changed their level of concern.

The New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development says the M&S initiative sends an immensely strong signal to New Zealand businesses about behaving sustainably if they want access to high value overseas markets in future.

The move to sustainable behaviour was also better for M&S profits: since launching its eco initiatives in 2007 the firm had reduced its environmental impact, developed new sustainable products and services, helped improve the lives of people in its local communities – and saved about NZ$150 million by being more efficient.

Business Council Chief Executive Peter Neilson says several of his organisation’s member companies have undertaken major sustainability projects which have added tens of millions to their bottom lines, while also delivering environmental and social gains.

“The M&S initiative shows sustainable behaviour can deliver major savings and market share, even during a recession. And it’s encouraging that business is getting on with leading a response to climate, resource and social issues even while governments worldwide and at Copenhagen have failed to reach a comprehensive new agreement on managing climate change.
“Our latest research shows 65% of New Zealanders say a company’s environmental practices have a big influence on whether or not they buy its products. It’s a foolhardy firm now which doesn’t do its best for the environment.

“Some 28% of businesses have also sacked a supplier in the past year because of environmental, social or ethical concerns. This is a growing trend worldwide. Consumers now expect businesses to help address their sustainability concerns. That’s what’s driving huge retail chains like M&S and Wal-Mart in the United States.

“If your business, no matter how small, is part of a major retailers’ supply chain then sustainability is coming to you ready or not.

“That’s the mega trend we need to profit from, while doing the right thing,” Mr Neilson says.

More information on the M&S Plan A is at