Our Plan A journey

We came into the year having completed the first five year phase of Plan A. We’d achieved the majority of our 2012 targets including the ‘big two’ operational targets of becoming carbon neutral and sending no waste to landfill. We’d also reported a five-year progressive Plan A net benefit of £185m available to be reinvested back into the business. We’ve now moved on, measuring our progress during 2012/13 against our 2015 targets.

Looking back over the year

We’ve made steady progress and are now working towards the 2015 ‘stretch’ targets for six commitments. We’ve also achieved five additional commitments. However, we still face some big and challenging targets: to meet sustainable sourcing standards for eight key raw materials; to ensure all M&S products have a Plan A quality; to improve our suppliers’ sustainability performance; and to engage customers and employees in Plan A.

We’ve now achieved 139 of our 180 commitments, with a further 31 on plan, five behind plan, four not achieved and one, concerning electrical products we no longer sell, cancelled.

Increasing the scale of Plan A was a priority for us this year. Our partners and stakeholders continue to challenge our thinking and inspire us with new ideas. We’ve worked hard to engage employees, customers, suppliers and shareholders, while broadening the scope of our collaborations with external partners. We’ve also moved towards more integrated corporate reporting, by including key social and environmental metrics in our Annual Report (see right).

We’ve maintained progress on many ongoing commitments, including carbon neutrality, sending no waste to landfill, providing Marks & Start work placements, offering healthier food options and reducing packaging. These have all become business as usual at M&S. This year, Plan A has generated its biggest net benefit to date, with £135m made available to reinvest in the business.

Our performance was recognised in more than 40 social and environmental awards and league tables including: the 2012 Business in the Community Responsible Business of the Year; joint 2012 World Responsible Retailer of the Year; and the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development People Management 2012 Corporate Social Responsibility Award. M&S was also the only retailer in the Carbon Disclosure Project Global Carbon Performance Leadership Index (see the Independent Recognition page for the full list).

Putting the year in context

It’s important to put 2012/13 in context because like most other retailers we’ve faced challenging trading conditions. The spending power of our customers is being affected by a range of financial factors and there are global inflationary pressures on raw material costs.

The evidence suggests that our customers still believe Plan A adds value to the M&S brand, even if their interest is not as visible as it once was. Despite the economic backdrop we’ve successfully engaged more of our customers in initiatives such as Shwopping, the Big Beach Clean-up and Macmillan Cancer Support’s World’s Biggest Coffee Morning. We’ve also made much greater use of social media.

We’ve responded to changing customer and social priorities in several ways. For example, we’ve extended the scale and reach of our Marks & Start work experience programme, focusing it on younger people. More than half of all participants who complete placements now find work.

Planning for the future

If the first six years of Plan A have taught us anything it’s that we have much more to do to become a truly sustainable business – and over the past 12 months we’ve done some hard thinking about what ‘much more to do’ really involves.

Working with our external Sustainable Retail Advisory Board, employees, partners and suppliers we’ve started to outline a vision for the next phase of Plan A. Our employees have prioritised waste reduction, better communication with customers and support for local causes. Our customers want us to make Plan A more accessible and rewarding. Our external Sustainable Retail Advisory Board has emphasised the importance of engaging customers, better use of social media and rebalancing the social aspects of Plan A while maintaining its connection with the environment. They also want us to play a role in helping the whole industry progress. Our suppliers want us to help them improve their employment practices, environmental efficiency and sustainable raw material sourcing. We must also evolve Plan A in the context of our growth into multi-channel and international retailing.

We must respond to the global environmental and social issues that inspired Plan A in the first place, because there is still no Plan B. According to the UK Government’s former Chief Scientist, Professor Sir John Beddington, the world will need to find 50% more energy, 50% more food and 30% more water by 2030.

Worldwide over 1 billion people suffer from under nutrition, and healthcare, education, equality and social mobility are all pressing issues for people working in our supply chains. Closer to home, UK Department of Health statistics show that over 60% of UK adults and 30% of children are overweight, yet 13 million people suffer from food poverty.

In addition, some stakeholders are looking for greater transparency on issues such as tax payments, remuneration, diversity, equality and marketing.

Our aim over the next 12 months is to find ways to meet the needs of all our stakeholders whilst keeping our plan simple and authentic. We still need to accelerate the work we’ve started and to mobilise even more people.

Richard Gillies's signature

Richard Gillies Director of Plan A, CSR and Sustainable Business