Innovative Retailers Part 2 – Only having a Plan A can work

The Name: Marks & Spencer

The Place: Just about everywhere
The Owners: Thousands of people
The Story: Plan A with its famous slogan ‘There is no Plan B’ is a monster of an undertaking. Consumers take on board only a tiny part of it from the in-store billboards but this is a company that is making sustainability actually pay.

Enough said really. 

How much? According to their Plan A has contributed a net benefit of over £70m this year – up from £50m last year.
And we’re paying for all this do-gooding? Not at all. When it was launched Sir Stuart Rose promised that extra costs would not be passed on to consumers. It really does seem that the extreme amount of research and effort they are putting into Plan A is reaping its own rewards.
But it’s driven by customer awareness right? Not true. In fact consumers seem to be very much behind the curve despite various senior people claiming that Plan A ‘is what you (the consumer) want us to do’. Jonathan Porritt who works closely with M&S on all of this says ‘consumers are not queuing outside M&S CEO Marc Bolland’s office to demand better performance of Plan A’ so leadership comes from internal strategy.
Director level? Yessir. In fact as part of the annual bonus scheme all directors have individual objectives relating to progress on Plan A. And there are -monthly meetings of the board to ensure the full executive team do their bit too. 
So, what is the basic jist? It launched in 2007 with 100 promises on sustainability and a Soviet-style 5-year plan to achieve it. The Aim was to be the world’s most sustainable retailer by 2015. The five main planks are climate change, waste, sustainable raw materials, health, and being a fair partner.
Not commitment phobic then? More like commitment junkies because this was raised to 180 commitments quite soon after – also with a fruition date of 2015. By 2020 100% of products will have at least one eco or ethical component.
How many products do they have? 36,000.
What other ideas exist on Plan(et) A? Everything from the tiny – M&S fishfingers are now coated in rapeseed oil rather than evil palm oil – to the colossal –it will send no waste to landfill by 2012.
Say that one again? You heard right. This vast organisation will soon send no waste generated in its own stores or warehouses to landfill. Currently the amount sent is 6%.
Is there nothing they can’t do? Well, yes. They haven’t managed to persuade people to eat free range pork so that is being scrapped in favour of merely outdoor bred pork. People generally are buying high welfare over free range which was not the original aim. And they admit struggling with water efficiency and carbon neutrality. But of the 180 pledges they have achieved 95 of them, 77 are on plan, 7 are behind plan and one on biodiesel is on hold.
So the consumer really only has to sit and enjoy feeling ethical. Mmm, not quite. There are a whole load of pledges for us too with starred difficulty ratings ranging from taking responsible holidays, to starting a car pool, to recycling old furniture. There have been two ‘clear out your wardrobe’ days in conjunction with Oxfam where half a million customers donated three million M&S garments in return for a voucher.
And are people joining up? The jury is out so far on whether M&S can have the same affect on consumer behaviour as they can on their own company but some people will be taking part even without realising it. If you live in Somerset or Kent you might have your kerbside recycling part paid for by M&S. It’s a £1.25 deal over 5 years. They then take the plastic and cardboard and turn it into recycling packaging for their own products. Any excess is sold on to other recycling packaging manufacturers.
Where do they come up with these ideas? Quite a few come from the innovation sustainability fund. M&S launched it in 2010 with a budget of £50m to spend over 5 years. it funds large scale research projects on energy efficiency, water consumption etc.
We take our hats off to them. If they can pull this off many will follow.