Winston Churchill’s comment that ‘We shape our buildings and thereafter they shape us’ seems a good way to summarise our Plan A progress in Property. Particularly as there is a Churchillian link to one of our Plan A projects as I’ll explain below.
One of the highlights from this year is achieving Carbon Trust triple certification for carbon, water and waste reduction - a first for any UK retailer and the reward for several years’ ‘hard graft’ by colleagues in stores and in the property group.
We’ve achieved certification through some leading-edge work – smart measurement, building management controls and heat reclaim technology for our stores - plus some more basic changes. We’ve changed a lot of light bulbs, found and repaired a lot of leaks and made it easier for store colleagues to separate waste, reduce energy and water. But these little changes add up - so our property estate is now 34% more energy efficient, 27%more water efficient and we’ve maintained our zero waste to landfill status.
These changes make our stores more comfortable to shop and work in, as independent surveys at our Cheshire Oaks Learning store confirm. A post-occupancy evaluation by the Technology Strategy Board confirms that they also deliver the efficiencies we want.
This gives us great confidence and we hope to achieve even more at our latest Plan A Learning store, Vangarde York Monks Cross. This store incorporates a lot of the innovations we’ve successfully tested plus some ‘firsts’, including 600 solar panels on the roof and some breakthrough ‘closed loops’ inside - equipment refurbished for use to avoid waste and embedded carbon. These include all the refrigeration, shelving, trolleys, baskets and acrylic marketing signage. ‘Reincarnated’ items’ you might call them - with the potential to help us make stunning reductions in waste and carbon if we can reproduce them at scale.
Scaling up is the big challenge ahead for us. New Learning stores are useful - but we have hundreds of older stores across the UK and around the world. We need to ‘retrofit’ Plan A innovations into them all to achieve the sustainability breakthroughs we’re after.
In many ways retrofitting existing stores is more challenging than building new ones.
We know this, because we’ve recently retrofitted four of our most energy hungry Simply Food stores with LED lights, heat reclaim technology and green walls. This opened our eyes to new challenges- engaging local authorities, landlords, neighbouring businesses, whilst the stores continue trading. At our Epping Simply Food store we even had to relocate a heritage plaque marking the spot where Winston Churchill made a famous wartime speech.
New challenges push us forward, so we’re committing to scale up our retrofits dramatically. Our ‘to do’ list for the next couple of years is ambitious, too long to share in full here and includes: more energy efficiency by installing LED lighting in 100 more stores and heat reclaim technology in up to 40, new ideas trialled and then installed in 25 stores within 12 months, embedding the use of Building Information Modelling, better use of offsite pre-construction, detailed community impact plans for all projects, ethical audits of our property supply chain… I could go on, without even mentioning our intention to build 5 Learning stores outside the UK.
So can we achieve it all? I think we can, particularly if we set the same pace in building successful collaborations outside M&S, and take inspiration from what we’ve achieved already.