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Natural Resources

Our global economy needs natural resources. They not only provide materials for goods and services, but also play a vital function in helping to the world address and adapt to climate change, in maintaining ecosystem services such as watershed management and pollination, and in enhancing the lives of billions of people and their communities.

But, population growth and increasing consumption (particularly in more affluent communities) are rapidly eroding many of earth’s natural resources. Although consumption varies a great deal from place to place, WWF estimates that if everyone in the world consumed as much as people do in the UK we would need three planets to support us.

We rely on natural resources to produce our high quality products and run our stores and operations, so this issue affects us directly. Growing pressure on diminishing resources and poor global stewardship could increase our costs, restrict our access to key raw materials and make our global supply chains more volatile.

Commitments and targets
We want to lead our sector in sustainable production and consumption, offering our customers the good value, high quality products and services that they expect from M&S, while respecting planetary boundaries and the need for social equity. 

We’re committed to improve our understanding of the direct and indirect impacts we have on natural land and marine resources, and our dependence on them. And we’re committed to promote more sustainable production and consumption models to address these impacts.

We support the creation of a sustainable circular economy and have made a Plan A commitment to ensure zero deforestation from the use of key commodities in the production of our products by 2020. We recognise how important animal health is to sustainability and strive to uphold the highest welfare standards.

To be a sustainable and successful business we must find better ways to protect and share earth’s resources. Our approach focuses on:

  • Ensuring more efficient use of natural resources in our operations
  • Reducing negative impacts on the natural resources we use to make our products
In our operations, we’ve increased the use of recycled and recyclable materials in our store and office consumables. We’ve reduced our water consumption. And we’ve set sustainability standards for the materials we use in store retrofits and construction.

We’ve worked hard to understand and reduce our impact on the natural resources we use to make our products. We’re working with a number of organisations to help us source more of our raw materials in more sustainable ways and to develop and implement global standards and agreements. 

For example, we’ve worked with WWF for ten years now, pursuing a shared vision of a market that maintains and restores the world’s natural capital. At first we worked together on specific projects covering sustainable fishing and forestry before entering into a partnership in 2007. We agreed a series of three-year plans focusing on issues that mattered to both organisations, such as fishing, forestry, cotton and water. Through tailored projects we have been able to achieve positive outcomes by improving farming practices and introducing better ways of working. Supporting the development of organisations such as the Better Cotton Initiative, the Global Forest and Trade Network, the Alliance for Water Stewardship and wild-caught and farmed fish stewardship schemes has allowed us to deliver change not only in our own supply chains but across a global marketplace.

This table summarises some of our most significant natural resources initiatives

Valuing natural capital
We want to understand more about our direct and indirect impacts and dependencies on natural resources, so we can make better decisions about mitigation.

As a member of the Prince of Wales’s Accounting for Sustainability (A4S) Chief Finance Officer’s Network, we’re actively supporting projects on natural capital accounting, whole-life costing and engaging investors. Together with other companies, we’ve supported A4S in establishing best practice on these topics.

We’ve also committed to take part in the development and testing of a Natural Capital Accounting Protocol, together with a consortium of other organisations, led by the Natural Capital Coalition

We participate in the Valuing Nature Programme Business Interest Group, which works to improve public and corporate understanding of nature’s contribution to human health and well-being.

Protecting forests
According to WWF, the world has already lost half of its forests and those that remain are being cleared or converted for other uses at unsustainable rates.

Avoiding forest loss and degradation is important in reducing carbon emissions, preserving biodiversity and other ecosystems services, and securing food, fibre, fuel and building materials for local communities.

The demand for timber is expected to triple by 2050, putting increasing pressure on vulnerable forests. We’ve committed to source wood sustainably and remove commodity-driven deforestation from our supply chain by 2020.

Marine environment
We are committed to sourcing fish responsibly. We are also helping to protect our sea life and beaches for futures generations to enjoy through our Forever Fish campaign in partnership with the Marine Conservation Society and WWF.

We’re aware of the increasing impact of pollution on the marine environment and the damage this causes to the health of many land and marine animals.  We’re involved in the Marine Litter Action Network (MLAN), which co-ordinates many programmes to reduce marine litter. Thanks to MLAN, we’ve committed to remove plastic micro-beads from our own-brand personal care products.
Water quality and scarcity, along with sustainable water resource management, are becoming increasingly important for many businesses.

At an operational level we have recently challenged our teams to come up with ways to cut water usage by 35%. By engaging, energising and rewarding our staff through our Making Energy Matter campaign we believe we can make significant savings and improve performance.

We’ve been working with WWF to understand our supply chain water footprint better, and to identify where action is most urgently needed.

We’re focusing on four key parts of our supply chain: cotton production; dye-houses; farming in water stressed areas; and food manufacture. 

Biodiversity is essential in maintaining our quality of life and a healthy environment. The continuous decline in biodiversity has serious consequences and its protection and enhancement is essential if we are to achieve a sustainable future.

Biodiversity is being woven daily throughout the fabric of our property portfolio at M&S: at our head offices, throughout store-retrofit programmes and on landmark new-build schemes. For example, encouraging local biodiversity was key to our entire build process for our Cheshire Oaks store. We were also the first retailer in the UK to be awarded The Wildlife Trust Biodiversity Benchmark in recognition of our efforts at Cheshire Oaks.

Through our Farming for the Future programme we require our farmers, growers and aquaculture partners to minimise their impact on the environment in terms of their use of soil, water, pesticides and energy and work to enhance biodiversity through appropriate environmental management practices.

A key part of our Farming for the Future activity is our Indicator Farms programme where we work closely with a number of farmers and growers to understand specific challenges that they face and to identify practical scalable solutions. For example, we are conducting trials with a small number of growers to look at innovative ways of attracting pollinators and sharing the findings across our wider supply base. Find out more in our latest Farming for the Future Annual Report.

We have also been working in partnership with the RSPB and Butterfly Conservation on a number of the farms that supply us to better understand habitat and maintenance requirements for wild birds and pollinators including bees and other species.

Protecting biodiversity is a key objective of the many sourcing standards that we use within our supply chain and we work with standard setters individually and through the ISEAL Alliance to ensure appropriate steps are included in all schemes to promote biodiversity across different commodities and production regions.

Animal welfare
We believe that animal health and welfare is a fundamental pillar of sustainable production and we are committed to upholding the highest standards of animal welfare. Our view is that this is justified from a business perspective as there is a clear demonstrable link between animal health and product quality.

We engage with recognised experts, our farmers and civil society and have created innovative health and welfare programmes to maintain our sector leading standards.

Raw materials, commodities and ingredients
We are committed to improving the traceability of raw materials in our supply chain and over the last 8 years we have been using our supply chain insights to progressively improve the sustainability of our products.

We're working towards full traceability of the principal raw materials used in our clothing and home products.

We have attempted to identify the major environmental and social 'hotspots' associated with our key global raw materials and have been introducing mitigation measures through Plan A attributes. 

Working with others
Listening, learning, responding and working in partnership is an important part of how we do business.

We’re working with many different organisations to achieve our goals and commitments on natural resources. These include: the Prince of Wales’s Accounting for Sustainability (A4S) Chief Finance Officer’s Network and the Natural Capital Coalition – to help us understand our natural capital dependencies and impacts; the Forest Stewardship Council, Leather Working Group, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and Roundtable Responsible Soy (RTRS) – in support of our goal to remove commodity-driven deforestation; the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), and WWF – on fish sourcing;  and the RSPCA on animal welfare. We also work with many environmental groups, including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth on specific issues.

Key documents

Find out about our approach to protecting forests