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Product Sustainability

Our operations have an impact on the environment and society at a both a local and global level. Our biggest impact comes through the products we sell and the way they’re used. Every year we sell around three billion items to tens of millions of customers in the UK and overseas. These customers expect us to make a simple brand promise to them – that we’ll strive in everything we do and every product we sell to offer the most sustainable option possible.

Our supply chain is diverse, long and complex. Social and environmental impacts happen at every stage of every product’s lifecycle and in truth, there is currently no single universally accepted definition of what a sustainable product actually is.

Faced with these challenges, we’re developing a robust, credible approach that will enable us to take action to make our products more sustainable.

Commitments and targets
We want to lead our sector in terms of sustainable consumption and production – offering our customers good value, high-quality products and services.

We’ll produce our products with integrity, ensuring that by 2020, every M&S product we sell has a Plan A best practice social or environmental attribute. In 2017, we extended this commitment so that by 2025 every one of our products will have Plan A attribute that address every single one of its material social and environmental impacts. For example, covering the key raw materials, factory, use and disposal stages in a product's lifecycle.

Approach
We want every one of the three billion M&S products we sell every year to be well on the path to being truly sustainable by 2025. By Plan A attribute we mean a quality or feature in a product, or part of it, that has a demonstrable positive or significantly lower environmental and/or social impact during its sourcing, production, supply, use and disposal.

The diagram and table below show how we identify and measure Plan A product attributes.

Identifying and measuring Plan A product attributes


'Hotspot' analysis and identifying solutions
We make sure our understanding reflects current scientific knowledge, thought leadership and best practice.

We carry out hotspot analysis and risk assessments to identify impact issues which need to be addressed as a priority.
Approving Plan A attributes
We use clear and effective processes to approve all proposed Plan A attributes and communicating with our suppliers.

We’ve set up internal Plan A product review committees. These meet regularly to approve proposed Plan A product attributes, make sure appropriate delivery plans are in place, and review progress to assess whether or not additional management input is needed.

Our starting point for attribution is always a nationally or internationally accepted best practice standard – for example, Fairtrade, Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

If no appropriate standard exists, we try to: 

  • Work with others to develop new standards, always sharing our experiences to benefit others
  • Run small-scale pilot projects to test the viability of a specific attribute and our capacity to increase its scale
  • Actively support research to develop new or more effective attributes through our Plan A Innovation Fund
Our attributes include: Fairtrade; organic; recycled content; free range; Cruelty Free; low alcohol and healthy food. We also define factory manufacturing that meets social or environmental best practice standards as a Plan A product attribute. 
Tracking and reporting progress
We’ve put plans in place to enable product teams to meet our commitments and we set local targets every year to and measure progress.

We report the percentage of M&S products sold worldwide that have at least one Plan A attribute. We’re making good progress – in 2016/17, 79% of M&S products sold (by volume) had at least one Plan A product attribute. This includes 81% of M&S food products and 68% Clothing & Home products. 

Some of our products now have multiple Plan A attributes. For example, our Pure Cotton Pure Cotton Active Waist Checked Shorts with Stormwear™, support BCI Cotton and are made in factories that meet our Eco and Ethical Factory requirements. Our Tuna and Sweetcorn Sandwiches have Eat Well, No Net Tuna and Food Waste Reduction attributes – and are made in a factory that meets our Gold Factory requirements.
Every product that we define as a product with a Plan A attribute must meet our minimum standards and have at least one approved Plan A product attribute. You can read more about our minimum standards in the responsible sourcing section of this website.

We continually review our Plan A product attribute list and update it as science or stakeholder expectations develop and our experience deepens. Our current list is published along with a number of relevant case studies, in the document How We Define Plan A Product Attributes, which you can download on this page.

We plan to use graphic icons on our website and in our store communications to help customers find and choose products with Plan A attributes.

Our approach to product sustainability is a demanding one, and we don’t promise that all of our products will be sustainable by 2020. But our aspiration is to make a systemic improvement across our entire product offer – ensuring that social and environmental principles are always taken into consideration and inherent in individual products, most likely as multiple attributes. Achieve this, and our customers can  be confident that any M&S product they buy is better for them, for the environment, and for the people who made it.

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

To develop our approach to product sustainability, we’ve worked with many partners, including Forum for the Future and the Carbon Trust. There’s a fuller list of these partners in the How We Define Plan A Product Attributes document that you can download on this page.

Our ultimate vision is for a common global industry approach to product sustainability. We hope that we can make this vision a reality through our participation in several collaborative groups, including: the Institute of Grocery Distribution’s Industry Sustainability Group; Waste and Resources Action Programme’s Product Sustainability Forum and Sustainable Clothing Action Plan; and internationally through The Sustainability Consortium.

We’ve already done a lot to improve our products’ sustainability credentials, but we know there’s much more to do. And we don’t pretend to have all the answers. That’s why we welcome the views of stakeholders who can help us improve our approach to product sustainability. You can share your views or open dialogue with us at PlanA@marks-and-spencer.com.

Key documents