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M&S is today (Tuesday 7th June) announcing the launch of its inaugural sustainability innovation challenge for start-ups, with the retailer looking to work with tech-focused partners in its efforts to build a sustainable future and achieve its net zero by 2040 goal. 

Alongside the innovation and investment firm True, M&S’s Ignite team – the home of open innovation at M&S – is looking for ideas and technologies that can encourage more sustainable behaviours amongst its customers, as well as solutions that can help M&S achieve further efficiencies in its agricultural supply chains.

The innovation challenge is the latest example of how M&S is taking action on the biggest sustainability challenges, including its focus on becoming a net zero scope 3 business, following the reset of its sustainability programme Plan A in September last year. Its 2022 Sustainability Report, released alongside today’s announcement, captures the extent of the action taken over the past year. 

Start-ups and scale-ups can apply to one – or both – of the two tasks, with the top solution for each chosen for a proof of concept and trial across M&S, with scope for further rollout.

1. Sustainable agriculture challenge

This task is about identifying innovative solutions that offer end-to-end process efficiency whilst promoting sustainability across the full agricultural supply chain. M&S is looking for businesses that can help it further improve its approach to sustainable farming so that it can continue to manufacture fantastic products with minimal impact on the environment and protect valuable resources. Find out more on this challenge and apply here

2. Changing customer behaviours towards sustainability challenge:  

As part of its recently reset Plan A programme, M&S has taken responsibility for looking to the future and understanding and reducing its own impact. Helping customers recognise and reduce theirs too is also a critical part of delivering a sustainable future. After all, it isn’t always easy for consumers to understand how the decisions they make can affect the environment. This is why M&S is looking for technological innovations that can drive better engagement with customers and help them make more sustainable choices. Find out more on this challenge and apply here.

Innovation at M&S

The sustainability innovation challenge reflect M&S’ commitment to driving and embedding a culture of innovation across the business.

In 2018 M&S partnered with True to gain access to its retail-specific network of start-ups and emerging technologies, it’s deep-rooted retail and consumer expertise and proprietary research. The relationship with True, and M&S’s other innovation partners, is managed by the its own open-innovation team: Ignite. 

Through Ignite M&S has access to over 1 million start-ups worldwide and the team is constantly on the look out for new, innovative solutions to help drive the business’s transformation and better serve customers. 

Stuart Ramage, Head of Ignite programme at M&S said: “Calling all start-ups, we’re on the hunt for your latest innovation or technology, which will help us reduce our impact on tomorrow’s world. In return, we can turn an idea into reality and offer a trial backed by the scale of M&S as a global retailer, with support from our dedicated Ignite innovation team along the way. We’re really excited to hear all of your ideas as we continue to drive a culture of innovation across M&S.”

Mike Tattersall, MD of Innovation and CCO, True, said: “Our four-year partnership with the M&S Ignite team continues to go from strength to strength as we launch these two new challenges. I'm incredibly proud that True has the reach and network to drive real, positive change across one of the nation’s most cherished retailers and improve its overall environmental impact through these innovation challenges.”

- ENDS –

For further information, please contact: 

M&S Corporate Press Office:    +44 (0)20 8718 1919 


Challenge details:

  • The deadline for applications is 00:01, Friday 1st July. 
  • After this, there will be two pitch days – one for each brief – where successful applicants will be given the opportunity to pitch their products or services to a panel of judges from across M&S directly responsible for delivery of innovation and the Plan A agenda. 
  • One solution will be chosen as the winner for each brief and receive a trial with M&S or one of our Selected Farm partners.
  • To find out more, and apply, click here 

About True

True is a consumer-focused investment and innovation firm that is reimagining what good business looks like, by building and connecting tomorrow’s consumer brands with an innovative approach where everyone wins: the consumer, the company, the people and the planet. True’s holistic approach to building consumer brands, encapsulates everyone in the industry from startups and growing brands, such as British cycling brand Ribble and workplace mental health platform Unmind, through to industry giants such as Johnson & Johnson and Marks & Spencer.  Culturally, True strongly believes in the importance of putting equal emphasis on people, planet and profit, its commitment underlined by its B Corporation Certification.

About Sustainability at M&S:

M&S reset its Plan A programme in September 2021 with a singular focus on becoming a net zero Scope 3 business across its entire supply chain and products by 2040. 

Delivering its net zero goal will require M&S to work in partnership with its customers, colleagues, suppliers, partners and the wider industry – which is why the retailer is working hard to drive the delivery of its targets through initiatives such as this ESG start-up challenge with partner True.