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This week, world leaders are meeting for the long-awaited COP21 climate talks in Paris, where it’s hoped a deal will be reached to tackle rising global temperatures.  At a macro level, inaction could lead to a loss of 20% of GDP. In the more immediate term, for businesses (including M&S) there’s the threat of disruption to supply chains that more extreme weather events, such as flooding and droughts, might cause. At M&S, we also know that our customers want us to play a leading role with policy makers and other businesses to address the climate challenge.

We believe a meaningful deal is possible between politicians at COP21 that would set the whole world on a low-carbon pathway, bringing with it significant potential to reduce poverty, create jobs and build new markets for low carbon products and services.

But business must also play its role too. That is why M&S has been taking action on climate change since 2007.

Within our operations alone, we produce half a million tonnes of carbon a year, which increases to about 8.3m tonnes once you take into account our supply chain and our customers. Minimising our carbon footprint is a business priority, not just because it’s the right thing to do - many of the measures simply make good business sense!

And we’ve made good progress, reducing our operational carbon emissions by 19% in absolute terms despite growing our UK and Republic of Ireland store footage by 24% in the last 8 years.

So how have we achieved this?

Firstly, we’ve become more efficient in the way that we operate.  Doing more with less has helped to improve our bottom line, as well as future-proofing the business against rising and volatile energy prices. We’ve improved energy efficiency in our stores by 36% per square foot, saving £17.5m a year from our energy bill. We have also increased the fuel efficiency of our food delivery fleet by 33% and reduced emissions from our refrigeration systems by 73%.

Secondly, we’re committed to using only clean power in our own operations.  With the UK’s power system on a long decarbonisation journey, M&S took the decision to get ahead of the curve and set ourselves up for a clean energy future.  So, since 2012, we’ve made sure that all the electricity we buy for our stores, offices and warehouses in the UK and Ireland comes from green tariff renewable sources, with 21% of it from small-scale generators. Most recently, we brokered a landmark deal which supports biomethane gas, with the aim of sourcing 50% by 2016. We’ve also made progress with on-site renewable generation – you’ll find the UK’s largest single roof mounted solar panel array installed on our East Midlands distribution centre. The 24,272 PV panel structure is set to lower our carbon footprint by 48,000 tonnes over 20 years.

Thirdly, because we recognise the need for action is urgent, we’re financing emission reduction overseas through carbon offsets. We’re the only major retailer in the world to have had carbon neutral operations since 2012 and we are committed to maintain carbon neutral operations until 2020. This is helping investment in projects around the world today that reduce emissions, protect biodiversity and reduce poverty.

As a business, we connect with and have an impact on people across the world.  We’ve made significant strides in helping our supply chain, customers and communities to reduce their environmental footprints through initiatives like supplier scorecards for energy efficiency and waste reduction; our Shwop programme for clothes recycling; sourcing 98% of our wood and 100% of our palm oil responsibly; selling green power to our M&S Energy customers and launching a £400,000 Community Energy Fund to support communities in their ambitions to be more environmentally and financially sustainable.

This isn’t a solo effort.  We’re working with other retailers and organisations who feel the same – for instance, we’re playing a leading role in the Consumer Goods Forum, working with some of world’s largest food and drink businesses to make greater headway in areas such as food waste, deforestation and refrigeration emissions. M&S sits on the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council (GAC) for Forests which is developing ideas on how to encourage preferential sourcing from regions with strong forest policies and regulation. We’re signed up to RE100 targets to make all directly purchased electricity renewable by 2020. And we’re supporting a campaign led by Collectively to bring young people together with businesses, sports clubs and universities to commit to a clean energy future.

Paris will help us to step up a gear.

We’ve achieved a lot, but there’s no room for complacency. We have to keep our efforts up and our ambitions high. We’re hopeful that Paris will conclude with a meaningful deal, providing businesses like ours with the confidence to continue to invest in our own low-carbon journey over the long-term, creating a virtuous circle of ambition and progress.