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I was deeply honoured to represent thousands of M&S colleagues in joining world-leading organisations at the announcement of UN Momentum for Change Awards 2017, in Berlin. Alongside winning projects ranging from Ecuador to Ethiopia and Sweden to South Korea, M&S won global recognition for its Plan A Carbon Reduction.

Plan A was originally launched 10 years ago, and in its first 5 years M&S became carbon neutral in the UK and Republic of Ireland. By 2014, this achievement had extended to all our stores, as well as online, as we became the only retailer in the world with carbon-neutral global operations.

For M&S, setting such ambitious targets is essentially part of our commitment to business playing its vital role in the shift to a carbon-neutral society. It aligns with the Paris Agreement, which seeks to bring all nations into a common cause to limit climate change below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. To do this, science tells us we need to achieve net zero emissions - climate neutrality.

The headline numbers begin to tell the tale of our endeavours at M&S, including:

  • 100% of electricity for UK & Ireland from renewable energy, and 27% gas via bio-methane certified gas;
  • 28% reduction in emissions, with a 39% improvement in energy efficiency;
  • 2 million tonnes of investment in carbon offsets since 2012.
It is the stories behind the statistics, though, that really show what M&S is trying to achieve – working with suppliers, employees and customers, as well as world organisations, climate experts, tech specialists, regional and local stakeholders.

On renewables, for instance, we have one of the largest rooftop solar arrays anywhere in Europe. This 5,000MWh warehouse installation features no fewer than 24,272 photovoltaic (PV) panels and will make the facility almost energy independent during daylight hours. Saving the grid enough energy to power 1,190 houses, it will lower the M&S carbon footprint by 48,000 tonnes over 20 years, plus contribute towards both UK government targets and energy security.

Customers can also benefit from investing in solar PV on the roofs of M&S stores, thanks to an innovative crowdfunding initiative that raised more than £1 million in 6 weeks, with contributions from £100. In addition, for every M&S Energy account, we donate £1 to fund community energy projects, such as solar panels on schools or village halls, making £300k available across the UK last year.

When it comes to efficiency, the M&S energy strategy has been under way since the start of Plan A, ensuring all our buildings have metering and online systems to monitor, manage and reduce energy usage 24/7. LED lighting has now been rolled out across our Foodhalls and we have cut CO2 emissions from refrigeration by 67%.

It is our investment in carbon offsets, though – accounting for 30% of baseline emissions in 2016/17 – that provides for some of the most immediate and positive impacts supported by M&S on the world stage.

As the first major company signed up with UNICEF’s carbon offset project, for example, we provided funds for 40,000 fuel-efficient, low-pollution cookstoves to be manufactured, sold and maintained more than 550 local entrepreneurs across across 8 districts in  Bangladesh.

Clean cookstoves are critical. The World Health Organisation estimates around 3 billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires and simple stoves burning biomass and coal. As a result, over 4 million die prematurely from household air pollution, with more than 50% of premature deaths due to pneumonia among children under 5 caused by particulate matter (soot).

This offset scheme achieved ‘The Gold Standard’ carbon credit certification. It also helps reduce deforestation and limit flooding, plus enable households to save money for food and healthcare. Where women and children typically collect firewood, this may free up time for children, especially girls, to attend school.

We are proud to have achieved carbon neutrality by reducing emissions, improving energy efficiency, sourcing renewable electricity, procuring and retiring high-quality carbon offsets. Our ambition, however, does not stop there.

Widening our scope, we recognise the role suppliers, employees and customers can play in achieving a carbon-neutral society. So, in June this year, we committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from total M&S operations worldwide by 80% compared to 2006/07 and indirect greenhouse gas emissions from upstream and downstream sources by at least 13.3 million tonnes by 2030.

We are working to ensure our supply chain can benefit from our carbon credit purchases, plus support our employees in shrinking their own power consumption and carbon footprints with the help of 38,000 energy monitors donated free-of-charge for home use. 

Taking the agenda forward, the UN Momentum for Change Award provides us with a platform to raise awareness about the importance of carbon reduction and inspires us at M&S to collaborate even further and wider to continue our efforts.