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Yesterday M&S foods won the IGD sustainability award. We’d entered our sustainability factory programme as this is something we’ve worked really hard on over the last 6 years to develop and embed with our suppliers. It’s taken a long time(much longer than we’d hoped and expected) but looking back over the last few years this is something that I’m personally really proud of and something that I think is worth sharing.

So what is the framework? Suppliers work through the bronze, silver and gold framework across 3 pillars – HR , Environment and Lean Manufacturing and are awarded an overall score. We think that to achieve silver is really challenging so we’ve set a target that 30% of our food will be sourced from ‘silver’factories by 2015.  This isn’t another audit, it enables suppliers to prioritise what’s important to them and work over time to really embed change and excellent performance.  We are not stopping at silver though and this year ‘crowned’ our first gold site and have several more in the pipeline.

So what does being a silver factory mean? In terms of people & HR the site has a clear and ambitious people plan and metrics, employees are actively motivated and rewarded and there is superb training in place for all levels. From an environmental point of view,the site has a clear  environmental plan and metrics  and a management system to underpin this; Employees when asked know about the plan and their role in delivery and Key raw materials have been risked assessed.  Finally from a lean manufacturing point of view we are looking for a Dynamic business environment with an increased pace of change and a Changed workforce mind-set: people are empowered and able to generate ideas from all tiers with continuous improvement embedded across the business and into the supply chain.  

We created this in collaboration with our suppliers and a number of key external stakeholders gave us their opinions too to ensure that we were being challenging enough to make transformational change and enable suppliers to embed sustainability in the heart of How they do business.

What is really important is that suppliers are really good at all 3 elements. I’ve spent a lot of time travelling and visit suppliers of all shapes and sizes and usually they’re good at one element; It’s genuinely rare to find sites that show leadership in all 3 and that’s the challenge we are facing. We now have over 300 supplier sites involved in the programme accounting for 91% of foods volume and 58 sites currently assessing themselves at silver.  We know a lot more about our suppliers now and are able to track the progress they’re making. It’s great to be able to seethe real change that’s happening, for example when we started out only 70 of our sites had staff surveys, now more than 200 do.  We’ve also seen great environmental improvements including over 40% of our sites sending no waste to land fill and 25% volume is now from sites that have reduced energy by 20%. It’s also worth mentioning our fellow IGD award nominees – company shop; more than 80 of our suppliers are now using their services to help minimise food waste.  

Without the framework, we’d have no way to measure or track the amazing progress our suppliers are making. The other thing that I love about the framework is that we are now able to reward suppliers who are making great progress and leading. Our buyers look at the sustainability score within their balanced scorecard and silver suppliers are awarded certificates at our annual commercial conference. In the past it has been frustrating seeing true leadership and great performance but not having a way to recognise this.

It hasn’t been easy, lots of challenges about what goes in and out and still getting sustainability buy in from senior management can be tricky but the framework has certainly helped.  Over the next few months we’ll start profiling some of our fabulous silver and gold sites so watch this space.  

To find out more please email