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Our global economy needs natural resources. They not only provide materials for goods and services, but also play a vital function in helping to the world address and adapt to climate change, in maintaining ecosystem services such as watershed management and pollination, and in enhancing the lives of billions of people and their communities.

But, population growth and increasing consumption (particularly in more affluent communities) are rapidly eroding many of earth’s natural resources. Although consumption varies a great deal from place to place, WWF estimates that if everyone in the world consumed as much as people do in the UK we would need three planets to support us.

We rely on natural resources to produce our high quality products and run our stores and operations, so this issue affects us directly. Growing pressure on diminishing resources and poor global stewardship could increase our costs, restrict our access to key raw materials and make our global supply chains more volatile.

Commitments and targets
We want to lead our sector in sustainable production and consumption, offering our customers the good value, high quality products and services that they expect from M&S, while respecting planetary boundaries and the need for social equity. 

We’re committed to improve our understanding of the direct and indirect impacts we have on natural land and marine resources, and our dependence on them. And we’re committed to promote more sustainable production and consumption models to address these impacts.

We support the creation of a sustainable circular economy and have made a Plan A commitment to ensure zero deforestation from the use of key commodities in the production of our products by 2020. We recognise how important animal health is to sustainability and strive to uphold the highest welfare standards.

To be a sustainable and successful business we must find better ways to protect and share earth’s resources. Our approach focuses on:

  • Ensuring more efficient use of natural resources in our operations
  • Reducing negative impacts on the natural resources we use to make our products
In our operations, we’ve increased the use of recycled and recyclable materials in our store and office consumables. We’ve reduced our water consumption. And we’ve set sustainability standards for the materials we use in store retrofits and construction.

We’ve worked hard to understand and reduce our impact on the natural resources we use to make our products. We’re working with a number of organisations to help us source more of our raw materials in more sustainable ways and to develop and implement global standards and agreements such as WWF, Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, Fairtrade, the Better Cotton Initiative and the Consumer Goods Forum.

This table summarises some of our most significant natural resources initiatives
Valuing natural capital
We want to understand more about our direct and indirect impacts and dependencies on natural resources, so we can make better decisions about mitigation.

We were a member of the Prince of Wales’s Accounting for Sustainability (A4S) Chief Finance Officer’s Network and supported their projects on natural capital accounting, whole-life costing and engaging investors.

We also supported the development of the Natural Capital Accounting Protocol, together with a consortium of other organisations, led by the Natural Capital Coalition

We participate in the Valuing Nature Programme Business Interest Group, which works to improve public and corporate understanding of nature’s contribution to human health and well-being.

Protecting forests
According to WWF, the world has already lost half of its forests and those that remain are being cleared or converted for other uses at unsustainable rates.

Avoiding forest loss and degradation is important in reducing carbon emissions, preserving biodiversity and other ecosystems services, and securing food, fibre, fuel and building materials for local communities.

The demand for timber is expected to triple by 2050, putting increasing pressure on vulnerable forests. We’ve committed to source wood sustainably and remove commodity-driven deforestation from our supply chain by 2020.

Marine environment

We launched Forever Fish in 2011 as a 3 year initiative in partnership with the Marine Conservation Society and WWF which aimed to encourage everyone to eat high-quality, responsibly sourced fish, as well as give something back to the seas we fish from.

Following changes in legislation in relation to carrier bag charging, this initiative has now come to an end.  The legacy of Forever Fish lives on through the numerous projects it funded.  You can read about these projects on our partners’ websites. 

In 2015, we committed to remove plastic microbeads from M&S brand personal care products. All existing and new products and formulations manufactured from 2016 onwards are free from plastic microbeads.
Water quality and scarcity, along with sustainable water resource management, are becoming increasingly important for many businesses.

We're committed to improving the efficiency of our stores, offices and warehouses through optimising operational performance and promoting sustainable behaviour - this includes reducing the amount of water we consume. We have recently challenged our teams to come up with ways to cut water usage by 35%. Find out more about our approach to property and construction. Each year, we report on our total water consumption and efficiency in the UK and Republic of Ireland which is where the majority of our operations are based in our annual Plan A Report. 

We’ve also been working with WWF to understand our supply chain water footprint better, and to identify where action is most urgently needed. We’re focusing on four key parts of our supply chain: cotton production; dye-houses; farming in water stressed areas; and food manufacture.

In 2016, we published a joint publication with WWF to share our respective learnings on water stewardship. It is aimed at people working on water stewardship in business, whether you have just started your journey or are a few years down the path. It highlights some of the successes and challenges both WWF and M&S have faced, particularly in implementing collective action and influencing governance, which are key elements of water stewardship and essential to manage shared water risks. It also provides an overview of how we address water stewardship within our business and supply chains, highlighting some of the key lessons learned experienced along the way.

We are now active members of the Courtald 2025 commitment working on their water strategy with a key focus on South Africa and parts of the UK.

Biodiversity is essential in maintaining our quality of life and a healthy environment. The continuous decline in biodiversity has serious consequences and its protection and enhancement is essential if we are to achieve a sustainable future.

Biodiversity is being woven daily throughout the fabric of our property portfolio at M&S: at our head offices, throughout store-retrofit programmes and on landmark new-build schemes. For example, encouraging local biodiversity was key to our entire build process for our Cheshire Oaks store. We were also the first retailer in the UK to be awarded The Wildlife Trust Biodiversity Benchmark in recognition of our efforts at Cheshire Oaks. Find out more about our approach to property and construction.

We are now reviewing our approach to biodiversity on farms and will provide an update by early 2021.

Animal welfare
We believe that animal health and welfare is a fundamental pillar of sustainable production and we are committed to upholding the highest standards of animal welfare. Our view is that this is justified from a business perspective as there is a clear demonstrable link between animal health and product quality.

We engage with recognised experts, our farmers and civil society and have created innovative health and welfare programmes to maintain our sector leading standards.

Raw materials, commodities and ingredients

We are committed to improving the traceability of raw materials in our supply chain and over the last 12 years we have been using our supply chain insights to progressively improve the sustainability of our products.

Many of the raw materials we use today come from more sustainable sources. For example, 100% of the coffee, tea, seafood and cocoa we sell and 100% of the cotton for our clothing and 97% of the wood we source is too. We have worked hard to understand how much of each raw material we use and have plans in place to work on the sustainability of key raw materials through food and clothing and home. For some we develop our own standards and others we work with recognised certification schemes.

Summary of key raw materials:

FoodsClothing & HomeBoth
  • Whole categories: Fruit, Vegetables, Flowers & Plants, Poultry, Meat, Fish & Shellfish (wild and farmed)
  • Meat and dairy ingredients: Cheese, Cream, Chicken, Pork, Beef, Egg, Milk, Fish & Shellfish (wild and farmed)
  • Fruit & vegetable ingredients: Grapes, Oranges, Apples, Tomatoes, Potatoes
  • Crop-derived: Wheat flour, Sugar
  • Oilseeds: Rapeseed Oil
  • Beverage crops: Tea, Coffee
  • Other commodities: Cocoa, Cashew nuts, Vanilla
  • Other ingredients: Water
  • Fabrics & textiles: Cotton, Polyester, Viscose, Polyamide (Nylon), Wool, Leather, Cashmere, Feather & Down
  • Wood: timber and paper/card
  • Oilseeds: Palm oil

Over the next year we will be reviewing what requirements are already in place for these key raw materials. This includes consideration of external standards, participation in industry initiatives or use of our own internally developed mechanisms (e.g. Foods Sustainability Framework). We will then look to establish prescribed levels of responsible sourcing for each key raw material and have plans in place to progressively implement these requirements in the years leading up to 2025. We aim to start reporting on our progress from next year.

Find out more about our approach to sourcing Food raw materials, commodities and ingredients.

Find out more about our approach to sourcing Clothing & Home raw materials and commodities.

Find out more about our approach to product sustainability.

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

We’re working with many different organisations to achieve our goals and commitments on natural resources. These include: the Prince of Wales’s Accounting for Sustainability (A4S) Chief Finance Officer’s Network and the Natural Capital Coalition – to help us understand our natural capital dependencies and impacts; the Forest Stewardship Council, Leather Working Group, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and Roundtable Responsible Soy (RTRS) – in support of our goal to remove commodity-driven deforestation; the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), and WWF – on fish sourcing;  and the RSPCA on animal welfare. We also work with many environmental groups, including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth on specific issues.