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Whilst our own operations have an impact on the environment and society at both a local and global level, our biggest impact comes through the products we sell and the way they’re used. Rising raw material and energy costs, availability and costs of labour, and costs of managing waste pose significant challenges for our supply base. Customers are increasingly aware of their personal impact on the world and businesses must show leadership on sustainability and work hard to build and maintain their trust.

We want to deliver sustainable value for our stakeholders through the high quality, own brand food, clothing and home products we offer in the UK and internationally. And we cannot do this without the support of our supply chain where the biggest impacts occur. We need our suppliers to be as committed as we are to undertaking activities in a sustainable and responsible manner. We’ve developed a Sustainability Framework to help suppliers of M&S food & household products understand the business case for sustainability through progressively reducing their environmental impacts, increasing their efficiency and positively benefiting their workforce. 

Commitments and targets
We want to lead our sector in terms of sustainable consumption and production – offering our customers good value, high quality products and services.

We’ll produce our products with integrity, ensuring that by 2020, every M&S product we sell has a Plan A social or environmental attribute. By 2020, we also want 100% of our product volume to come from sites that have reached at least Silver level on our Sustainability Scorecard.

All our suppliers must commit to continuous improvement on sustainability. 

We developed a Sustainability Framework in 2010 to help our direct suppliers on their journey towards sustainability. Prior to this our main focus had been through bringing suppliers together to share best practice in our supplier exchange programme. Through this process a number of recurring themes became apparent. For example, many suppliers tended to be tackling certain issues very well (e.g. HR), but others less so (e.g. environmental management). It was also clear that many suppliers were grappling with the same issues and were really looking for a forum to share best practice and to challenge themselves. Not only did greater collaboration and sharing of ideas make sense, but often solutions already existed within our supply base. And we wanted to better articulate the sustainability business case and, of course, understand how our suppliers were performing. These discussions led us to develop our own sustainability framework – a self-assessment framework comprising three elements: Environmental, Ethical and Lean Manufacturing which detail the building blocks to enable change in sustainability performance. Our work on Eco and Ethical Model Factories has highlighted the importance of linking these three areas. For example, adopting a lean approach to business is a way to drive efficiency and economic benefit – productivity savings can be used to provide investment for training and a focus on eliminating waste will deliver environmental benefits in water and energy. 

We believe this framework is unique in the context of food manufacturing. It took 18 months to develop and was based on shared learnings from suppliers through our face to face Supplier Exchange meetings and over 100 sustainability case studies, lessons learned from our Eco and Ethical Model Factories, supplier feedback as a result of trialing particular areas, and talking to experts such as the Carbon Trust, the Ethical Trading Initiative, Oxfam, WRAP and SA Partners (Lean consultants).

Suppliers are scored from Provisional through to Bronze, Silver and Gold as follows:

At least once a year each of our direct suppliers’ sites work through the framework and complete self-assessment questionnaires for each of the three key elements. We also require a number of Ethical & Environmental KPIs to be completed. This helps us validate the framework scores and enables us to assess our overall supply base performance on a number of key metrics such as energy and water use, waste to landfill, staff turnover and trade union membership. We have made an online database available to our suppliers to allow the capture and reporting of framework and KPI data.  

Sites achieving Silver or Gold status are validated by internal and industry experts. Silver level is all about starting to see the results come through from the firm foundations of Bronze. It is not easily obtained (most of our supply base is at Bronze or below) and is meant to represent performance above the norm in the industry – which is why products produced at a Silver or Gold site also qualify for a Plan A product attribute. It normally takes 2 years of continuous work for a site to achieve Silver. Find out more about our approach to product sustainability.

We expect all direct suppliers that produce our products to be working towards achieving Silver level as a minimum. 

In 2015/16, 48% of products by volume came from sites that had achieved at least Silver. This is as a result of having validated the performance of 56 supplier sites. Four of these sites have additionally been validated at Gold level.

More than 385 supplier sites are now participating in the Sustainability Scorecard accounting for over 92% of product volume. An overview of supplier performance is as follows:
Sustainability Scorecard Sites
In total our direct suppliers have reduced waste by over 250,000 tonnes and over 60% send no waste to landfill. Over half of all sites have improved their energy and water efficiency and 72% have positivity scores of 65% or above in employee feedback surveys (which is high for the food manufacturing sector). 

As they progress within framework we have found that suppliers find a number of areas particularly challenging, for example:

Environment Ethical Trade Lean Manufacturing 
  • Robust environmental risk assessments of their key raw materials
  • Implementing larger projects to make significant reductions in energy, water or waste
  • Switching a proportion of their energy to on-site renewable energy
  • A staff survey in place with engagement scores above 60%
  • Elected worker representation which reflects and represents the workforce
  • Detailed diversity training for supervisors and management 
  • Working with key suppliers as a group to deliver improvements together
  • Senior managers using high-level process analysis to drive strategy formation and process improvements
  • All levels of staff involved in continuous improvement on a weekly basis 
In 2013, we surveyed our suppliers as part of our Plan A Conference and 84% believed that the framework was useful in helping them develop and deliver their sustainability strategy. 

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

In developing our approach to the Sustainability Scorecard, we’ve worked with many partners, including between 50 and 70 suppliers such as Bakkavor, Greencore, MMUK, Samworth Brothers, Tulip and 2 Sisters. Leading experts, NGOs and other stakeholders also contributed to the framework including the Association of Labour Providers, Unite, Oxfam, the Carbon Trust, SA Partners, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, WRAP and the Ethical Trading Initiative. A number of specialist consultancies also advised on legal requirements for each element of the framework. 

SA Partners continue to be our Lean Manufacturing partner and the online database was developed with Credit360.