British Retailer Marks & Spencer Leads in Sustainability Reporting

Editorial TeamEditorial Team
March 30th, 2022

The prominent retailer based in the U.K. prides itself on transparent sustainability reporting, regularly distributing its supply chain operations and sourcing material information.

Also known as M&S, Marks & Spencer is one of the largest British retail clothing and food companies. Founded in 1884 by Michael Marks and Thomas Spencer in Leeds, this multination retailer is based in Westminster, London. It’s listed on the London Stock Exchange and is part of the FTSE 100 index and specializes in the sale of clothing, household goods, and luxury food products. In 1998, M&S was the first UK retailer to achieve a pre-tax profit in excess of £1 billion,3 although this was followed by a sudden fall to the surprise of the company itself, its shareholders, and business analysts. It launched its first sustainable collection in 2015 "Limited London", an eco-fashion capsule collection made from recycled cotton and polyester designed by its team in Shoreditch and inspired by the vibrant street scene of East London.   Marks & Spencer’s Plan A Basing its strategy on the goals of the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria, the British retailer launched its “Plan A” program to create a sustainable retail and fashion future to foment long-term, profitable growth. Its ESG framework lays out its commitment to the biggest sustainability challenges that most businesses face today, such as a transparent supply chain, the sourcing of responsible materials, and the path toward net-zero. As a part of this plan, M&S has pledged to cut its carbon footprint by a third by 2025, from a 5.7million tonne baseline in 2017.  

  Ethical Certifications Another section highlighted in the plan points to the use of sheep’s wool that is certified by the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS), although it is yet seen to be implicated in M&S’ collections. The retailer met its goal to source 100% responsible cotton in 2019, which has been cultivated to reduce water use and the dependency on pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, improve social conditions for farmers and support their economic sustainability. Marks & Spencer uses cotton that is certified by the Better Cotton Initiative, which aims to make global cotton production better for the people who produce it, as well as using recycled cotton that meets the Global Recycle Standard (GRS). The company has also been supporting Fairtrade certified products since 2006, selling a range of chocolate, bananas, wine, and flowers.   Marks & Spencer Publishes its Viscose Suppliers Retail giant Marks & Spencer (M&S) has published its digital map revealing suppliers in its global supply chain to include information on where it sources its man-made cellulosic fibers.   Online Transparency Marks & Spencer's online map lists both raw material suppliers and factories, providing information on factory location, the gender balance of the workforce, and whether each factory allows staff to join committees or join unions. The map provides addresses, information on what materials are involved, and the volume of capacity at each location. M&S sources its viscose from 23 suppliers worldwide, most of which are in Asia. Viscose is the third largest raw material in M&S's Clothing & Home business and the company seeks to work with partners that ensure the protection of the world's ancient and endangered forests and the habitat of endangered species. The map has been integrated with the M&S dashboard of existing supply chain maps for ease of use by customers, investors, staff, and other stakeholders. The retailer launched the first of its digital mapping tools in 2016 by revealing the location of its meat and dairy producers, as well as the farming methods they use. Since then, the project has expanded to cover M&S's wool and seafood supply chains. Viscose has become increasingly popular as manufacturers, brands, and consumers seek more natural alternatives to plastic-based fibers and calls for attention to the industry's environmental impact. The industry's major retailers have joined the Changing Markets Foundation and Canopy initiatives that require them to permanently exclude 'dirty' viscose production methods from their supply chains by 2023-25. In addition to M&S, signatories include the owners of Zara Inditex, ASOS, H&M, Tesco, Esprit, C&A, Next, New Look, and Morrisons. The Changing Markets Foundation has accused other companies, including Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Dior, Walmart, Matalan, and Boohoo, of failing to act quickly. In 2017, the award for Best Report went to the UK company Marks and Spencer in the tenth edition of the CR Reporting Awards (CRRA), which chose the ten best sustainability reports out of almost one hundred companies worldwide. The award for Best Report went to the UK company Marks and Spencer. According to CorporateRegister, Marks and Spencer's Sustainability Report was chosen by stakeholders as the best in five essential criteria: Content, Communication, Credibility, Engagement, and Comparability. "The report is detailed but does not inundate the reader with over-information, it is a good example of the importance of materiality assessment," said a CSR professional from Australia in rating Marks and Spencer's report.