M&S innovating its way to Net Zero through new Plan A partnership funding

Marks & Spencer has announced a string of new investments in collaborative, pioneering projects, funded through its Plan A Accelerator Fund, to help achieve its Net Zero by 2040 goals. The UK’s most trusted brand, famous for new and exciting products, is now turning its market-leading approach to innovation to tackle climate change.

Introduced as part of its ambition to be the most trusted retailer, M&S’s industry-leading, fully integrated sustainability plan ‘Plan A’ was an innovation in itself when it launched back in 2007, well before most mainstream businesses were thinking about sustainability.

Driven by an obsession with quality and innovation, everything at M&S starts with exceptional product, sourced and made with care so that it’s the highest quality and simply too good to waste. 

The retailer has been leading the way with new and exciting products and services since its inception 140 years ago and continues to innovate while never compromising on quality or sourcing and production standards. The first large retailer to bring fresh chicken to UK shelves, first to introduce machine washable wool to its clothing offer, easy grow hems on its market-leading school uniform, and more recently the M&S Food x Zoe gut shot which has quickly become a top selling healthy eating product. The brand is also the first and only retailer to sell only RSPCA-assured milk and higher welfare fresh chicken, since 2017 and 2023 respectively.  

Today the focus for M&S is on becoming a net zero business across all its operations and entire value chain by 2040. The brand’s strength in supplier partnerships and innovation position it well to drive big changes through collaboration with suppliers and partners – recognising that no one can deliver net zero on their own.

M&S is today announcing a £1 million investment in a change to the diet of the pasture-grazed cows in its milk pool to reduce the amount of methane produced in a cow’s stomach and released into the atmosphere.  Working with all 40 M&S Select Dairy Farmers in its unique milk pool, this UK first-to-market initiative will remove a projected 11,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere annually, cutting M&S’ RSPCA-assured core fresh milk carbon footprint by 8.4%. As always, there’s no compromise on taste or quality and the brand continues to honour its 25-year strong milk pledge, which commits to pay farmers a fair price for the milk they produce.

The retailer has also launched a £1 million Plan A Accelerator Fund and is now working in partnership with long-standing and new suppliers to take rapid action towards net zero through a series of innovation projects.

Stuart Machin, M&S CEO commented: “I talk a lot about the ‘magic of M&S’ – and a key part of this is our commitment to innovation. It’s in our DNA and, along with our unique model of own brand, long term supplier partnerships, it’s how we deliver the quality and trust our customers expect from us.

“By turning our obsession with innovation towards climate change and tapping into the entrepreneurial spirit of our suppliers we can turbo charge our drive to be a Net Zero business across all our operations and entire supply chain by 2040. I’m excited by the big difference these small changes could make to some of the toughest climate challenges we face.”  

The Food, Clothing & Home and Retail teams at M&S have worked closely with suppliers and business partners to identify innovative opportunities across some of the most challenging emissions areas, including agriculture, livestock and textiles.

One of the first projects supported by the fund is a first of its kind trial1 asking customers to donate their unwearable clothes to Oxfam, alongside wearable clothing. These unwearable items will be cleaned and used to support fibre to fibre recycling, where fibres are re-used and turned into new material, preventing them going to landfill and moving us closer to a more circular fashion economy. 

Elsewhere in the business, a new trial will use AI data to predict a store’s optimal heating, ventilation and air conditioning controls to reduce energy consumption. Trialled across six stores, the aim is to reduce HVAC costs by up to 30%. When rolled out across the M&S estate, this could save an estimated 2,000 tonnes of carbon and around £3m annually.

Further projects will be announced in the coming months, but some of the initiatives will look at:

  • Energy: Product green hydrogen through electrolysis technology using wind/solar power generated on farms to replace fossil fuels, and pasteurisation using heat pumps and renewable electricity.
  • Recycling: Introducing Polytag technology on Food products to better understand how much, when and where our branded single-use plastic is recycled in UK recycling centres. Separately, in our Clothing & Home business, we are piloting the viability of shoe recycling.
  • Technology: Use new agricultural technology to produce a field of Net Zero root crops with a minimum till approach, and using low carbon fertilisers, biological controls and autonomous farm vehicles and drones.
  • Water: Applying innovative solutions to water in irrigation systems such as nanobubble technology (water with increased oxygen) and organic components, to conserve water resources in the production of fruits and brassicas in water scarce regions.

This year the retailer has also been first to market by investing in an exclusive new green fertiliser available to all its M&S Select Dairy Farms and a collaboration with a British supplier to bring a new paper fibre cup and lid to all its M&S Cafés which can be easily recycled with paper at-home or on-the-go recycling.  In M&S’ latest Goodmove activewear collection, over 80% of the polyester was recycled from plastic bottle waste, avoiding the unnecessary extraction of new raw materials, moving towards a more circular economy. The retailer also launched its Pathway Farming partnership with a select number of M&S Select Beef Farmers to identify opportunities to reduce carbon emissions from beef rearing, such as changing feed, or more efficient use of fuel and fertiliser, to become ever more efficient.

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